Thursday, October 22, 2015

Devastation of My Favourite Street Shooting Location in Chow Kit

For many years now, Chow Kit has been my favourite street hunting ground. There are just so many amazing locations to shoot, with the background full of character and always filled with friendly people. There is this one particular spot at the old market building, at the storage section area, that I was particularly drawn to. I would never fail to visit this one part of Chow Kit market and spend at least 30 minutes (or more, if I was alone) to wait for the right subjects or moments to shoot. The lighting there was always almost perfect, with light leaks coming down from the roof, creating dramatic scene. Even the overall ambiance was suitable for beautiful portraits.

Unfortunately, much to my horror, I discovered last Sunday that the particular spot that I loved so much, has been burned down by accidental fire. At the time of my finding, it was already 10 days after the fire incident. I was away for one weekend due to KLPF (Kuala Lumpur Photography Festival) and I returned immediately the weekend after, even though haze was a huge problem.

I was walking along the path leading to the storage area, anticipating to create some beautiful photographs for this one shutter therapy session. As I walked closer and closer, I saw a cat which was not at her usual favourite resting position. The cat saw me and walked to me instantly, greeting me, and I decided to play with the cat for a bit. Somehow, I think the cat knew something I did not. As the cat walked forward a few meters, and I looked up, there and then I saw the whole place being burned down, destroyed. I was shocked, yes. The effect did not instantaneously sink in. Taking my time to visually inspect the extent of the fire damage (I am a qualified Civil Engineer after all), accessing the structural integrity and all... about a few minutes in, I could feel tears starting to build up behind my eyes.

I know it is ridiculous to feel anything for a place that I probably still am an alien to, and just passing by to shoot some photographs. Suddenly the memories of my time spent in this location, all the weekends, I waited at some spots to shoot, I just could not help it but feel sad, angry, and seriously devastated from inside out. This was my spot. Many of my best photographs, or at least the ones I liked the most came from this very spot. I came here so often that it is just wrong to see it all gone. Just like that. I felt betrayed. I felt so much pain which I do not even know how to describe properly.

Taken some time last year in September (Vintage Art Filter, testing/review shot for E-PL7)

The exact same spot, taken last Sunday

Another perspective of the burned down portion of the storage area. 

I think I stood frozen, staring at this scene for an almost full 10 minutes. I just could not believe it was not there any more. Almost every single time I had a visitor from overseas, i would bring there here. I have also shared this location (I do not really keep secrets about my street shooting, if you know me well enough) to my peers and fellow street photographer friends. We have shot here many times, and they all knew that this was my special spot. 

Almost, every single time I have a new camera or lens, I would come here, even though I would sometimes not shoot anything at this particular spot. I would come here anyway. 

I have quickly searched through my archives and found the following few shots, which now only remain as photographs. Memories of the past. I was glad to have discovered this place and made some images that I am proud of. 

Look at that dramatic light coming down from the roof!!!

The play of highlight and shadow is easily achieved in this section. That is why I frequent this place, possibilities of creating stunning shot is very high. 

I have found so many different ways to document this one spot, by varying my compositions and using even the market items as my foreground. 

Almost a similar composition to the previous photo, but in full glorious color. 

Cats are residents here and I have spent almost half my time here playing with them. 

View from a story above. Almost everything you see on the right of the frame was burned down. 

You know all those many cat photographs that I have taken? 90% of them were from this one spot! Perfect lighting, and the cats were human friendly. 

Even some of my best close up street portraits were taken here at the storage area. The dramatic lighting created excellent portrait shots. 

Spoke to this lady who was a florist in a lot affected by the fire. She expressed her frustration and anger to me, which amplified my own emotions. She suspected the fire was not an accident. 

Such a nice spot to just relax and chill. By just standing there I could find some sort of calm even during the busiest and most stressful times of my life. 

Numbers on the walls and doors 

That high contrast is perfect for black and white photographs. 

Scenes of carts being moved around was normal. It was after all, a storage area, where market items were moved around from this place, back and forth to the nearby operating market stalls. 

if you are patient enough sometimes interesting things can happen in your frame. I have lost count of how much time I have spent here. 

Those streaks of light, they just added so much depth to the photograph, no matter how it was being composed. 

That particular section of storage being opened, and yes, all around were doors, opening to storage spaces inside. 

Fred & CJ

Jackie was here too. 

Shaun has been here many times!

Thanks to Matti who took this shot. 

I should be thankful that I was given a tremendous amount of opportunities to shoot this location, and have been here so many times. 

I used to joke with some friends that I can always bring them here, and the street locations will not go anywhere. Sometimes we take things for granted. This is a stern reminder to myself that nothing lasts forever, and I should treat each shooting session like it was my last one and to strive the best I could for each shot that I will be making. Now all I could think about was what else I could have done better in my shots here in this burned location of Chow Kit? A little too late for that now. 

I will still return to Chow Kit and shoot the surrounding areas, but from now onward, Chow Kit will never be the same again. 


  1. A great tribute to such an amazing spot Robin! Chow Kit will never be the same again - I do agree that we sometimes take things for granted and I am so glad that I have had the opportunity to shoot in this amazing location before the fire.

    1. Thanks for the kind words Shaun. I was shocked to find it at this state. I always knew Chow Kit won't be here forever, because of the ongoing development projects. I just did not know it would be gone so soon like this.

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  3. Sorry to hear about Chow Kit although I have never been there. As photographers we all have places we get attached to and develop a bond with. Glad to have gotten to know the place through your great images. Let's hope Chow Kit rises from the ashes in some form or another.

    1. Indeed I have become attached to the place! I think I bonded with the cats there more than the place and thankfully most of them are still alive.

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  5. Isn't it curious how one may become attached, as you noted, to a place? Sorry for your loss. Recognized many of the photos you shared from before. Of course, you are quite right, the lighting is amazing. Thank you.

    1. Hi Douglas,
      Thanks for the kind words! Indeed I was also surprised at how much I was attached to the place.

  6. I hope all the cats got out and people are looking after them as they have surely lost their foot supply. I love the way you love the cats.

  7. Oh dear, I was staying near PWTC last weekend and I totally forgot about the market.

    Hope that you'll be able to find a new hunting place soon while they rebuild the market. I really feel bad for you and the traders but at the same time I feel excited because I'd like to believe that this sad event would be a catalyst for more creative and wonderful photos of KL from you. Sometimes, we need to leave "home" to grow and mature, and perhaps it'll be a full circle when you come back and photograph the new "home" that will replace the burnt down one.

    All the best, Robin, from a fellow Kuchingite.

    PS - I really love your blog, both the photos and writing.

  8. Well, that's sad. Hopefully, you'll find another location that becomes your favorite place to shoot.

    I don't know how many times I've photographed something only to find that it was torn down shortly after that.