Philanthropist. Exercise instructor. World traveller.  

Puan Sri Toh Ee Siew draws on all her interests as inspiration for her award-winning photography.

Whether exploring closer to home in Malaysia or journeying to faraway countries, Toh Ee’s photos, in colour or black and white, are full of vitality.

From streets and cityscapes to the great outdoors and landscapes, her images convey her sense of adventure.


Home and Abroad


Malaysian masterpieces and wonders from around the world.

Puan Sri Toh Ee Siew takes her Leica Q2 everywhere she goes.

Puan Sri Toh Ee Siew’s picture-taking journey began with street photography.

As her passion for photography evolved, there is one road that she travelled more than others.

It’s the expressway to Kuala Lumpur International airport.

KLIA would be the launch pad as she explored other countries, taking off frequently with her Leica cameras, more recently with her preferred Q2, capturing life on foreign streets and exploring different landscapes, as she developed her fondness for travel photography.

Toh Ee had a sense of adventure before she picked up a camera. She is a certified instructor from the UK for Nordic Walking, and founded a local fitness group, Nordic Walking UK Malaysia.

She recalls the moment her interests in exercise, travel, the great outdoors, and photography converged.

“I was travelling to Switzerland to hike in the Alps. I was given a Leica Q2 for this trip by my husband. This kick-started my Leica photography journey. And, to this day, photography is my passion. When I’m hiking, there’s a good chance you’ll see me with the Q2 round my neck. It’s one of my favourite cameras. It’s light, versatile, and weather-proof. Rain or shine, even in the snow, it’s never let me down.”

For this photo of the Matterhorn, one of Europe’s famous peaks, Toh Ee hiked the Zermatt Mountains to find this magnificent view with Lake Stellisee in the foreground.

“As an avid travel photographer, I have experimented with different genres over the years. My style revolved around colours. I really enjoy working in colour. But lately, I’ve been attracted to black-and-white photography, which I discovered could bring a new perspective and aesthetic to my photos.

“My photography adventures have taken me off the beaten track, shooting and hiking the Swiss Alps; capturing breathtaking landscapes and cityscapes; people and cultures in India, China, Japan, Cambodia, Thailand, Peru and in the Himalayan mountains of Bhutan; hunting wildlife in the grasslands of the Masai Mara and Serengeti; and climbing sand dunes in Namibia, Africa.”


As Toh Ee travelled the world accumulating marvelous memories, she also accumulated images for her portfolio, attracting the attention of international photo editors, exhibition organisers, and festival hosts.

She feels honoured that her photography has won several awards.

“One of my street portraits was included in the book Portrait of Humanity for 2020 published by the British Journal of Photography and Magnum Photos. What was particularly exciting was that the 200 photos in the book were exhibited for the first time in Space.”

This portrait is of an octogenarian watch repairman practicing the manual craft of horology in his darkened workshop. The ambient light, provided by the table lamp, spotlights the dexterity of the old man. It’s a poignant image of a dying art.

“I was also a finalist at the Siena International Photo Awards 2020.

“To support local female photographers, I was selected as an exhibition finalist for Women Photographers Malaysia’s first virtual exhibition at the Kuala Lumpur Photography Festival 2020.”

Impressive achievements, as Toh Ee only started photography in 2017!


At first, Toh Ee’s main subjects were the people and places around her KL base. She mastered Malaysia, then moved on to capture the world.

This night scene will be familiar to any resident of KL — a long-exposure shot of the busy Bukit Bintang intersection during evening rush hour. With its light trails and motion blur of passing pedestrians, it perfectly captures the hustle and bustle of city life.

Photography is an art form that helps celebrate other arts. Here, Toh Ee shows us her interest in architecture, taking a closer, more abstract look at a futuristic bridge in Putrajaya. She made an interesting compositional choice, deciding not to show the whole structure. There is a conceptual feel about this photograph, as it concentrates on strong diagonal lines and geometry, drawing the viewer’s attention to the focal point — the central tower.

Asia features prominently in Toh Ee’s travel portfolio. Visits to China have been particularly productive.

Hope and Strength was inspired by an Asian cultural icon — the lotus. Taken at Xihu Lake, Hangzhou, there is a strong motivational message behind the photo. “Just like the lotus, we may fall down, but we’ll all get up. After the rain comes the sun. We’ll get through difficult times together.”

Jixian Pavilion provides a different interpretation of the same location. Concentrating on the Qing Dynasty structure, Toh Ee opted for a long-exposure shot in black and white. Taking away the distraction of colours, she draws viewers’ attention to the architecture, and the texture and pattern of the clouds.

Toh Ee often uses long exposure. It can be seen again in Magical Wuzhen. The ancient water town of Wuzhen lights up at night. Toh Ee scouted a picturesque location, set up her tripod, and waited for blue hour. “A benefit of using long exposure for night photography is that reflections show up better on the surface of water. This adds a dream-like quality to the photo.”

There is a strong Southeast Asian representation in Toh Ee’s portfolio.

View From Train was taken at Thailand’s famous Maeklong Railway Market, where trains run through the market eight times a day. “I stood very close to the track, hoping to photograph the train as it passed. Seeing this young boy with his head out of the train window, I took a shot. The vendor next to me was yelling and pulling me away from the rail line as the train slid through with only centimetres to spare.”

In Siem Reap, you are never far from either a monk or temples. Blessed Day shows monks as they go about their daily duties in their elegant robes. “I wandered through Preah Kan temple. It was my luck to come across two monks with umbrellas. Not wanting to go near, I stepped back and photographed them from afar. I believe this was a spiritual encounter, a surprise, a blessing, an absolute delight.”

Toh Ee takes us back to Europe for Let’s Get Upside Down. “I was walking across Mount Street Gardens, Mayfair, London, towards the Leica Store. I saw schoolchildren playing in the area. I was taken aback when one of them, a girl, came running towards me, asking if I could take a picture of her doing a headstand. She must have noticed I was wearing my Q2. I liked her spirit, her eagerness to share what she is good at. And I felt good to capture the fleeting moments of childhood.”

This year, 2020, has been challenging for everybody. But those challenges haven’t stopped Toh Ee. Her work continues to garner international attention.

As she was being interviewed for this story, Toh Ee’s work was selected for the Annual Women Street Photographers’ exhibition at the Artspace PS109 in New York City, starting from 10th December 2020.

“To be part of the community of great women photographers from around the world is something I can learn from and provide exposure for my work.”

Looking to the future, she is aiming for a greater purpose and pushing the possibilities for her photography.

“While I was taking photos during a trip to Rajasthan, India, I was mingling with local village children. The kids told me they wore the same clothes to bed. I realised then I had to return home to reach out to under-privileged children in Malaysia.

“Project Pyjamas was founded to provide a platform to give back to children. It raises awareness of children’s rights to a loving bedtime and bonding over bedtime reading, which, in turn, can inspire a life-long love for reading.”

If charity work is not enough to keep Toh Ee busy, she is working on three photography projects, aiming to give even more back to the community.

The community is thankful for Toh Ee’s good works and her great photography.

Written by Kieron Long


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