Village Life - Leica Store Kuala Lumpur
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Kieron Long — a Kuching, Sarawak-based photographer — documents life in his hometown, using his Leica Q and SL2 to capture black-and-white, real-life images rarely seen outside of Borneo. Kieron’s work captures individuals or small groups of people in their natural setting — at home, going about their business, in their place of play, or following their time-honoured traditions. In these moments, everyday life is shown with empathy to visually communicate that even commonplace occurrences have a drama and poignancy that is worthy of wider attention and greater appreciation.

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Kieron Long takes the time to have a new look at the old ways when exploring the Kuching countryside.

He documents rural personalities with his SL2 and APO-Summicron-SL 35 f/2 ASPH lens.

 

It’s just a drive from the city. Or a ride in a small boat upriver. But it feels like a step back in time. A return to another era, a previous generation.

I can feel the passage of time as I depart Kuching, leaving the city centre, moving through the suburbs, and going into Sarawak’s hinterland.

You can sense the change: the fast and frenetic city slowing down to laidback and leisurely in the rural communities.

You can feel modernity giving way to the traditional, the urban morphing into the countryside.

It’s in the kampung, the typical village community, where my Leica SL2 and long-term project to document the rustic way of life – the people that have resisted the allure of the city and how they cling to their customs – have been received with such friendliness, hospitality and generosity of spirit.

I have visited farming communities, fishing villages and roadside markets in search of real characters for my portraits. These are the human interest stories that are forming the heart and soul, the iconic images, of my portfolio.

 

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I look like a tourist. I act like a tourist. They think I am a tourist.

Yet, when they see me, a stranger, walking around their kampung with a full-frame SL2 and APO-Summicron-SL 35 f/2 ASPH lens, they welcome me.

At first, it is with a smile or a wave. Some are shy. Or curious about what I am doing.

But, after I can charm someone in the kampung to let me take their photo and then show them the shots, the shyness vanishes. All the barriers – cultural and linguistic – are gone.

They like the photos. They call their relatives and friends over. And they want to be photographed too.

They invite me into their homes. They let me into the lives.

They give me their contact details. So, when I want to visit their kampung again, I can coordinate more photo opportunities with them in advance, and I can give them copies of the photos.

It’s this long-term relationship building that allows me to add more depth and layers to my project with every visit.

Each time, I can get closer and closer, taking more and more intimate portraits of the kampung residents.

 

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My “Village Life” project sprang from a series of conversations with fellow Kuching photographers.

Kuching is not the biggest of cities. It has its own appeal and attractions. But it doesn’t have the range of options of much larger, more cosmopolitan centres.

As we talked, we would say and question each other: “There isn’t that much to shoot in Kuching. What else can we do?”

That got me thinking. This is the intellectual side of photography that I enjoy: conceptualising a unique project, an original theme, a meaningful subject that you are passionate about – something where you can invest all your creativity.

Feeling that I had exhausted all the street photography opportunities in a small urban centre, I started travelling outside the city, driving or going by boat to the outlying villages, sometimes with fellow photographers or alone.

It became clear to me that the real stories, the truly photogenic stories, were the many interesting characters in the kampungs.

From this realization, I focused on taking portraits of people within the context of their home, their village.

It’s been a truly rewarding experience for me. I have been overwhelmed by the kindness of the people I have met, and the friendliness of everyone while putting this project together.

To give you one example:

There was the time I was in Kampung Sibu Laut, a fishing village of just 16 houses. I saw a grandfather cutting his grandson’s hair on the verandah. I asked if I could take their photo. I was expecting to be told “No” as this was quite a private moment. To my surprise, they said “Yes” and invited me into their house, into their personal space. After I took my shots, I gave them my heartfelt thanks for allowing me to capture the moment. As I was leaving, the grandmother came out of the house and presented me with a gift of freshly caught mussels.

It was I that had taken something from them – taking their portraits. Yet they gave me so much in return. This project, and the people I have met along the way, have given me so many touching and memorable moments.

 

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My first Leica was the Q. I upgraded to the SL2 in June this year. I pair my SL2 with the APO-Summicron-SL 35 f/2 ASPH. A 35 mm lens has the right focal length for the reportage and photojournalism approach that I am taking for this project. It’s the perfect combination for me.

The unprecedented resolution of the SL2’s 47-megapixel CMOS image sensor in full-frame format results in an unparalleled level of detail rendition and image quality. Enormous dynamic range, a colour depth of 14 bits per RGB channel and a sensitivity of up to ISO 50,000 enable outstanding image quality in all lighting conditions.

As a moderate wide-angle prime, the APO-Summicron-SL 35 f/2 ASPH is almost a universal lens. Its fast autofocus, robust design and construction and exceptional imaging quality make it an outstanding lens for reportage and a convincing choice for other areas of photography such as architecture, landscapes, portraiture and studio work. It is perfectly matched to the cutting-edge SL-System and has been conceived for a long working life under professional shooting conditions. The AF system of the Summicron-SL lenses is fast, precise, and almost silent.

 

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This is an ongoing project. There is no deadline, no completion date. It’s a story with no ending.

I will keep working on it as long as I can add new, striking photos, and I continue to have the creative energy to pursue it.

Hopefully it will lead to something. Perhaps an exhibition, or a feature story in an international magazine. Something that will help to draw wider attention to my hometown, the surrounding area and its people.

Maybe it can even be a photobook or a collection in a prestigious archive.

For that to happen, I need to go out there as often as I can and get more quality shots.

So, if you balik kampung and see someone who looks like a tourist walking around your village with a SL2, it might be me.

If you see me, I hope you will allow me to take your portrait.

 

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Written by Kieron Long

The Jetty

A fisherman returns with his catch.

Telaga Air, Sarawak.

SL2 and APO-Summicron-SL 35 f/2 ASPH

f/7.1, 1/640, ISO 100

Bath Time

The bathroom is like a waterpark to children.

Telaga Air, Sarawak.

SL2 and APO-Summicron-SL 35 f/2 ASPH

f/2, 1/60, ISO 160

Buntal Beach

A fishing boat run aground on a deserted beach.

Buntal, Sarawak.

SL2 and APO-Summicron-SL 35 f/2 ASPH

f/10, 1/400, ISO 160

Fishing Nets

A fisherman fixes his nets on the front porch of his house.

Buntal, Sarawak.

SL2 and APO-Summicron-SL 35 f/2 ASPH

f/6.3, 1/80, ISO 100

Helping Hand

A boatman helps a motorcyclist off his ferry. It’s the only way to get across the river.

Beliong, Sarawak.

SL2 and APO-Summicron-SL 35 f/2 ASPH

f/2.2, 1/5000, ISO 100

Hair Cut

Grandfather cuts his grandson’s hair on the front porch of their house.

Sibu Laut, Sarawak.

SL2 and APO-Summicron-SL 35 f/2 ASPH

f/2.5 1/100, ISO 100

Front Porch

A family on the front porch of their house.

Sibu Laut, Sarawak.

SL2 and APO-Summicron-SL 35 f/2 ASPH

f/4.5 1/60, ISO 320

Siblings

Three children share a mobile phone.

Telega Air, Sarawak.

SL2 and APO-Summicron-SL 35 f/2 ASPH

f/3.2 1/200, ISO 100

King of the Kampung

A boy sits in a big chair, as if it’s his throne. He looks like he’s ready to rule the village.

Pasir Panjang, Sarawak.

SL2 and APO-Summicron-SL 35 f/2 ASPH

f/2 1/320, ISO 100