The science of Art
I met NASIER LEE at The Ultimate Band Search, 2010 and asked if I could use his photos in my review of the event. I said, “Quick is better”. At 2.00am I got an sms from him saying they were all in my email Inbox. We have worked together ever since, to capture the essence of music events through his photos and my words.
Nasier strives to capture the mysteries of Life within the magic of his lens, but he will tell you that this magic is science, because Nasier is a photographer studying Mechanical Engineering at Universiti Malaysia Sabah [UMS].
“From about 7-12 I loved drawing landscapes, and also mechanical stuff. I would draw paddy fields, with mountains; I love looking at green scenery, blue scenery, that was really classic me. Also, I drew robots and spaceships. My dad bought me this DK Encyclopedia, and I developed my love of science through Astronomy. I loved the space shuttles, things about the universe. That was the dreamer’s section in my mind.”
“Right now, I have two semesters to go to graduate. Photography is my passion, but Mechanical Engineering will be my main degree. I feel both are related. In my own perspective, everything comes around in a circle.”
“I want to know about my gears, right? After all, cameras are an invention, they are machines. Everything comes from science: lights and shadows, colours, patterns, it all comes under science. Both are significant. The thing that makes a difference, is whether you want to understand it deeply or not. If you choose to understand science, you can shoot more, you can see more. I want to understand more things in Life, and I do it through photography and engineering.”
Nasier describes what moves him to take photographs.
“I love mystical stuff. Mystical landscapes, mystical like the beauty of a raindrop on a leaf, or a grasshopper with a raindrop on it. That is mystical. It is not something about religion. I love those mundane scenes where no-one else sees the beauty – like when the rain falls, and then afterwards you see the sun’s lights. For me, it’s like: Life has its own hope.
“I want to capture something different, something out of the ordinary. It’s like this: when people say, it’s impossible to shoot this thing, you can only digitally manipulate it, I will disagree. When people ask, ‘Can you shoot drifting clouds at night?’ I say yes, with the right settings – you must calculate the maths, with the right amounts of lights you have – which is moonlight. You could shoot drifting clouds, if there are clouds, and if there is moonlight. You could even shoot stars.”
“When I take a photo, it’s not just for the sake of taking a beautiful photo. In everything I see, I try to feel it; I try hard to understand it. I hope that people can interpret my photo, and have something that they can keep for life. If they can see it again in their mind, maybe it can bring those thoughts back to them again.”
Nasier was born in KK to parents Lee Guat Kim [from Beaufort] and Noorjan Ahmad [from Keningau]. The middle of three siblings, he grew up in Keningau. He schooled in several places, did national service and one year’s matriculation in Labuan, before entering UMS.
“The first time I saw a real landscape was on a camping trip to Kg Tempurung in Kuala Penyu – I saw a long line of beach, almost endless. That sunset and sunrise – I saw both, and I saw the night landscape because we built the campsite on the beach. There were drifting clouds in the morning, like cotton candy clouds. I didn’t have any camera at that time, but I memorised it so I could visualise it again. But later the memory faded, I forgot all the different colours, and I thought: this is the time I need to get a camera.”
In his first year at UMS, Nasier bought a 2 megapixel camera and took his first sunset photos at UMS. Two weeks later he had a severe motorcycle accident. He went into a bus stop, broke his leg badly, and suffered amnesia. He spent eight days in hospital before having surgery, and was confined to his home for six months afterwards.
But people like Nasier create their own opportunities.
“When I was in the hospital, I photographed my leg with my mobile phone, and also the people in hospital. That was my first human interest photography, people in hospital.
“I also wrote. I would take a picture, then write about myself, write what I feel. I wrote in English. My father said English is one of the significant languages you need as a tool in the future. I wasn’t really good, but I didn’t bother about grammar, I just expressed those anguish things, spontaneous things.
“Then, for that six months at home I learned about photography. It was random. As a teenager I did not take my studies that seriously. But I did have my own kind of targetting. If I wanted to be good at something, then I wanted it. Not because of examinations, not because of any school terms, but because I wanted that thing in my life.”
“I want expressions and action. I was more or less an adrenalin junkie before, I love being involved in extreme sports, I love hiking, trekking. I need to talk about my uncle RABANI H.M. AYUB.
“My uncle was a computer programmer for 13 years with Sabah Energy Corporation, and resigned in mid-2009. Now he is a freelance photo journalist. In 2009, I showed him my Canon EOS 1000D which was my first DSLR camera. I had a basic kit lens, and a basic zoom lens.
“He said it was a good camera. He said what is important about photography, it’s not about your tools. During your learning period, you could use almost any camera, because in the end, what is important is the ideas, and the fundamental stuff about photography that you need to know. Those are the kind of ethics that I learned from him.”
“The first extreme sports I shot was Sabah Adventure Challenge 2009. It was the first time that I followed my uncle.”
Nasier had seen his uncle’s photos online, where — using his back-up Fujifilm camera — he had documented how he salvaged his main camera, which had fallen into a mud pool, by washing it with river water.
“I thought, THIS is something different! Both the lenses and the camera fell in the mud. It was a Pentax K10D, the one with the green striped lenses.
“I commented on his photos. ‘Uncle, I want to go.’ He replied me. ‘Sure. Come and fetch Uncle at 5.30am then, tomorrow. We go together.’ ”
Sabah Adventure Challenge is a three-day, 120 km race divided into individual and team categories.
“They’re water-tubing, kayaking, and each year they rotate the location. It’s always extremely challenging terrain, going uphill, downhill, running through very muddy tracks,” Nasier said.
“This is real moments, real courage, real colours! Something that is not staged, and something that will make an impact! How can you freeze an action moment? People are moving at a fast speed, people are kayaking, running and whatnot, they don’t wait for you, and you don’t wait for them. You have to be in location, you don’t just shoot from the side. Like, if it’s water kayaking, you go INTO the water. You go waist deep into the river and wait there, to shoot in front of them. When they approach you, you are there – looking at them.”
“My Uncle says: shooting adventure sports does not only involve photography, it involves sports as well. It involves YOU: you are practically in the race, because when they climb that hill, you HAVE to climb that hill, and wait there. To get those expressions.”
Nasier climbed Mount Kinabalu during the Climathon 2011. He described the conditions.
- The peak of the mountain is 4,095 metres above sea level
- Total trail distance is about 8.5 km
- First stop is Laban Rata – distance 6.2 km
- Estimated time to reach Laban Rata for a fit person is about 6 hours
- Estimated time to reach Laban Rata for a slow walker is about 9 hours
- Nasier is 158cms tall and weighs 117 kg
- He is carrying all his photography gear
“We all started at 9am. This was my first time, I had no experience. My uncle was telling me, “It’s okay, we go slow.” Expected time for slow walkers is 9 hours, to reach base camp at around 6pm. My uncle said I needed to acclimatise to the altitude changes, and since this is mountain, you have to be careful. People were worrying about us, because there was just the two of us left.
“My uncle was like: ‘It’s cool, we enjoy the scenery, we enjoy the walk. This is an advantage for you. You can see the scenery at night, and feel the atmosphere of the mountain at night. How quiet it is, how serene it is. Don’t worry, the mountain will protect you.” So we arrived there at 9pm. We took 12 hours.
“It was cold, there were stars everywhere! Billions of stars! My uncle said, ‘This is the reward for you. Other people have gone to sleep because of the tiredness. You? You can see the stars.’
“Next day we start the climb at 3.30am, and we have about 2.5 kilometres left to the summit peak. That took me about 7 hours to get to the peak.
“Along the way, I shot runners at Kilometre 8. I thought my uncle was going to stop me there and say: Ok, this is your spot. You stay here.’ Instead he said, ‘You come with Uncle, you need to get to the peak. It’s another 1 kilometre left, and this is one of your opportunities. There will be no more next time. So you have to do it, no matter what. If you want to cry, anything, you do it at the summit peak.’ After all the push, the struggles, the pain, I reached the peak.”
I want to capture a moment that I can go back with: I want to shoot something that will bring me back to that moment, when I look at it again after a long time.
Nasier Lee, in later years I hope you will read this SabahSongs interview again, and I hope you will remember what your feelings were when you were 21, just as if you were looking at one of your photographs.