Symphony of Destruction
Currently working as a senior diagnostic radiographer in a medical centre, fine art photographer Mohd Azlan Mohd Latib possesses a set of steadfast principles about life and death, which are enunciated in his photographs. He is madly passionate about his concepts and craft, and this passion, undeniably, is translated into his work. Remarkably, Azlan does not process his images digitally. Instead, he precisely calculates and manually manoeuvres every stage of his artistic procedure to actualise a pre-existing vision in his mind.
Even the paper that he uses for his prints is developed using a special process. Every day, Azlan collects leftover coffee from his cafeteria. When he has amassed a sufficient volume of concentrated coffee after about two to three weeks, he dilutes it with photographic fixer chemicals that serve to bind images to the paper later on, filling the mixture into a large tray where at most six sheets of paper are placed.
For two to three weeks, the papers absorb the coffee stains, leaving them with sepia-toned marks that guide him in one of the most difficult steps in his artistic process – matching his photos to the most suitable paper. In a way, Azlan’s inclusion of the random one-of-a-kind patterns to shape an overall image reflects his thinking that nothing in life is accidental, that all things happen for a reason.
In the leftmost frame of his Symphony of Destruction triptych, a tilted stain line forms the sea level. An x-rayed budding flower, symbolising life in all its fragility, rises through the surface of the sea. Post-production, he collages the images of a fish, a bomber plane and an emaciated human being onto the photogram, all of which create a jarring contrast to the slender, fresh flower stalk.
The seascape, harmonious as it might seem at first, is in fact a visual metaphor for the crisis of humanity. Azlan postulates that evil deeds originate from the hearts of humans themselves, leading them to kill other humans just to survive. Nevertheless, by choosing to position the sea level lower down on the paper, he instils a sense of hope that the positive has not been totally enveloped by negativity.
Through the Symphony of Destruction, Azlan also introduces a poignant narrative about the devastation and restoration of the deep sea. In the centrepiece of the triptych, a mysterious girl with her features obscured by collaged- on medicated plaster – made faceless to demonstrate universality –– reaches towards the spectator. Azlan’s use of 120-film and a medium format analogue camera contributes to the blurred effect of her face, increasing the impression of depth.
The girl’s outstretched hands raise a question: is she offering the coral up from the deep sea, or is she demanding it back from the spectator? To further drive home his message, Azlan manipulates the coffee to form the profile view of a pregnant woman that can be seen on the left of the image; blood-like stains where the foetus would be implies the sacrifice and intense pain felt by Mother Earth. Moreover, the stain overlaps with the girl’s reproductive organs, doubling the suffering expressed in the image.
In the image on the right are x-rayed fish remnants, which reveal an alternate reality beyond the reality that we can see. Fish are placed haphazardly, their tails pointing up and down, describing the chaos in today’s society and how many people have strayed from their faith and beliefs.
But within this last image also lies Azlan’s suggestion to remedy the situation. The open, whitened eye of a fish seems to invite the spectator to recognise the severity of the destruction to the deep sea and society, with the hope that this awareness will lead to a heart open for change.