Eric Peris is considered as one of Malaysia's photography godfathers. His photography style is a masterful play with light as shown through his black and white photography on film. Decades of being a photojournalist and numerous personal projects solidifies his distinct mark in Malaysia's photography scene.
Read on as Eric Peris recount his journey in tasteful and interesting narratives:
"I was born in 1939, just before the World War II started. I hope I had not started the war. My father came from Sri Lanka. He was already an established artist and had studied painting in Paris. He was also a dramatist and musician. My mother was a Malayan from Kuala Lumpur. She also had a musical and arts background. My sister was eight years older. I am the third child, the youngest. I had a brother who was the second child but he passed away before I was born. When we were young, my family left Johor Bahru for Muar as my father was invited by Mr Koh Koon Toh, a Chinese man who runs a Bangsawan theatre. Mr Koh asked my father to help out at the theatre and so, he did all the paintings of the backdrop and wrote new plays as well. He knew all about my father because he was a royal artist in the 1920s."
"After the war, I attended school, both primary and secondary. But, I was a stubborn student, so to speak. I don’t like exams. Then, we moved to Singapore in 1957. At that time, we were still one country (Singapore and Malaysia) so, it was no big deal. I just had my Form Five exams and was teaching in a private school. One day, one of my friends asked me if I would like to join a newspaper. So, I was introduced to the general manager of Times Publishing. I joined the Fanfare magazine, which was a very well-known pop magazine."
"When I first joined the magazine, the editor asked me if I knew how to take pictures. I said ‘Yes’, and he said ‘OK, you take the camera and go take some pictures’. So, I went to Bras Basah Road, took some pictures, processed them and showed them to him. He looked at them, then at me and said, ‘Good, from tomorrow onwards, you are doing both (reporting and photographing). 'Remember, if you miss a story, we can still hunt it down. But, if you miss the picture, you are dead."
"For a while, I was quite happy doing what I was doing, running around, doing my own photo essays. One day, I got a call and was asked, “Would you like to be the next photo editor?” I said ‘No, thank you very much.’ A year later, in 1990, I was called by the Deputy Group Editor who said ‘No more questions. You are the photo editor. Fullstop.’ I thought I would be a photojournalist all my life."
"By the end of 1994, I retired and never to return to the press again. I had my 24 years in the newspapers. They were very good and exciting times. In photojournalism, you are the eyes and ears of the public and therefore, your responsibility is very high. You are going to tell the people this story through your eyes because they are not in the position where you are. So, you have to give them the images that describe what you saw, and you can only do so with several images. For personal work, you are the editor of your work. In a way, you have to be so much more prepared on what you are going to work on first. This involves reading, studying, reflecting and even meditating on it. The most important thing is to get that first picture. But getting the first picture is the difficult part. "
Eric's narrative includes some gems about his film photography back in the day:
"The year 1975 was also the year my father died. I told my mother I wanted to remember him by going around doing landscape photography on my leave days. With my mother’s blessing, I went off. There was an old tin mine just behind my house so, I spent quite a lot of time there. I started with black-and-white because colour photography film was too expensive. These limitations, however, make you think. With colour, we know the sky is blue, and the rose is red but you have taken away the mystery of the picture. With black-and-white, you get to play with tonal ranges and people get locked into it. A person looks at the picture and wonders, ‘What is it? Is it taken in the morning, afternoon or evening?’ It is that kind of interaction that you are caught into. And that makes it very interesting."
In his retirement, he states that he keeps active, "I still photograph every day. Every morning or afternoon, I try to make 10 to 15 images even if these pictures are only about objects in my home. This is to test out whether I still have the values in me. Everyday, I take the camera and tell myself, ‘Let me see if I can record this.’ From the images, you will know whether you as a photographer have been too early, too hasty and could have waited a little bit more. Perhaps you have been telling yourself ‘I can’t spend eight hours waiting. The light will change and in the end, I get nothing. So, I might as well capture whatever I can in that period’. That picture on that wall then becomes your teacher. Through that picture, Mother Nature is telling you ‘I would have been kinder to you had you waited a little bit more’. The demand for patience is very high. Mother Nature plays games with you regularly. But at the end of the day, you will get your image. It is all very entertaining."
Being a great influence on how a whole country views photography is not an easy feat. To know more about Eric's legendary status, read more here.