Muhammad Hidayatullah

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The soulful storyteller

Article from the Sun daily by Hanna Alkaf (posted on 24th Sep 2015)

MUHAMMAD Hidayatullah, 26, stunned his family when he made the decision to launch a career in film-making and photography, after four years of studying architecture. Yet here he was, willing to throw it all away on what seemed like a fleeting fancy. Now, five years and numerous awards later, Hidayat is proving once and for all that sometimes, all you need is passion – and a lot of hard work – for everything else to fall into place.

What made you take the leap into focusing on film-making and photography?

In my second semester, I took this photography course where we learned to use the most basic settings on a camera. I had this small compact camera that my sister gave me – good enough for me to explore the simplest tricks and settings. I became eager to learn what kind of photos I could possibly take with it. Like a kid with a new toy, I began capturing whatever I saw around me. My family didn't agree at first with this idea of me giving up architecture. After all, I worked hard for four years and suddenly I wanted to change my path! But after proving to them that I really wanted to do this, I've had their wholehearted support ever since.

Has being a self-taught photographer and videographer been a disadvantage for you?

Of course, the good thing about being formally trained is that you have the basic knowledge and the fundamentals. But I feel like I can come at a subject from a fresh perspective. People like me aren't bound to any rules. We can experiment. There is no right or wrong. What is wrong is not doing anything to improve.

The challenge of being self-taught is most obvious when you want to work with high profile companies or production companies, because they really know their stuff. But I take it as an opportunity to learn. And I'm glad that most of the people that I've worked with really believe in what I can do.

Many young Malaysians these days turn to photography and videography as creative outlets. What sets you apart in a crowded field?

Every time I want to shoot a subject, I never push myself to "get" the moment. I always start by building relationships. Sometimes it can take me weeks, or even years, to gain my subjects' trust. When the time is right, only then will I explain that I actually want to tell their stories. I feel even more connected with them that way. Speaking through experience, good things take time. It is the story that comes with the visuals that sets me apart from others.

You've travelled to many different locations to document the lives of the people there. Can you tell me about some experiences that have stuck with you?

For me, that would be the Holi Festival in India. I was there at 6am, ready and waiting so that I wouldn't miss anything, in this small temple that can accommodate almost 300 people. At exactly 7am, after the reveal of Lord Krishna, everybody began throwing the coloured powder. At one point, it was too much for me and I had to run outside, gasping for air and clearing the powder from my eyes. But as soon as I cleaned myself off, I was back inside snapping portraits. I spent almost four hours in there. And it didn't just end in the temple – it continued in the streets. People shouted "Happy Holi!" as they threw the powder at you. Everyone was completely covered in it. It was an amazing experience.

What advice do you have for aspiring local film-makers and photographers?

Have a really good reason for doing what you do. Get to know yourself and understand why you're holding that camera. Dream big. Explore everything you can. Be honest with it, and it will change you.

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