Talkshop 08: KG Krishnan

At 24 years old, KG Krishnan is one of the many prolific young photographers emerging from the Malaysian scene. His photography has primarily been centred around his work in the fashion industry and have garnered much attention within its circles, and his foray into street photography in the past year has led him to earning his place as first runner up for Photographer of the Year at the Maybank Photography Awards 2012, and coming in second for the prestigious KL International Photo Awards (KLPA) 2013 for the Under 25 Malaysian prize.

His latest work comes in the form of Continuum. A photo book that entails his documenting of the beauty in one of the most globally stigmatised social groups – the transgender community.

Continuum came about as a project under the Exposure+ Photography Mentoring Programme organised by the KLPA, where KG along with a group of Malaysia’s young talent were taken under the wings of powerhouse mentors Eiffel Chong, Erna Dyanty, and Steven V-L Lee.

The aimed final outcome of the programme was to have a photo book produced by the mentees to be presented at the Invisible Photographer Asia Photo Books Show 2013 in Singapore, as a way to nudge them onto a bigger platform.

KG’s interest in gender and sexuality has been strong for a long time. Having explored these subjects since he was 16, much of his work has been driven by these themes. “As a gay man I’ve found gender fluidity to be a very strong angle to explore a larger dialogue on gender,” says KG.

“It provided me enough space to talk about other variants inside identity like gender identity and gender expression, which are two different things.”

His idea was immediately well received by the PT Foundation and MY Trans Ally based in Kuala Lumpur, and both foundations have been supportive of the project by connecting KG with subjects with personal struggles that have been an effect of the transperson label.

However, when showing his work to other people, KG noticed a sense of displeasure towards the subject matter as he describes, “I find many people are very ignorant about it. People use the terms like shemale, ‘shim’, and words like ladyboy a lot which can be demeaning or derogatory. But maybe I’m sheltered from such discrimination since I operate within a lot of LGBT circles.

“The displeasure is somewhat similar to how being gay scares straight men sometimes. It’s because it makes them question themselves more than anything. It’s something they don’t know, and it’s what you don’t know that scares you. I guess that’s the popular consensus out there regarding this book that I’m working on.”

KG has found that while LGBT issues remain to be a tough topic to bring forward in Malaysia, it also still remains a tricky topic anywhere in the world. Legalities aside, as a personal process alone,  it’s a very intricate and tough thing to go through. “It’s not just about coming out of the closet and that’s it. It involves realising the physical aspects of who you are and transitioning into it. No matter where you are in the world, it’s still an intricate issue.”

With the Continuum photo book focusing on Malaysian subjects, it aims be a lead-in to a bigger body of work that covers transpersons from around the world.

“I don’t know if this body of work will change anything, but it is advocacy,” says KG. “I approach it on a personal level. To me it’s about beauty, it’s about confidence, and personal realisations. I can’t really say that I’m here to shake things up, and bring a change to views on LGBT. I’m not the first person to talk about transgender issues, and I won’t be the last.”