Island Streets Midnight Shadows (Penang Noir)
Hotel Noble. Lorong Pasar.

"Down downtown Georgetown at the no frills Noble, that which is not the domain of the hereditary class, or those with high social or political status, there are no aristocrats here".

RICHARD MARK DOBSON Island Streets Midnight Shadows (Penang Noir)
The International Hotel. Transfer Road.

“There's nothing international about the international hotel. For internationals don't know it exists".

RICHARD MARK DOBSON Island Streets Midnight Shadows (Penang Noir)
Pearl Hill

"Lovers drive up there, especially at night, taking the quiet access roads which terminate in shadowy car parks. There they get off on each other. The red tail lights are supposed to ward off wild animals, evil spirits and broken souls".

RICHARD MARK DOBSON Island Streets Midnight Shadows (Penang Noir)
Corner of Lebuh Campbell & Jalan Pintal Tali

“The lurid lime green facade of the Boon Wah Textiles is a Georgetown landmark. The business closes at 6. The doors and windows are gated and shuttered. It helps keep prying eyes off the expensive silks and Chinese brocade.

Last century it was the Teow Chew triads, in the pay of the merchants, who ran things around here. Campbell street and Rope Walk was their turf. Paid protection money, they kept the petty thieves and other gangsters away. Bad folks protecting the goods”.

RICHARD MARK DOBSON Island Streets Midnight Shadows (Penang Noir)
Asia  Cafe.  Pitt Street.

"Night hawks bathed in artificial light. That's what they appear to be, but everyone knows reality is never what it appears to be. It's all guess work, conjecture. Summation".

RICHARD MARK DOBSON Island Streets Midnight Shadows (Penang Noir)
Outside the Central hotel. Jalan Penang

"She's lost her mind. She sits Buddha like on the betel nut stained walkway outside the old Central hotel and mumbles to herself. And like the Chinese guardian lion beside her, she's motionless.  Together they watch the giddy performance before them. The swirl of passersby and traffic that throng the busy Jalan Penang. 

She's alive, a composite of warm flesh and blood.  The lion made of rock is lifeless and cold. She's gone mad and is of no use to anybody.  The stone Foo Dog as the Chinese like to call them, has a purpose.  It protects the hotel from harmful spiritual influences and bad people".

RICHARD MARK DOBSON Island Streets Midnight Shadows (Penang Noir)
Hotel Hong Aun -Transfer Road

Basic digs for basic wage earners. That's what the two storey Hotel Aun offers at the junction of Hutton and Dingdings Lane. Long term guests are the mainstay. It's all about cheap. They want cheap prices. For that they get cheap bedding, cheap decor.

Cindy know's about cheap. Her knock off Gucci clutch bag that goes everywhere with her, carries her cheap perfume and lipstick, broken two-penny vanity mirror, a small bundle of tatty ringgit notes and her two for the price of one reading glasses. She's lost the other pair. Her old Samsung phone with cracked screen gets tucked away in one of the zipper side pockets with broken zip.

Before stepping out into the balmy tropical night she reaches across the spongy cut price mattress and nasty nylon bed sheet for her bag. She has much to cry about, but instead just laughs out loud. What do they say? The meek shall inherit the earth!

RICHARD MARK DOBSON Island Streets Midnight Shadows (Penang Noir)
Corner of Lorong Lumut and Lorong Toh Aka

The Proton. A sub atomic particle. The national car of Malaysia. The one is an unseen mysterious force. Evenly distributed. Invisible and yet everywhere. The other is apportioned randomly. Parked all over the place.

A dull grey green Proton caught the cats eye.
Or did it? Was it not the strange smell emanating from the Proton's boot that tickled it's snout? An odour of rot that was still below the sensitivity level of the human nose, and yet strong enough to draw the street Tom out from the gutter and across the alley.

What's the saying? Curiosity killed the cat?

RICHARD MARK DOBSON Island Streets Midnight Shadows (Penang Noir)
Midnight Monk. Corner of Beach Street and Lorong Prangin

The crouching canny ones plan to plot one against another, and exchange wicked thoughts between themselves. Subliminally. Unholy minds think alike. So the deceitful and treacherous, intoxicated by their interest in doling out shady deals, cover their eyes with the cover of selfishness, and thus keep their hearts suspended in darkness and shadows.

Yet there is nothing more Godly than light itself. All that is other than light, depends on light to see a way forward. Henceforth they may stand up and step forward out from the shadows of their hearts and towards the path of Enlightenment. Purity. Wisdom. Honesty.

RICHARD MARK DOBSON Island Streets Midnight Shadows (Penang Noir)
Lorong Toh Aka

She wears the collar not with resignation but with irritation. Beyond her responsibilities of guarding the premises, she has an axe to grind. More than anything she wants to scratch that scab. Rip out the irritant. She's a bitch with an itch. The collar is her friend and yet she thinks of it as an enemy. Without the collar, she'd claw herself raw. Right now, life's an itch.

But suddenly, in the dead of night, something moves in the darkness. Her mind shifts focus. Now she has a different enemy to contend with. Her desire to scratch is replaced by her instinct to fight.

Her priorities change. From dubious friend to suspicious foe.

RICHARD MARK DOBSON Island Streets Midnight Shadows (Penang Noir)
Persiaran Abdullah Arrif

It's past midnight and all quiet at the house along the Persiaran Abdullah Arrif. The folks upstairs are asleep. Their dogs in the yard at the back are too. An old florescent car porch outside light flickers and hums.

The faulty tube flashes pale greenish blue light through the net curtained kitchen window, into the dark and hushed house interior. But the scullery door ajar, allows these intermittent beams of sallow cyan to bounce around in the adjoining hallway and illuminate the circular stained glass windows in the front door. The two decorative portals appear to be blinking like the eyes of a madman.

To the thief standing across the street in the shadows of Persiaran Abdullah Arrif, observing these demonic winks, decides the place reminds him of a house of horrors, and decides to move on.

RICHARD MARK DOBSON Island Streets Midnight Shadows (Penang Noir)
Kanh. New Assakim Hostel. Lebuh Chulia

The rat catcher around the New Assakim hostel is a three colour calico called Khan. His mainstay fare is leftover fried rise courtesy of the hostel's doorman. He supplements the heavy carb diet with some protein. That of raw meat Rattus Norvegicus.

Rodents emerge in plentiful supply from the labrynth of underground tunnels that crisscross this town they call Georgetown. A maze of dark canals of gurgling fetid black water. Passageways built by the British when Penang was regional HQ of the mighty Great East India company. The rats need to come up for air from these dank, humid holes to ferret for food. Cheap stay hostels and dormitories are a repository of crumbs that rats are drawn towards, like vampires to blood. And therein sits Khan.

Waiting patiently for the sound of scurrying feet.

RICHARD MARK DOBSON Island Streets Midnight Shadows (Penang Noir)
Masjid Pakistan. Corner of Jalan Macalister and Jalan Kek Chuan

The muezzin calls the Friday faithful to prayer. It's a ritual that far surpasses the evening rush hour outside. The mosque is a place of peace and prostation, the street is one of chaos and indignation. While the red robed muezzin cries, and the black crows in the trees along the Jalan crow, the heavens above, scream out in putrescent purple. Allahu Akbar, God is great.

RICHARD MARK DOBSON Island Streets Midnight Shadows (Penang Noir)
Red Flash back. Jalan Kelantan

Flash forward, flash back. He spent his life craving the future, and before he knew it, he was missing his past. From youth to old age in the blink of an eye. This evening he thought he saw a black hearse before him! Wasn't it just yesterday he mused, that he was in his pram.

Suddenly the vehicle flashed its tail lights. He was blinded by a crimson glare. Through the dazzle of dancing red phosphenes behind his closed eyelids, he wondered if he had died! His suspicion was aroused. "ain't the gates of heaven bathed in white light?" he asked himself. "Then dammit. I must be in hell".

RICHARD MARK DOBSON Island Streets Midnight Shadows (Penang Noir)
The Equator. Jalan Hutton

The equator is an imaginary line drawn around the earth equally distant from both poles, dividing the earth into northern and southern hemispheres and constituting the parallel of latitude 0°. Equatorial regions are hot, torrid, sweltering; humid, oppressive. Someone of an equivocal nature has a doubtful character, is questionable; dubious; suspicious, ambiguous. Someone to be aware of, in the same way they are aware of you. Assume everything, question everything!

RICHARD MARK DOBSON Island Streets Midnight Shadows (Penang Noir)
Ghosts in the Machine. Gurney Reclamation and Marina bay

Wasting time, he stands at the side of gurney reclamation and marina bay, and with the distant tide dissolving away, into a grey dusk, it reminds him of a dock of decay. He looks across to the concrete structures and twinkling lights of the Straits Quay and as it appears to float on the sand and mud flats he thinks of Stephen King's Dark Tower and Waste Lands . Oh and Arthur Koestler's ghost in the machine. Works which explain humanity's tendency toward self-destruction.

He pulls on his cigarette and in the post-day gloom considers doom. How the concrete apron nearby to his right, reminds him of an empty stage. A vacant stage set against an uninhabited world. The glowing lights are merely an illusion he concludes, for like distant stars their rays have taken thousands of years to finally reach his retina. They died long ago.

Gone are all the people, he philosophizes, ruminating on human folly and how cyclical political–historical dynamics, reach the height of their potential in the nuclear arms arena.

The machine still stands, but the ghosts (human souls) have departed!

RICHARD MARK DOBSON Island Streets Midnight Shadows (Penang Noir)
Young Haeder. Corner of Jalan Kedah and Kelantan

Hercules, the Greco-Roman God held up the sky. Haeder (a boy's name meaning Lion in Malay) holds up a silver Astra. The young man, under the glare of solar street lamps, prepares himself mentally and physically for duties asked of him by the Malaysian Gods above. The canonical "Twelve Labours" he's been asked to perform;

1. Slay the Sumatran Tiger
2. Slay the nine-headed Taman Negara Hydra
3. Capture the Golden Cow of Nanga
4. Capture the Boar of Bidor
5. Clean the Titiwangsa stables in a single day
6. Slay the a Rhinoceros Hornbill
7. Capture the Muar Bull
8. Steal the Water Buffaloes of Bandar Tenggara.
9. Obtain the girdle of Cempaka, Queen of the Batang.
10. Obtain the cattle of the monster Santu Sakai
11. Steal the papaya of the Orang Mawas
12. Capture and bring back Tambuakar

Haeder as he pushes against the gravity of the deeds before him, with head bowed, prays; "O Allah protect me from my front, behind me, from my right and my left, and from above me, and I seek refuge in Your Magnificence from being taken unaware from beneath me."

RICHARD MARK DOBSON Island Streets Midnight Shadows (Penang Noir)
Dead Colours. Lebuh Herriot

Master painters lay down dead colours on canvas, a monochromatic underpainting that's rendered in cold, dull, matte hues. Chinese butchers, lay down a live hog with one masterful knife slash to the throat, a technique passed down from father to son. Unlike the colour of underpainting, freshly killed pig is all pink, vivid, fleshy tones. Dead colours have no gloss upon them. Pork fat glistens.

In Medieval Europe, pigs that killed humans, some committing infanticide, stealing human babies from their cots, would be caught, held in prison, tried in court, and then publicly hanged before huge crowds.

In Georgetown Penang, swine die quick surreptitious deaths with hardly a squeal. Concealed behind shuttered doors and windows in dimly lit shop houses, their innocuous demise transpires purposefully well out of sight of the Muslim majority. Only the Chinese God Caishen looks on from behind a porcelain vase of red and yellow carnations.

RICHARD MARK DOBSON Island Streets Midnight Shadows (Penang Noir)
Hand of the Pharaoh. Campbell Street.

The Rosetta Stone helped scholars crack the code of hieroglyphics. The ancient Egyptian hand hieroglyph is an alphabetic hieroglyph with the meaning of "d", as in death, decay, demise. It is also used in the word for 'hand', and actions that are performed, i.e. by the 'way of one's hands', or actions. Stab, strike, grasp, feel.

Down the dimly lit corridor of the old housing estate on Campbell street, the blind Malay woman Siti, uses her hands for touch and feel. The old bricks are her braille. She knows the irregularities of their shape and texture. They tell her where she is along the gloomy corridor. She stops at the top of the stairwell and draws a breath. But she's going nowhere. By no means down. Not yet anyway.

While stretching her numb legs and feet, she feels the light she can't see. Her hand senses the heat changes between the hollow bricks. After warming her fingertips and her heart with warm sun light, she turns around and heads back to her small, dark cramped government flat. Where she exists. Alone.

RICHARD MARK DOBSON Island Streets Midnight Shadows (Penang Noir)
In the court of the Crimson King. Jalan Dato Keramat

The King Crimson is often assumed to be a synonym for Beelzebub - prince of demons. A name derived from a Philistine God, formerly worshiped in Ekron (Israel) and later adopted by some Abrahamic religions as a major demon.

In Muslim Malaysia Israeli passport holders are forbidden to enter Malaysia without written permission from the Ministry of Home Affairs. Mossad agents slip in and out. Under cover of course. They know too, that landlines are a secure form of communication. Public phone boxes been the most secure of all.

Getting back to the Crimson King. It's widely known in the land of the Philistines, that he reigned where there were societal rumblings and dark forces at play and his other name 'Beelzebub' as an anglicized form of the Arabic phrase "B'il Sabab" means "the man with an aim". Or mission for a better word.

Ishraaq concluded his conversation in Malay and hung up the receiver. After stepping away from the phone box and taking note of its appearance before stepping off the pavement into the road, he thought to himself in Hebrew, that it reminded him of 'Epitaph', one of his favourite King Crimson song's.

As he crossed the Jalan Dato Keramat, he sang it to himself in English,

"The wall on which the prophets wrote
Is cracking at the seams
Upon the instruments of death
The sunlight brightly gleams
When every man is torn apart
With nightmares and with dreams
Will no one lay the laurel wreath
The silence drowns the screams".....

RICHARD MARK DOBSON Island Streets Midnight Shadows (Penang Noir)
Breaking of the Bread. Jalan Mansoor

11pm. Baking of the bread. “I do with God's help.” she murmurs. Breaking of the bread. 'Oh that's the Holy Communion' she concedes.

It's dark and noisy and hot in this cramped bakery, smothered in tropical heat. The ovens only add to the misery. Rimba thinks of Jesus. She's a Christian Indonesian on the payroll of the Chinese owned Maliia bakery, working overtime. She's cheap labour on low wages. The clatter of tin baking trays on the metal racks ads to the cacophony on sound. It's not all hell, fire and brimstone though. The warm golden loaves, fresh from the ovens, like manna from heaven, do smell divine.

Small recompense for Rimba however, for even though one of Satan's challenges was, “If you are the Child of God, command this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written, ‘one cannot live by bread alone.’”

RICHARD MARK DOBSON Island Streets Midnight Shadows (Penang Noir)
Time. Corner of Jalan Seang Tek and Lebuh Nanning

Ticking away the moments that make up a busy day, but he doesn't fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way. It's all work. And work again.

He's old now. His life has been long. Most of it spent standing in a cramped kitchen from 6:00am to 7pm. Toiling in fetid heat doing wok work. Lots of it. Cooking chicken fried rice for the most part.

So now, Cheng, hangs on in a kind of quiet desperation. And contemplate his life after hours. When alone. He enjoys the solitude. Alone gain. He stares at the clock on the wall and laments feeling shorter of breath. And one day closer to death.

Slouched in the gloom in the dining room, while the sun has set hours ago, he knows it's racing to come up again. The next shift will commence soon. He considers his fate. In daylight and sunshine he slaves like a pack mule. At night time and in darkness he's free. Free to do nothing but gaze at the wall clock.

Time to Cheng, every year seems to be getting shorter. Far away across the town, he can hear Muezzin calling the faithful to their knees. Time is gone. His day is over. He has nothing more to do!

RICHARD MARK DOBSON Island Streets Midnight Shadows (Penang Noir)
The watching waiting compound eye. Beach Street.

The compound eye of the dragon fly has some 30 thousand light sensitive facets. Each of these lenses points in a different direction, creating its own image. The dragonfly's brain compiles these thousands of images into one picture. Think surveillance CCTV on steroids. These ancient insects have evolved over the past 350 billion years to be the most successful hunters in the natural world.

They don't chase prey, but predict where it's heading. Then intercept it with lightning speed and a 95% success rate. The highest average kill or capture statistic of any living creature on earth. Their speed, distance, direction calculus is supercomputer accurate. This is a time, place and event prediction ability that the muggers lurking in the shadows around the banks and ATM terminals along Beach street wish they had indeed!

RICHARD MARK DOBSON Island Streets Midnight Shadows (Penang Noir)
Madame Chai. Jalan Kedah.

"Hey kid, you're not old enough to enter this establishment, so I'm going to stand here and stare you down until you shuffle on.

Admittedly young man, this place is for teenage sexual fantasies. But you're out of luck. It's for grown men! Desires fulfilled for a price. There's a legal age limit. We don't like to do illegal things around here.

So kid, look, come back when you're older with a fistful of ringgit and my girls will give you the time of your life. They know how to make big boys cry. Like babies at their mothers nipple.
But for now, lad. Skedaddle".

RICHARD MARK DOBSON Island Streets Midnight Shadows (Penang Noir)
Gat Lebuh Acheh

Series: Island Streets Midnight Shadows (Penang Noir)
Title: Grey Zone. Jalan Mansoor

Il fait gris. It’s a dull day. Le travail à domicile en zone grise. Home work in the gray zone. French is not spoken widely in Penang, except by some. Mathuram Anbuselvan is one of the few. In Malay she's anak perempuan, literally the daughter of Anbuselvan.

Mathuram lived in France for a year. Not to study french, but to work as an intern at the Malaysian Embassy in Paris. She had a rather dull clerical job. Shuffling papers. None of them classified. She found the city rather grey and forlorn in winter. Les Miserables. But the summer she felt more at home in the marginally warmer weather.

Now back in Penang, in a little grey room off Gat Lebuh Acheh, this time shuffling papers for an Indian merchant called Divit, she often thinks of Paris and reminisces. Swopping Occidental and Oriental grey office memories. She contemplates her ying and yang existence. More light than dark. She goes to work in the dark. Returns home when it's dark. In between that she sits in her monotone office.

For Mathuram, its mostly monotone monotony in a grey zone.

RICHARD MARK DOBSON Island Streets Midnight Shadows (Penang Noir)
Wisma Yatim Laki-Laki Orphanage. Corner of Jalan Air Itam and Jalan Thean Teik

The Wisma Yatim Laki-Laki Muslim Boys orphanage, officiated by the Chief Minister of the Federation of Malaya, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra, in 1956, has two wings with a minaret in the centre.

Seen through the heavy wrought iron railings from the busy intersection of Jalan Air Itam and and Thean Teik, the building some might say has a rather austere presence.

Each evening at the orphanage, with bats flitting around the onion dome of the minaret, as the light of day fades into night, we hear a sort of collective murmuring. For at this time, the dean of the school reminds the boys that to avoid the fire of hell, they need to guard their speech and recite the following;

اتقوا النار ولو بشق تمرة ، فمن لم يجد فبكلمة طيبة

“Save yourself from the (Hell) Fire even with half a date. And if you do not have any, then with a good pleasant word.”

In point form they are told;

1. It is recommended to give to charity even if the only have half a date seed.
2. If there are no dates or they can't afford them, then good words are enough.
3. Good speech will slay ego and arrogance.
4. People don't like arrogant people.

The bats outside, snatching moths beddazzled by the flickering neon, ignorant to the teachings inside, don't think about Heaven or Hell either. They are just too busy hunting down their prey.

RICHARD MARK DOBSON Island Streets Midnight Shadows (Penang Noir)
A Fake Silver. Teluk Bahang.

The Feng Shui Guanyin Buddha silver card for protection. An amulet against evil, danger and disease? Does this thing really have magic powers? And make the holder invincible. There are many around here that certainly hope so.

But forgeries are rife. To recognize an authentic silver takes cunning. The question then is, will a fake or copycat charm work? Or will it merely cast a spell and bring harm upon its user. So instead of wealth, happiness, prosperity and longevity, it's deprivation, misery, failure and death.

RICHARD MARK DOBSON Island Streets Midnight Shadows (Penang Noir)
Diptych. Sweet Dreams. Gat Jalan Prangin

Just off Jalan Prangin down a narrow dank alleyway one comes to a window with no curtains.  At this portal odors mingle. Drain and sewer smells from the streets outside mix with the pong of unwashed clothes and stale food inside. It's a very organic aroma. Eye watering indeed. 

Through the window and watery eyes one notices a man asleep.  He's in a state of deep sleep. Sleep so deep he looks like he might never awaken from it.  And if you whispered in his ear while he snored and asked him if he wanted to be shaken from his dreams, he'd probably answer no! 

For his subconscious mind would whisper back, and tell you that right now he's having heavenly dreams of been recumbent with 10 buxom wenches on a king sized bed. Overlooking the golden beaches of Tahiti. Sipping pina coladas and coke.

Yet once awakened he'd be back to the nightmare. Of hunger, poverty, lice and fleas. Gamy air and moldy rice. His dreams are full of fun and hope. With his eyes open and wide awake, he'd be back to his reality. Of no fun. No hope.

Let him sleep!

RICHARD MARK DOBSON Island Streets Midnight Shadows (Penang Noir)
Gat Jalan Prangin

Island Streets, Midnight Shadows
(Penang Noir)
Street photography has a long and rich history that we might say has its genesis with Magnum co-founder Henri Cartier-Bresson who in the 1930's championed the seminal concept, ‘the decisive moment’ and in so doing set an early precedent for the collective exploration of the street.
While the meaning of street photography has evolved over the decades with new technologies and approaches, I feel personally that it still offers the most profound way to test one’s ability to dance the photographers dance.
What I mean by ‘the dance’ is that one needs to be nimble enough in mind and body to capture a compelling image that is forged out of the turmoil and random chaos that is the street.
Life is disorderly and it plays itself out in the most disorderly ways. Even more so on the street. Stand on any corner in any city and you will witness a flurry of colliding moments. The art of street photography to my mind is capturing those moments in such a way to allocate meaning to them. Giving order to those moments and in so doing, forge your own narrative from them, and in turn hoping to offer visual clues to others so that they might derive some meaning from them too.
Another challenge of the street photographer is to seize those random moments in such a way so as to make them appear like they appeared for you. And you alone. They were given to you by some sort of divine intervention. This is metaphorically speaking of course. We are not literally controlling reality but merely been highly selective and determining within the discipline of the edges of the viewfinder deciding what to include.
What to leave out. And when to press the shutter. The why, what, where and how questions are ever more relevant to the street photographer. While fashion photographers direct, street photographers can only anticipate and make sure they are exactly where they need to be to get the ‘decisive’ moment. When all the chaos before them gels into one cohesive and ‘complete’ visual structure!!! That is when all the elements within the frame coalesce to form ‘the absolute’ perfect’ combination of pure visual potentiality.
I recall veteran colour street photographer Ernst Haas said something like this; ‘the photographers discipline is the frame of the viewfinder. What you choose to include within and what one chooses to leave out, is what defines you as a photographer’.
The dance then for me is forging my own ‘vision’ out of the randomness of the street. And more recently I have taken an interest in how having a concept in my head, actually influences reality. Yes I want to embellish a little bit on what I mentioned in the previous paragraph.
I am becoming more fascinated with the strangeness of coincidence and pondering the notion of changing reality by thinking about it differently. For as I experiment it seems to me I can 'persuade' the street to offer up scenes or scenarios that snap into the loosely constructed figments of vision, concepts or themes that float around in my head. I witness the street align itself with my fanciful imaginings and I become increasingly fascinated to see how I can coax from the tapestry of the street what I need to complete my vision simply by willing things to happen!
An example of this therefore I hope is evident in the work developed for the Penang Open Artist Exhibition. I needed an excuse to explore Georgetown, but I didn't want to merely wander around and collect random visual vignettes of a postcard picture perfect heritage listed historical town. I wanted to have a theme in my head that would force me to look at George Town differently.
I chose 'film noir'. Film noir can mean a lot of different things to different people, but to establish a discourse I present the Wikipedia definition; 'a style or genre of cinematographic film marked by a mood of pessimism, fatalism, and menace'.
With these words in mind, I took to the street. And I let reality dish up what it needed to offer to help me complete my vision. I wanted the resulting images to have a sense of ambiguity mystery and menace.
Street photography. Its not just an activity. Its a philosophy.
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