Framing Life, Through A Window


Reading time : 4 minutes

Photographs by Khairul I. Irwan
Words by George Shelley

Published on March 12, 2021

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In Bandar Seri Begawan, Khairul I. Irwan captures moments beyond a barrier. LINEAL delves into the works of the street photographer.    

For many photographers, street photography is an important insight into the lives of others, almost invariably strangers, ordinary folks going about their daily lives. The challenge is often how to bring the mundane to life, how to make the ordinary interesting. This is no different for Bruneian photographer Khairul I. Irwan. Irwan was born and raised in his country’s capital — Bandar Seri Begawan —  a vibrant, colourful environment in which to flourish as a street photographer. 

Irwan’s passion for photography stems from dabbling with his father’s camera in high school. Developing his skills and, most importantly, his eye, it wasn’t until the age of 22 that the lensman started to take photography seriously. 

With a Fujifilm XT2 and a kit lens in hand, Irwan looks at things differently. This allows for a “new perspective” on space around him. Successful street photographers see what others miss. They capture interactions that never happen the same way twice; the deepest thoughts of the office worker, street bum and coffee drinker. They immortalise moments between strangers, friends, colleagues or lovers. They truly observe, not just a passing glance. Street photography is a way to slow down the world, to look outwardly, to make most people’s reality important. 

The window series done by Irwan is a perfect example of a street photographer communicating how he sees the world. Irwan aims to capture the life of subjects through the panel. He expresses the importance of composition, but also the message he is trying to get across; “I love it when I am able to frame one’s life through a rectangular box”. The medium of a window is clever, acknowledging a barrier while drawing the viewer into a person’s life, thoughts and emotions. 

But the way Irwan uses windows is special. In part, this is because of its nature. They are transparent but they rarely allow a complete view of the subject — we can’t see everything.  Irwan succeeds in giving a depth of insight but also leaving us guessing.  

From a stylistic perspective, Irwan uses “symmetries, leading lines, contrast and colours”. It is important for the photographer to capture moments in the most visually pleasing way using these elements. The result reflects the photographer’s instinct and his skill, in particular the skill of turning the innocuous into art, turning the insignificant into the riveting. The images he shares in Begawan Visuals, a repository of his works which he describes as Street + Art.

With all the shots taken in Brunei, there may be an attempt to connect with one’s community and environment. Making sense of these two components is crucial for the continuation of a cohesive community. Irwan seems to be trying to get this across, to the viewer. He states “every window I see with life behind it is always different”. This is a nod to the diversity of experiences and passions among communities. According to the photographer, these are all expressed in the smallest, most repeatable actions but successfully captured “random and spontaneous”. 

Living in a small country such as Brunei encourages the following of a similar routine by a whole range of strangers. But with the effects of COVID being felt, the streets are all the more empty, allowing Irwan to see his city and its people in ways he could’ve never imagined. 

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