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Art Photobook Reviews

Sawasdee Zine...and others by Hean Kuan

Updated: Aug 7, 2018

I love street photography. If it is done well, then you truly get a sense of atmosphere, of place. These days, we are all participants in the art. Our phones have become our cameras, and are constantly at our sides, and yet without the eye or the confidence, more often than not all we end up with are snapshots that fall a long way short of more experienced practitioners.

As well as looking at the luxurious volumes produced by publishing houses for established artists, it is also worth bearing in mind that there is always new talent pushing through, casting new light and bringing a youthful approach to the medium.

One such exponent is a young Malaysian talent, Hean Kuan. To my knowledge, yet to be scooped up by one of the aforementioned publishers, he has over the last few years released three self published zines which document his travels around different cities in South East Asia.

Originally a native of the city of Penang. Kuan moved away....studied.... experienced life, and when he returned found himself in a transformed and culturally reinvigorated home town. A self taught photographer, he set about recording the city life around him.

To date he has published three zine sets. Each comprising two volumes of images. and each made up of photographs taken in different cities in different countries. Three collections of full bleed pictures which capture the energy and romance of each location.

The first, Home Town, understandably concentrated on his home town of Penang. Whether street vendors selling street food, the explosive act of grating a coconut, or portraits of locals, the energy of this Malaysian city swirls around us. Published in 2016 in an edition of fifty copies, Home town is unfortunately now sold out.

However, the good news for those wishing to dip into Kuan's travels, is that both of the following volumes are still available.

Day by Day and Night by Night, again released in 2016 also in an edition of fifty, shows an increase in confidence and a crisper more clearly defined vision. The twin volumes for this edition are secured by an illustrated sleeve sealed with a sticker.

This time the location is Japan and Kuan spent time travelling around cities in the areas of Kansai and Chubu. Walking up to eight hours a day recording his experiences as he went.

From his description

If you ask, what is street photography?


And his answer will be “day by day, night by night”.

他的答案是 「日常,夜常"

Again some wonderful images that pay homage to their environment, without being intimidated or forced to use traditional iconography to make it's point. Power lines, brooding skies, and a glorious picture of a woman on a push bike, looking truly serene whilst the world whizzes by at a million miles an hour. Welcome to Japan

Fans of Provoke will no doubt enjoy Kuan's work, as stylistically it compares to those lauded innovators from the sixties and seventies. In this case, to my mind Nakahira. This is in no way meant to take anything away from Kuan's work. In a medium where virtually every technique of processing, printing, exposing etc has been explored by pretty much everybody...comparisons are nothing short of inevitable. The look and style is one thing. Having the eye, quite another.

Which brings us to his latest release. Sawasdee Zine places us firmly in Bankok Thailand. The streets and their markets, the girls, the temples....those power lines. They are all present, again recognisable aspects of one of SE Asia's most iconic cities, and once again seen though the eyes of this fresh new talent.

The twin volume format, and full bleed style are retained, but once again the confidence and quality is raised. The paper, the quality of the printing, the design. Hean Kuan is definitely finding his rhythm. Once again it is produced in signed limited edition of just fifty copies.

The design is simply beautiful. Once removed from their sleeve, each volume is printed with half the Buddha's face, and when placed together form a seamless image. Light on the front, dark on the back. male and female.

Artists like Hean Kuan are forming the back bone of the next generation of photographers, and now is the time to be supporting both him and his like.

These independently produced books, all in small editions - and all signed - can be acquired for next to nothing, and yet stand head and shoulders with work by more established artists. I encourage you to check him out.

Hean Kuan's zines can be obtained from


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