Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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Brunei Town

The tie that binds

A father guides his young daughter in navigating her passions, building a foundation for growth and exploration

Immersed in the timeless allure of analogue photography lies a richness in sensory stimulation and tactile delight that eludes the digital domain.

Beyond mere aesthetics, there’s an ineffable quality in the grain and texture of film that stirs nostalgia and evokes a profound connection. It’s the tactile experience of handling a vintage camera, the ritual of loading film, and the intimate engagement of developing photographs that sets analogue apart.

In this demesne, photographers embark on a journey imbued with history and craftsmanship, finding fulfilment in each tactile step of the process. At least that’s what Zabady, the creative mind behind @cahaya.kotak, believes. As a passionate film photography hobbyist, his journey into motion film and analogue photography commenced during his university years back in 2007 in the United Kingdom as part of his academic curriculum.

“While I dabbled in them for a period, my focus shifted towards digital filmmaking. However, after a decade-long hiatus, I rediscovered my passion for film photography,” said Zabady.

His muse for this re-awakening? His four-year-old-daughter, Cahaya.

Cahaya on a swing. PHOTO: ZABADY


Isolated due to chickenpox as a precaution, Zabady was determined to keep Cahaya engaged without resorting to gadgets and screens. “I hit upon the idea of gifting her a disposable film camera. Each day, I took her on mini photo excursions, teaching her the basics of operating the camera and encouraging her to capture subjects that caught her eye,” beamed the doting father.

Zabady shared that Cahaya’s initial shots were a mix of candid family moments, glimpses of nature and assorted objects that piqued her curiosity, and for him, this endeavour marked a return to photography after years of setting it aside.

“Witnessing her delight as we developed and scanned her first roll of film reignited my own passion for the craft.

“Eager to nurture her newfound interest, I promptly purchased a film point-and-shoot camera for her and invested in a SLR for myself. And so, our dual journey into the world of film photography began.”

Cahaya holding on to Zabady’s hand. PHOTO: ZABADY


While Zabady hasn’t experienced a significant change in his own creative process since teaming up with his daughter, he has rather observed her frequently emulating his actions.
“This dynamic has been intriguing as it provides a platform for teaching her about composition and subject matter. Surprisingly, there are moments when the roles reverse, and I find myself learning from her unique perspective.”

The ecstatic father described that being much smaller, Cahaya’s view of the world is refreshingly different from his, leading to a symbiotic exchange of ideas during their photo walks, resulting in his further encouragement for her to explore independently.

“During a local Chinese New Year event at the temple, I allowed her to roam freely (albeit with a watchful eye) amidst the bustling crowd, capturing the festivities from her pint-sized perspective.

“The resulting photographs, characterised by low angles and unfiltered spontaneity, offered a glimpse into her uninhibited creativity.”

Similarly, on a hiking trip with her grandmother (Zabady’s mother), he shared Cahaya’s insistence on bringing her camera along, capturing captivating moments along the trail entirely on her own initiative. In these instances, Zabady believes her autonomy and youthful curiosity breathe new life into his own photographic endeavours, reminding him of the beauty found in embracing a childlike sense of wonder.

A photo of a trail Cahaya took during a hiking excursion. PHOTO: CAHAYA

Reflecting on photographing with his daughter, Zabady cherishes moments etched in memory. Her shorter stamina prompts shorter walks, urging him to choose locations mindful of her playful nature.

A trip to Damuan Recreational Park epitomises this, as she darted towards the playground, diverting their plans.

Amidst Cahaya’s rapid clicks and joyous play, he captures candid moments, realising the value of documenting her carefree spirit. Each photo holds not just a scene, but conversations and her perspective. In an age dominated by technology, he treasures these tangible memories, bridging the gap it can create in parent-child bonds.

A photo taken by Cahaya at Damuan Recreational Park in Brunei-Muara District


While staying current in the digital age is crucial, the film photography enthusiast believes that it’s essential to recognise that memories stored digitally may one day vanish or become lost amid the vast sea of digitisation.

“I am definitely hoping for her to grasp the significance of preserving memories in tangible form.

“We need the ability to engage with memories as physical entities we can touch, smell, feel, and see, and that’s precisely what film photography offers. Through the preservation of negatives, we can peer into worlds that span decades.”


He shared his aspiration for Cahaya to realise the vastness of the world waiting to be explored beyond her gadgets and screens, and, above all, he cherishes the prospect of creating shared memories through their shared hobby – being able to recount their journey, anecdotes and adventures to others.

At only four years old, Cahaya already comprehends the intricacies of the film process, understanding the importance of shielding the enclosed film from light and patiently awaiting the development process to reveal her captures.

From here, the doting father believes her learning will only expand, as she navigates her own creative challenges and hones her technical skills in photography.

“She will explore innovative ways to narrate her stories through images, whether with guidance from me or through her own discoveries. To have played a part in her journey fills me with immense pride.”

A photo by Cahaya of the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur


Film photography is just one of Cahaya’s many hobbies and her father senses she’s still exploring them. He acknowledges that her interests may evolve over time, but sees value in the tangible evidence of her journey.

“Time always seems to slip away too quickly, especially when it comes to spending moments with our children.

“As a parent to my firstborn daughter, I often find myself navigating the complexities of parenthood,” he ruminated.

In today’s hyper-connected world, Zabady believes it’s crucial to remain actively engaged in her life, fostering a sense of connection amidst the digital noise.

Photos taken by Zabady

In their shared experiences, he hopes to instil in her a foundation of trust, open communication and security that will shape her character and beliefs.

“Recognising the central role fathers play in their daughters’ lives, I strive to set a positive example for her future relationships.

“It’s a responsibility I take seriously, as I aim to provide her with the love, support, and guidance she needs to navigate life’s challenges and discover her own sense of self-worth.”

Every photo walk with her is eagerly anticipated, despite her tender age. He knows she’ll eventually develop her own circle of friends who will shape her interests, but for now, he cherishes these shared moments.

While he can’t predict the future of their father-daughter photographic adventures, he hopes for continued good health so they can capture memories together for years to come. – Izah Azahari