COOL KL 2020: Catherhea Highlights Diversity In Her Photography

Text and Interview Aina Nur Sarah Photography Arifah Hadirah Styling Lim Lee Ann Art Direction Keisha Ryman Wardrobe Talent’s Own Videography Lucas Moujing


Her biggest aim is to shed more light on the minority

In this 2020 edition of COOL KL, we look to individuals making a change creatively and the youth who are impacting society in every way. 

What would the youth do? Break beauty standards and fight for the marginalised. The best way they do that is through their art.

Catherhea Teoh is a freelance photographer based in Kuala Lumpur, who focuses on photographing largely underrepresented people in a vogue-ish style — empowering portraits of curvy women in lingerie and people of colour in their realest selves. 

Our first encounter with her photography was on Twitter when a few of her projects gained traction. ‘Bad brown gals’ breaks the brown girl stereotype and shows the girls breaking every rule. Then we saw ‘Skintsugi’ which highlights her subject’s insecurities but turns it into gold. Catherhea has even been featured in International publications like Glamour, Hello Giggles, Glitty and even MTV Asia

Her influences? “Just about anyone or anything that makes me feel some type of way. A mood, a feeling, a texture, a cause.” And her main cause is shedding light on the minority, adding diversity to the content we consume. 

Over the years, the fight for representation in the media we consume has been strong. The public want to see people who are like them, someone they can relate to. Especially when the media has been pushing a cookie cutter image for decades, representation in art/media is like a breath of fresh air. But it needs to stay. Catherhea believes that representation in her work is so important. “Seeing someone in the media that looks like you has a great effect on your psyche.” 


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badd brown gals (4/4): brown girls who are taking charge of their own autonomy regardless of the persecution by society and those within their own community (swipe right for cute surprise!) ▪️ “Seven strong, empowered women with skin dipped in different beautiful shades of chocolate. We are brown. We are badd. We don’t conform to your standards of how we should be according to ancient, backwards societal standards. Instead we are who we want to be, from career-driven to pro-choice to being bold and strong to wearing whatever the hell we want to being confident and happy with who we are and to many more. To those who think we are supposed to be good indian girls – quiet, submissive, conservative. I say go back to the stone ages because we are here to stay, to grow and to dominate. 💅 It’s 2019. Time to take the trash out. (Yes. That misogynistic double standards you are clinging onto, uncle and aunty. It’s time to dispose of that mentality.)” — Kaveeta (@_kaveetanair) ▪️ assisted by @thavinyajazlyn and @z3rography ▪️ #photography #fashion #portrait #art #style #girlgaze #streetdreamsmag #ny #la #london #asian #beauty #desi #praisintheasian #sleepwear #lingerie #sleepover #slumberparty #girlsnight #bff #bestfriend #sisters #browngirls #plussizefashion #curvy #curls #fatshionista #effyourbeautystandards #desigirls #pursuitofportraits @asiangirlsunited @tinted @vogueindia @simran @pursuitofportraits

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How did you get started in photography?

My mother gave me my first camera when I was 16, and ever since then I’ve just been obsessed, especially since it started off being a way for me to connect with others.


What’s your creative process like?

Having some directions can help, so when an idea strikes I research a little and put together a general moodboard. But mostly I operate on instinct and wing it, ’cause sometimes I prefer just letting things be.


Which photographers’ work are you most fond of? And why?

It’s hard to pick, but I was first motivated to improve my work aesthetically because of Roshan Menon. Learning he was Malaysian blew my mind because his work had that charismatic sunny LA vibe. Discovering the works of Ridduan Ismail left me deeply in awe, due to the vivid, dynamic compositions and expressions in his art direction, and that his subjects were mostly brown models. 

Then I came across Daniel Adams whose work covers social topics as well, and presented in a highly conceptual, avant garde manner. Last couple of years I’ve learnt of Amani Azlin, a true visionary who produces breathlessly beautiful, poignant storytelling in her art. They come across like paintings that need to be up in museums. 

Followed by Alia Soraya, who has such a brilliant eye for colours and the way she photographs her subjects. And most recently, Annatasha, who photographs women in a very lush, stylish ambience, and the final images are impossible to ignore, being very soft & very easy on the eyes.


“You’re allowed to live in the moment.”


Your photographs have a consistent theme of youth and diversity, has that always been something you wanted to spotlight in your work?

The main theme here is diversity, especially people in communities that are rejected and/or ignored in Malaysia. I’ve had friends with darker skin who genuinely believed their own unique beauty will never amount to their sisters with fair skin, and that was one of the things I couldn’t accept.


You also often photograph things that aren’t always shown in mainstream media (and shot in the most beautiful ways), is that important to you?

Because representation is important! Seeing someone in the media that looks like you has a great effect on your psyche. Being able to identify yourself with the world helps you feel empowered, inspired, and a little more connected.



What is your favourite shot you’ve ever taken? And why?

From the series Mandi Sungai: Antara Bangsa, there is a shot where the girls formed in a circle and had their hands reaching up, as though summoning something. The series in general displayed a warm feeling of sisterhood from different backgrounds, but that shot feels a little extra magical.


What do you struggle with most as a photographer?

Self-doubt and wondering if I’m ever doing enough, but that comes from overvaluing other people’s opinions, good and bad.


What’s the biggest message you’d like to convey through your photographs?

You’re allowed to live in the moment. You’re not obligated to look or act a certain way to start living your life. You don’t have to love yourself now, but you can live now.