These Old Photographs Of Women From The Malay Archipelago Will Amaze You

It may be difficult to believe in our current selfie-obsessed world that capturing a picture used to be so rare. Even just a few decades ago, taking a photo was a labour. It was a process; not something so instant that we’re so used to right now. Nothing was instant. Simply imagining that we would have screens that see into other parts of the world instantaneously was something out of a fairytale. Science fiction.

Take it further back to earlier in the century where technology was in its infant stages. When even some of the most basic infrastructures — plumbing, running water, electricity — was unheard of. Having your image immortalised was a luxury — in some families in the West it was considered a yearly affair.

For the nations in the Archipelago, they were less developed. They may not even have had their photograph captured, ever.

That’s why these archival images of young women that were curated by the Malaysian Design Archive are so intriguing. As Malaysians we know our history as was taught by our school’s curriculum. The people who lived here, the originals, the native people, “dijajah” by colonial forces who came to the shores.

These pictures pose the question: Who brought this technology to our lands? Who were the photographers? Who captured these women and did they know what they were posing for? Did they know what photographs were, even?

Now that we have screens that look into the current, we take a look at it as a glimpse into the past. In this article by the Malaysian Design Archive we see the collective so lovingly permitted by Professor Farish Noor for their digitisation on the MDA database are a peek into woman power in our region back in the early parts of the 20th century.

Here are some of our favourites.

Frida Kahlo, who? We are blown away by the courageous, empowered countenance of this beautiful woman. Credit: Malaysia Design Archive

Something that looks so effortlessly posed for — where are they right now? Why is there no background in this picture? We have many questions… Credit: Malaysia Design Archive

Every day women — off to market or just on the way back? Credit: Malaysia Design Archive

Click to this article by the MDA and see the full slideshow and be in awe of the beauty of these women in their simplicity, from just donning a batik sarong, to others dressed up in dancing costumes and some more elaborate attire.

It makes us wonder if people from next century look back to the photographs of now, what would they be thinking?

We should probably be more careful, more curated when lensing our images. And not in the way that Instagram requires. Rather, from the next generations’ point of views.