PHOTOGRAPHY – mySELF, myFAMILY, myTOWN, 2005 – 2006

myBALIKpulau, Arts-ED, PENANG (myBALIKpulau PROGRAMME), 2005 – 2010

The “Photography – mySELF, myFAMILY, myTOWN” Project is an exercise in cultural mapping with young students using photography as a medium. Students studied themselves, their families and their town/village to compose photo-essays which collectively reflected the cultural assets of the place where they lived. Photo essays were exhibited in schools and public spaces for community viewing.

Participants learning photography skill through photography workshop.
Source: Arts-ED

Participants learning photography skill through photography workshop. Source: Arts-ED


Interpretation is based on the Archive Record Inventory of the Photography “mySELF, myFAMILY, myTOWN” Project and participant feedback.

Download the Archive Record Inventory (PDF)

Photography – mySELF, myFAMILY, myTOWN FACTS

1.1 Programme Name

myBALIKpulau Programme, 2005-2010

1.2 Project Title

Photography – mySELF, myFAMILY, myTOWN, 2005-2006

1.3 Context and Objective

This is the first project of the myBALIKpulau programme organised by Arts-ED in the agrarian district of Balik Pulau, south of Penang Island. This district faced a problem of out-migration by young school-leavers who felt that the rural economy had nothing to offer them.

The project was designed as a cultural mapping exercise aimed at helping young residents in the district learn more about their family and community history, local environment, and the local economy. It was hoped that the detailed mapping and documentation (using photo images and essays) would lead young residents to review the cultural assets of their living space, and develop an appreciation for their built and living heritage through the third eye of the camera.

1.4 Project Description

The project involved 15 participants from both primary and secondary school for a period of 2-months, during after-school hours, including weekends and holidays. The project was conceptualised and facilitated by visual artist Liew Kung Yu who was assisted by four facilitators from the Arts-ED team.

1.5 Source Material

Tangible cultural assets in the town and the memories of residents formed the main source material for the project. The children basically used themselves as the source for the photo essay entitled myself. Stories from parents, grandparents and siblings were the source of material for the myFAMILY photo essay. Source material for the myTOWN photo essay included the built and living environment as it was observed by the participants.

Participants used several secondary source materials which included cadastral maps of Balik Pulau obtained from the land office, a brief history of Balik Pulau in a catalogue marking 100 years of the District Office, entitled Perayaan 100 Tahun Pentadbiran Pejabat Daerah: Daerah Barat Daya Pulau Pinang, and a few articles in a locally published magazines entitled Penang Past and Present.

1.6 Organiser/Producer


1.7 Project Lead

Lead: Janet Pillai

Coordinator: Chen Yoke Pin

1.8 Creative Team

Visual Artist: Liew Kung Yu

Facilitators: Chen Yoke Pin, Ho Sheau Fung, Muna Mazlan, Adeline Ong, Choong Chi Ying

1.9 Participants

 SRK Sacred Heart 11-12 years Few participants only
SK St George 12 years Few participants only
SK Kongsi 12 years Few participants only
SRK Chong Teik 12 years Participants dropped out after the second workshop
SK Titi Teras 12 years Few participants only
 TOTAL Number of Participants 15 Participants

1.10 Events and Activities

Recruitment and Training
1-20 Nov 2005 Participant Recruitment Schools Balik Pulau
10-20 Nov 2005 Skill Training Internet Desa Balik Pulau
20-28 Nov 2005 Mapping ‘mySELF Balik Pulau
28 Nov-2 Dec 2005 Mapping ‘myFAMILY Balik Pulau
7, 14, 19, 20 Dec 2005 Bicycle Trail Balik Pulau
26-30 Dec 2005 Mapping ‘myTOWN Balik Pulau
15-21 Jan 2006 Teacher On site & District Office George Town & Balik Pulau Part of Third sub-regional Southeast Asian teacher training workshop on using art to teach about World Heritage
17-30 Jan 2006 Photography Exhibition by participants Old District and Land office Balik Pulau  –
10-31 March 2006 Photography Exhibition by participants USM ABN-AMRO Arts & Culture Centre  George Town  –

1.11 Promotional Material/Catalogue/Programme

Two posters were produced to promote the two photography exhibitions in 2006.

Supporting Archival Materials

Fig.1: Poster for exhibition at Balik Pulau.
Source: Arts-ED

Fig.2: Poster for Exhibition at George Town.
Source: Arts-ED

1.12 Final Script/Final Curriculum

The curriculum for this project was documented in detail by the artist Liew Kung Yu who conceptualised the project. The curriculum provides insight into how an art form and the technicalities involved can be synchronised with learning in the wider sense; in this case, learning how to use the camera as a tool for observation, editing and composition skills using IT applications, aesthetic skills, and a focus on cultural heritage as content.

Supporting Archival Materials

Arts-ED. (2005). Lesson Plan for Day 1, including Lesson Plan for mySELF: Introduction to Basic Photography Skill (PDF)

Arts-ED. (2005). 3-hour Lesson Plan on Photo Selection, Cropping, Caption Writing and Photo Essay  

Arts-ED. (2005). 1 hr 30 min Lesson Plan on Creating Methods of Presentation 

Arts-ED. (2005). Lesson plan for day 1 and day 2 of the myFAMILY phase, helping participants to narrow down the subjects that they will shoot & methods to present their artwork (PDF)

1.13 Multimedia Documentation

As this was a well-structured and impactful project, the team decided to document the main steps of the project as a good practice case study. The resulting power point presentation is intended for the purpose of teaching and capacity building.

Supporting Archival Materials

Arts-ED. (2006). Cultural Mapping using Photography (PDF)

1.14 Previews and Reviews

“The 150 photographs on exhibition were taken by 15 children during a two-month research project called ‘MyBalikpulau’ last year”

Kids’ View of Balik Pulau.
Ngu, Ik Ying. The Star Metro – 20th March 2006

Supporting Archival Materials

Ngu, Ik Ying. (2006, March 20). Kids’ View of Balik Pulau. The Star Metro

(2006, January 20). Fostering Understanding of Monuments and History through the Lens. Kwong Wah Yit Poh

1.15 Publications

Some of the documentation on cultural assets gathered by participants in the photography project were later featured in a Heritage Trail Map and a one-off community newspaper entitled Discover Balik Pulau. The photography project was written about and published on the web as well as in a manual.

Supporting Archival Materials

Arts-ED. (2008). Heritage Trail Map carrying student’s work. 

Arts-ED. (2010). Community Newspaper carrying student articles. 

Pillai, J. (2012, June). myBALIKpulau: Cultural Mapping using Photography as a Tool. Drama Box Newsletter, 1(2). Retrieved from  (PDF)

Pillai, J. (2014) Chapter 2, Case Study 3: myBALIKpulau – Cultural Mapping and Interpretation using Photography. In Community-based Arts & Culture Education: A Resource Kit (pp. 25 – 32). Penang: Arts-ED. (PDF)

1.16 Photographs

For photos of the process, please refer to the presentation slides attached in 1.14 Multimedia Documentation (Supporting Archival Materials).

1.17 Final Report/Project Evaluation:

Facilitators in the project, Adeline Ong and Choong Chi Ying, capture the step by step process in the project, and comment on the challenges of the project in Report on myBALIKpulau – Heritage Education Program.

Supporting Archival Materials

Ong, A. and Choong C.Y. (2006). Report on myBALIKpulau – Heritage Education Program (PDF)

Arts-ED. (2005). Childrens’ & Facilitators’ feedback (PDF)

Arts-ED. (2005). Evaluation


The slideshow is a compilation of all the final photo essays by student participants, which collectively depict the wide variety of cultural assets of Balik Pulau as seen from the eyes of children.

Supporting Archival Materials

Arts-ED. (2017). Photography “mySELF, myFAMILY, myTOWN”: Images of Final Output (YouTube)


Visual artist, Liew Kung Yu, conceptualised the photography workshop syllabus together with project lead Janet Pillai and project coordinator Chen Yoke Pin. The art-making process described below is adapted from a published case study by Arts-ED in a book entitled Community-based Arts & Culture Education: A Resource Kit by Arts ED.

Digital photography was selected as the art medium through which students would document and represent their cultural heritage. The artist felt it would be exciting and appropriate for the age group (11-12 years old) to handle the camera and learn the digital printing process which was becoming popular at the time, but was not yet easily accessible to children in the rural districts. The photography medium was aligned to the organisations pedagogical approach which was to employ the arts, games, and experiential learning as a creative pedagogy.

Recruitment in schools was completed in early November 2005. 15 children from five different primary schools in Balik Pulau volunteered to join the projects for a duration of three months. The project was designed as a non-formal, after-school and holiday activity. As the participants were an odd mix (different schools, income, ethnic, and age groups) icebreakers, warm-ups, and team-building exercises were carried out to ensure team spirit and to create a safe space for creativity and discussion. A mixture of Bahasa Malaysia and Mandarin was used as the spoken language in the workshops.

Participants underwent simple auditions which helped them identify their individual abilities and personality traits. They were then assigned to working groups of mixed talents. This grouping technique allowed for collaborative learning among multi-talented individuals, and also gave an opportunity to each individual to excel in their area of personal intelligence and capacity.

The project utilised a variety of guided and independent activities to facilitate simple data gathering and documentation. Some were self-exploratory activities such as reading maps, hunting out cultural assets, and sketching or photographing them. Guided activities included introductory classes on computer technology, digital photography, how to conduct interviews and make notes, etc. Participants also used mind-maps to brainstorm what they perceived as cultural assets in their living space. Brainstorming ideas, sharing and collective selection helped students consider and reflect upon the many cultural assets that were of significance to the participants who hailed from many different villages, towns, and from different cultural groups.

The project commenced with a series of skill training workshops that introduced students to digital photography and photo editing using computers, through simple hands-on tasks such as making their own name tags and making postcards using images they had taken with the digital camera. Through this exercise, they practiced basic photography skills such as framing, angles, distance, levels, focus, light sources, and composition. They also learned to insert text over the images.

The project was divided into three phases beginning with a photographic documentation of themselves, then of their families, and then of the town or village where they lived. They also had to interview members of their family and the community they belonged to, as part of the documentation process. The expected outcomes were three sets of computer generated photo-essays (one on each topic) by each participant:

•  mySELF: a 3-D photographic sculpture
•  myFAMILY: a photographic triptych which included a family tree and a family history
•  myTOWN: illustrated town maps and photo-essays of heritage sites, people or trades in their town or village

Research and documentation for each theme was completed within a span of approximately one week. Each theme generated one output in the form of a thematic photo essay. Students worked in pairs and groups, travelling on foot and on bicycles.

Additionally, research or inquiry was also carried out via primary (photography, interviews, sketching) and secondary (maps, articles, old photos) source research. Students then proceeded to use photography to capture images which best represented each of these themes. Multiple photos were taken on each theme; including spaces, activities, objects, people, etc. This was followed by painstaking data processing which comprised of the selection, composition, and editing of relevant images and titles.

They were required to select only the most relevant photographs to create meaning, as well as provide titles and accompanying text. This rigorous editing process, which amounted to several rounds of selection, sharpened their observation and aesthetic skills, as well as demanded that they think carefully about what they wanted to convey. Participants were encouraged to incorporate sketches, flow charts, family tree diagrams, and written narratives into their creative works.

The creative outputs were showcased in the local public library and in schools, as well as at the Old District and Land Office of Balik Pulau and at the USM ABN-AMRO Arts & Culture Centre.

•  In the mySELF segment, children focused on personal space, personal objects, hobbies, practices, etc. This exercise was only in photographic format and was arranged as a photographic sculpture in the shape of a 3-D lantern. 

•  The myFAMILY segment broadened the focus of the children to include their entire family unit, covering four aspects of family life: occupation of parents, family beliefs, family home, and family portraits. Some children went on to research their family tree and to interview the older generation on their early migration history. The final creative outputs were photographic assemblage, essays, autobiographies, as well as diagrams.

•  In the myTOWN segment, children selected and studied a specific cultural asset in their community or environment; these assets ranged from buildings, land use, traditional trades, personalities, cultural activities, etc. While researching a subject such as a traditional trade, children inquired into the history of trader and the trade, materials used, and the trade processes and products. Children also produced an inventory of historically significant buildings in the town, as well as homes in the outlying district, in the form of sketch maps; this resulted in illustrated town maps printed on banners.

The final exhibition provided an opportunity for the many cultural assets of the different places and communities to be gathered together in one location. The collection of photographic works at the final exhibition covered people, occupations, buildings, and local environment. Viewing the exhibition gave young and adult audiences a holistic picture of their locality, and its cultural and natural assets and resources. The exhibition visually mapped and archived how the residents of Balik Pulau and their activities were connected over historical time and geographical space, and served as a means of archiving and promoting the cultural assets of that locality. The exhibition served as an advocacy tool to raise the interest of the larger community towards their own heritage.

This project helped Arts-ED facilitators understand the strength of photography as a documentation medium, and the power of the camera as a pedagogical tool, where the lens served as a means through which children could safely explore, observe and closely investigate their surroundings. Although photography was not the only medium used throughout the programme, it continued to play a key role in several of Arts-ED’s future projects in the district.

Supporting Archival Materials

Pillai, J. (2014) Chapter 2, Case Study 3: myBALIKpulau – Cultural Mapping and Interpretation using Photography. In Community-based Arts & Culture Education: A Resource Kit (pp. 25 – 32). Penang: Arts-ED. (PDF)


Siti Maryam binti Shariffuddin

Siti Maryam joined the myBALIKpulau project in 2005 when she was 12 years old and stayed on for 3 years:

“[What] I remember the most about this project is the teamwork. I am still in contact with a few of my friends from this project. Besides that, the training we received on sketching the images for the map and the way to conduct interviews still benefits me today.

I also have more confidence in facing other people and I am more friendly with the society around me. This project taught me that to gain knowledge, I have to search for it and not just wait for it to come to me. This has helped me in my studies.

I believe that the project contributed to the community. Although it does not cover the whole story of Balik Pulau, they may have gained knowledge about Balik Pulau from [what we have done].

I want to be more involved in my community.”