KOTA KINABALU: Many fear making the next move as they find comfort and safety by remaining in the familiarity of their bubble, but for 30-year-old Flanegan Bainon, taking the leap led him down a path he knew he was meant to follow.
On the cusp of entering the second decade of his life, Flanegan made the risky decision to move to Tokyo in pursuit of his passion for photography.
“I started in photojournalism as a staff photographer for a local daily, and then came a day when I decided to switch lanes and try editorial and commercial photography.
“I then took the biggest risk and moved to Tokyo, where against all odds, I got a job in a matter of three months,” he shared with reporters at the opening of his solo exhibition, ‘Goodbye 20, Hello 30’ at the Sabah Art Gallery (SAG) here yesterday.
Flanegan explained that the reason he chose to relocate to the Land of the Rising Sun was because he had always been interested in Japanese culture, particularly their music.
“Even before I developed my interest in photography, I’ve always liked Japanese music and I wanted to go to their concerts.
“I also thought that I should learn their language, so I took a six-month course where I ended up meeting the owner of the creative agency I wound up working for.
“He offered me a part-time job to begin with, saying that I can switch to full time later on if I like the work.
“I told him to hire me full time right away, because it’s an opportunity that I otherwise wouldn’t get,” he said.
At the tender age of 19, Flanegan grabbed hold of an opportunity to travel to Europe, which was when he discovered his affinity for capturing moments.
“I had the opportunity to travel for a month, so during the time I was there, I realised that what I liked wasn’t the architecture or the fashion, but the visual art and photography.
“There was a small bookstore in a London town which had a lot of photo books, and it was then that I thought photography might be a career path that I want to explore,” he said.
However, what really sealed the deal for Flanegan was when he was roaming around the streets of Florence in the middle of the night, when one of many dark alleyways suddenly lit up.
“I was curious as to what was going on, and it turned out that there was actually a commercial photo shoot happening.
“I ended up staying for an hour just observing everything that was being done. From then on, I found my resolve to pursue photography and I told myself that I would study it if I ever have the chance to further my education,” he said.
Flanegan graduated in 2009 from the Melbourne Institute of Technology (MIT) with a Bachelor of Arts in Photography, which complements his Diploma in Graphic Design from the Sabah Institute of Arts (SIA).
After working in Tokyo, Flanegan said he was now based in KK but admitted that upon his return, he wasn’t sure what his plan was.
“Once I came back, I actually took an eight-month break and then a year later, I was approached by SAG for this exhibition.
“How that happened was, I was chatting with the curator Jennifer Linggi, when I mentioned that it would be good to have a photography exhibition to display the works of local photographers,” he explained.
He went on to say that his objective for the exhibition was to share his journey and the transformation of his photography in the 10 years that he had been active.
Flanegan’s oeuvre, which is now on display at SAG for public viewing, features many pieces on photojournalism and documentaries from when he travelled around Sabah at the beginning of his career, during which he spent time with the elderly and tried to document as much as he could of the Sabahan culture.
He said when it came to technique, he would look for the expression of the story and its composition, which is fairly standard procedure.
However, once he moved to Tokyo and experienced their culture, he began to evolve in a way that was only possible through exposure and learning.
“I learned so much when I was there in terms of technicalities, detail orientation, editing, lighting and everything. I may not see the difference in my work, but the public will be able to.
“You can also see the transition from journalism to portraits, and my personal style is minimalistic.
“As much as possible, I want to make expression the sole focus. I don’t think a lot about the technical side of things because I’m used to it, so that part comes automatically.
“When it comes to portraits, I spend more time chatting with people while I take their photos,” said Flanegan.
As of now, most of his bookings and business engagements come from Australia and Kuala Lumpur, for editorial and commercial photography.
In sharing his thoughts on the potential of budding local photographers finding opportunities abroad, Flanegan simply said that if he could get it, anyone can.
“You just need to be brave and take that risk. I think what sets Sabahans back is their fear to take that leap. Many want to, but all they do is think and daydream about it without actually doing it.
“At the time, I didn’t know what to do with my life so I just decided to go and I thought that maybe the risk would be worth it.
“It turned out that it was, because I met a lot of people and learned a lot of things that I otherwise would not have gained if I stayed in KK,” he said.
Flanegan also shared that his first camera was the Nikon F75, which he received as a gift from his father back in 2006.
Although he wasn’t sure whether his father had it for a while before giving it to him or if he had bought it, Flanegan said without that camera, he probably wouldn’t have taken photography seriously.