Sabah in her lens

6 10 2010

SWEDISH photographer Maria Espeus’ black and white expressions of the dramatic Sabah rainforest are scattered throughout GTower.

GTower developer, Goldis Bhd’s executive chairman Tan Lei Cheng had chanced upon some work that Espeus did on the Philippines and commissioned her to produce a collection for the tower.

The result of two months of work is over 3,000 black and white images of mostly misty panoramas of Sabah’s forests and dramatic valleys and close-ups of the luxuriant flora, such as orchids, foliage, and the intricate tangle of root systems.

“When I arrived in Sabah, I didn’t have the slightest idea of how its reality was going to overwhelm me,” recalls Espeus (pic, left) in an e-mail interview.

“I didn’t know much about Malaysia before coming here. All the information I had gathered in preparation for the trip was nothing more than an attempt to grasp something ineffable that I sensed and which resonated inside me.”

From Kota Kinabalu, Espeus travelled to Tambunan and Tenom along with an assistant and a guide (a New Zealnder, strangely enough). The team later returned to Kota Kinabalu to continue on to the Kinabalu mountains, Poring Hot Springs, Kundasang, Sandakan, Danau Girang and finally the Danum Valley, famed for its rich biodiversity.

“I was fascinated by the variety of flora, especially the orchids,” says Espeus, explaining why many of her pictures highlight the delicate beauty of these blooms.

“My objective at first was to make an inventory of the plant life in Sabah, but that is a task beyond my scope, I realised. So I tried to sum up the spirit and the magic of that nature by using one part, perhaps a flower, a leaf or a root, to represent the whole.

A lovely study of a wild orchid

“My fascination with and amazement at my surroundings made me forget any adaptation problems,” she says when asked how she coped with the sweltering heat and humidity of Sabah’s forests.

“Photography is my way of expressing my emotions. However, I am not trying to capture anecdotes or freeze time. I don’t want to reproduce reality nor do I aspire to be objective. I am more attracted to the possibility of transmuting that reality into another subjective reality, one that is more typical of poetic language.”

Espeus began her professional career in Sweden but soon began working internationally, publishing works in prestigious titles such as The New York Times, Vogue, La Vanguardia and Time magazine. She has also directed documentaries, advertisements and films, and won a Silver Lion in Cannes 2002 for the film Origenes: Ano Internacional Gaudi.

She has photographed many fashion spreads and celebrities, among them, Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber, Placido Domingo, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Antonio Banderas, Juan Antonio Samaranch and Montserrat Caballe.


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