From passion to career, photojournalist driven to tell stories through his eyes

Nadim poses with his works at his ‘Photojournalism in the Eyes of Nadim Bokhari’ exhibition today (May 8, 2023).

By Ashley Sim

Have you heard the expression ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’? Many stories around the world would go untold if it weren’t for the illuminating power of photojournalism. And through his eyes, Nadim Bokhari is driven to tell those stories.

Nadim is a photojournalist with over 30 years of experience who has documented politics, humanitarianism, and social issues, earning him both local and national awards, such as the Kenyalang Press Award and the Commonwealth Journalists Association award.

Today, I had the pleasure of chatting with Nadim about his photojournalism journey. As he shared his experiences, I couldn’t help but notice the depth of wisdom he has gained over his nearly three decades in the field.

Thanks to the dedicated 56-year-old photojournalist, I have gained new knowledge about the intricacies of photojournalism. This has inspired me to enhance my photography skills, as photography is one of my passions, alongside journalism.

A man photographed by Nadim during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Son grateful to mom for gifting first camera, Topcon

In his twenties, Nadim developed a passion for photography. When asked about his first camera, the shutterbug’s face immediately lit up, and he spoke passionately about how his mother helped him start his passion for photography, which eventually led to his career in photojournalism.

“I come from a poor family, so I was unable to purchase a high-end camera. Nikon was the best DSLR at the time I was in my early adulthood, but it was very expensive.

“As a housewife, my mother could not afford to buy me a Nikon camera despite my repeated requests.

“So one day, my mother surprised me by giving me a Topcon camera instead of a Nikon. I was also surprised by how she acquired the funds to buy me a Topcon camera,” he said.

I was surprised when Nadim mentioned that Topcon performs similarly to a DSLR, as I am not familiar with the brand.

“Topcon was my first camera, and I am grateful to my mother for it. She inspires me.”

A photo that Nadim took using the Topcon camera.

Nadim, a self-taught photographer

“My ambition is to become a photographer. Prior to pursuing my career in photojournalism, I worked as a photographer in 1998 for a magazine called The New Reality Magazine.

“In 2003, I began my career in photojournalism with New Straits Times Press, which was the largest media production company in Malaysia at the time.

“It’s important to note that when a photographer becomes a part of a national daily, they will typically be considered a photojournalist. This role entails more than just taking photos; you must also provide fitting captions for your images.”

Nadim mentioned that he had no prior experience in photography, but he took the initiative to learn on his own. He experimented with different camera angles, settings, and lenses to capture visually appealing shots.

“During my time at New Reality Magazine, I received guidance from my seniors and learned how to write photo captions effectively.”

2004’s Nirmala Bonat case was the most challenging but most rewarding

The Nirmala Bonat case will forever be etched in the memory of Malaysians as a stark reminder of the harsh reality faced by foreign domestic workers, who often endure abuse and mistreatment in silence at the hands of their employers. The severity of the abuse that left Indonesian citizen Nirmala disfigured in 2004 was shocking to Malaysians and garnered global attention.

When he was asked to cover the most talked-about case at the time, Nadim experienced a stressful situation.

“At the time, I was in Bangsar when my boss called me to go to the Indonesian Embassy.

“During rush hour, traffic in KL was at its peak, resulting in a significant traffic jam. At the time, I didn’t have any means of transportation, so I decided to take a taxi. Upon my arrival, I noticed that all the photographers were leaving the embassy.

“The sight of photographers from various media outlets such as Bernama, the Star, Reuters, AFP, and Utusan Malaysia leaving the embassy caused me to panic,” he explained.

Despite feeling panicked, Nadim explained that he had to rush into the embassy to meet with the person in charge because he was desperate for a photo.

Fortunately, he was able to capture unique shots of Nirmala that differed from those taken by other photographers. He left the embassy quickly and submitted the photographs to his superiors.

“The following day, I discovered that NST, Berita Harian, Malay Mail, and Metro had all used my photo on their front pages.

“I experienced a sense of relief, happiness, and pride upon discovering that my photo had been featured on the front page,” he added, still beaming with pride as we spoke.

A human interest photo that he’ll always remember

“My boss transferred me back to Kuching at the time, and he asked me to look for human interest photos. I was at a loss for ideas, and he kept calling me for the photos.

“So I travelled to Samarahan and then to Kampung Binyu. I noticed a van carrying a group of primary school students while I was there. The students wanted to go to Kampung Binyu, but the bridge they wanted to cross was in disrepair.

“The deteriorating bridge was the shortest route to the kampung, so they crawled while carrying their bags. So I went beneath the bridge and photographed the five students crawling on the single plank.”

Nadim went on to say that his boss complimented him on the photo, saying, “Nice photo! This is exactly what I want.”

“My photo was also shown on Malaysia Hari Ini the next day. My photo was also featured on TV3, as well as NST and Berita Harian. So the entire country saw that photograph.

“My photo also caught the attention of the head of the village, who thanked me numerous times, and the Sarawak government then built a new bridge for Kampung Binyu.

“It was also an emotional experience for me to see what the students had to go through back then, but I’m glad there’s now a proper bridge.”

Patience, dedication, passion, and hard work are what drive Nadim to succeed

“The key to being a good photojournalist is a combination of patience, dedication, passion, and hard work.”

Nadim acknowledged that work-life pressures could be challenging, as one must be prepared to handle being yelled at in the office and feeling pressured by superiors.

He also stated that one’s work quality should never be compromised.

“Editing is also a challenging aspect of photojournalism. With everything being online, time becomes a crucial factor,” he added.

The 56-year-old photojournalist additionally advised that photojournalists always back up their images for future generations to view as time passes quickly and much has changed.

“You can tell how much Kuching has changed. The infrastructure and other aspects of the city have changed significantly between the past and the present.

“Therefore, it’s crucial to back up all photos rather than delete them so that we can keep them for future generations to see.”

‘Photojournalism in the Eyes of Nadim Bokhari’ exhibition

Nadim’s work is currently being exhibited at the Heritage Central Cafe located in Bangunan Yayasan Sarawak in Kuching. The exhibition will be open from May 5th to May 11th, running from 10am to 5pm.

Before concluding the interview, he emphasised that photography is all about capturing moments.

— DayakDaily

A 100-year-old crocodile captured by villagers in Bako in 2006. This crocodile is believed to be the largest one ever caught in Sarawak.
A photo of Sarawak Premier Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg captured by Nadim during an event.