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Photographer, Author And Traveller Noor Iskandar Has Just Released His First Book

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Zarifah Azhar  •  Oct 05, 2016

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If you're a fan of poetry and photography, you'll most likely be following Noor Iskandar on Instagram. This award-winning, multidisciplinary artist is based in Singapore. His works have been exhibited both in Singapore as well as the international arena including London, Valencia, Pingyao, Belfast and Bandung. To top all his accolades off, he even released his own book recently! Read on to learn more about this traveller-poet-author 🤗 1. Tell us a little bit about yourself!
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I am Noor Iskandar. 27 of age. I am currently pursuing my Masters in Arts Research at NTU. I graduated with an Honours in Fine Arts in 2014. I am holistically artistic so I enjoy drawing, writing, painting! I make art and write by practice. I love the concept of placelessness and it feeds into my wandering soul. I am also a very holistic eater, heh. I eat most things except for fish that still have bones within. I love chai, cultures and rainy days. I have this obsession behind the philosophy in the frailty and fragility of living. 2. What inspired you to pursue photography and poetry?
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 Since young, I have been quite a flaneur, I love observing the things around me. I have always admired the idea of journeys. I am also very much enthralled by spirituality and mystery. These made me question a lot and then reframe them through arts. I am also emotionally-driven and I tend to collect feelings much throughout growing up. Being an ardent fan of music, film and literature, I was exposed to layered expressions of the Self. I believe it kind of spring boarded me into those tendencies. I started off as a graphic designer, quite independently, at 12 and have began writing cheesy fictional tales. In high school, peers actually paid me to draft love poems for them. I love storytelling be it horror stories, folklore hence it made me find alternative ways to carry the voice. In NS, I picked up my first camera and it made me realise how much this mode of technology resonated so much with the things I wish to express visually. I have a disclaimer though: although photography has been a prominent medium for me, most of my artworks manifest into various forms of the arts. I have never seen myself as a photographer per se, but more of an artistic seeker. So there's that. 
3. What inspired you to write For [God]? 
 The desire to have a physical compilation of my writings has always been in the pipeline. I loved writing since a young age. But over the last years, I think it was so much the love and encouragement I received from around that made me compel to actualising this dream. I embrace art and poetry as ways to heal and contemplate deeper into the meanings of life. So, to be able to use this medium for more people who could benefit from the flowering of words, of feelings, of faith. I think it was also mostly a lot of intuition at work. It felt right to have this first collection out on a blessed Sunday in Ramadan, also on my 29th birthday. I take these humble milestones as ways to better my craft. 
4. Tell us a bit about your book!
 For[God] essentially hosts a collection of my poetry and prose. Very intimate rumination which some may identify even as prayer-like. I write mostly about this journey towards faith, I ponder on spirituality with regards to my own observations when I travel within more obscured communities, I try to form connections with the idea of romantic love and loss. Amidst all these, I was sure that I wanted this first book to be like a profession / confession to God. The titled was vital in this duality. That it is as much For God as it is about the human act of forgetfulness towards remembering, especially of the Divine. Which is why I wanted this book to be self-published, to be there from the cradle of conception to manifesting the copy. The work behind it, the struggles, the joy I wanted all these to be first hand and quite an intimate, personal experience. So grateful - this journey is more beautiful than what I imagined. 
5. The cover of your book looks gorgeous, but at the same time really deep. Does it have a back story?
 Thank you! To be able to design the cover myself is crucial. There was a lot of deliberation on this. I almost went for a very minimal cover, neutral in a sense but I literally had a dream of a photo I took in Esfahan one night. I woke up and got to work. It was a scene from the Khaju bridge. Definitely one of my favourite photos taken throughout my career. On a winter-y January morning, in my favourite Iranian city. It looked like a dream, where the dissipating water gave this illusion of being at one with the sky. It struck me how fluid our journeys are, it converges oceans and skies. It also deeply humbled me and I wanted to pay homage to this feeling. And yeah again, it felt right. I started to also add an important element close to my spiritual philosophy. During the same trip back in 2015/2016, I continued to Turkey after Iran to "converse with Rumi." I got enthralled by the Sema, whirling dervishes dhikr ritual. If you look closely, the "petals" on the book cover are extracted from image of the white robe donned by the dervishes. Much of my art reflects a greater philosophy. I wanted others to use art and literature as a medium of expression towards faith. This is often overlooked. 
6. What is one take-away you want readers of your book to have?  Ah, a tough question! Anyone moved by any part of the writing is already so eventful and meaningful to me. But if there is something I would want readers to have is the epiphany that we should all honour the exquisite nature of journeys toward whatever we believe in; honour that intimacy of a private conversation and may we learn to honour each other's journeys - wi thout any room for judgment, ill intentions and ego in the way. I think at the end of the day, what I am quietly offering is that beauty in this.  
What has been the most rewarding experience for you since you started photography?
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Having my humble photographs exhibited worldwide- throughout various communities. I think at the end of the day, you want to produce purposeful and transformative art. Putting forth the unfamiliar to other foreign communities help diversify and unsilence conversations and discourses, especially when it revolves around Faith and Art. These conversations just exalt in leaps and bounds when you add seekers alike to the conversation specifically, when inspiring people or making a different albeit the littlest is the most rewarding to me. I remember rendering my knowledge on photography for the lovely students at the Al-Ishlah boarding school in Bondowoso. Seeing new communities engaging in art and elevating their sentimentalities are just golden. Build bridges, always. What was the best travel experience you’ve had so far?
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 These kind of questions are quite impossible to crack I reckon! Every journey is so expansive and nuanced at the same time, and so congruent to how your spirit and emotions are at that time and space, so it varies tremendously these experiences. And each journey appeal to different measures of an experience- the depth, the meanings, memories. Sigh, we could go on all day! What are some of the challenges you have faced while travelling and what did you learn from it?
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Fear and flight. When I first started out these two things, quite literally for the latter one, were so evident. There were so much second guesses and doubts when travelling solo to foreign lands. But again, it became quite an empowering reminder and spiritual centre when I know I am never really alone. God is always with me, around me, residing in noble hearts of the faces I come across and the lands my forehead kiss. What camera would you recommend for travellers and why?
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 I try not to recommend stuff as every individual has different taste and preferences. Getting a gear really boils down to your intention and objective and projections in doing that art. I also always believe in the feel of the gear. If it feels right on your hands, that shall be your baby. It seems like a spiritual experience even since my gears are my dear companions. I name them after cities and foreign words. I sold all my DSLR equipments, tons of lenses and such. So what I carry with me now is my trusty Fujifilm X100T. I love this series of camera, in fact, so far, having worked with almost all type of cameras, the mirror of Fujifilm cameras are really something else when in contact with light. Really impressive and you can never go wrong with it. I also decide on using a mirror less camera essentially for its stealth presence. People especially in rural terrains do no feel intimidated to the slightest by these cameras that look like vintage cameras. In fact, I have never gotten any flack of being that overtly intimidating intruder of space. This is vital as I want to immerse myself into the culture so the first step is to be accepted- in access. Tell us a pro tip for taking the best travel photos.
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 Shoot from the heart and gut! The best images are the sincere most ones. I have learn that beauty can be effortlessly transferred. If you have only adoration for what you see, it will naturally be captured along your clicks. And I don't really believe in best travel shots,there is really no standard measure to beauty and the sublime. In fact, most of the most beautiful "travel" images of mine are left in my head- uncaptured :) Fill in the blank: My hope for the world is that… you continue to exude beauty in spite of what we have make of you. that you are poised amidst a burning body. that you remain giving when we stop giving a dang. that you continue to bless us with comfort and grace as a destination between us and the Maker. Ameen.