Striking black and white portraits grab your attention from the opening page. Whether it’s activist Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir or supermodel Amber Chia, their poses convey strength and a certain joie de vivre.
Welcome to The Soul Of Portrait, a coffee table book by hairstylist-photographer Albert Nico. Throughout the 110-page glossy book (priced at RM180), well-known personalities and everyday folks are portrayed in an unconventional, creative light.
“Altogether, I shot 90 people for my book; there are past and present Miss Malaysias, pregnant women, the elderly, twins, tattooed guys and kids,” says Nico. When he approached his intended subjects for the shoot, all of them said yes without hesitation.
“That showed their trust in me as a photographer, and I appreciated them taking the time to pose for me, despite their hectic schedules,” adds Nico, who started dabbling in photography in 2013.
The Soul Of Portrait was officially launched on Sept 12 at Zebra Square, Kuala Lumpur. It was also in conjunction with Nico’s birthday (he turned 53 on Sept 14).
“The timing was perfect as it was close to Malaysia Day, as my book is all about celebrating different races and people from all walks of life. And best of all, proceeds from its sales go towards charity.”
Nico reveals that RM100,000 was raised from that evening, and the charity that benefited was Give Malaysia. The non-profit organisation is founded by Miss Malaysia 1984 Betty Anne Brohier and aims to assist the less fortunate and underprivileged.
According to Nico, former beauty queen Datin Elaine Daly was the one who gave him the idea for the book.
“She came to my salon in April last year while she was eight months pregnant with her second child, and I suggested taking her picture after she gave birth. Instead, Elaine said: ‘Do it now.’”
Concurs Daly: “He was the only one I trusted to take a picture of my huge belly. And I requested for my firstborn Eva Jean (now three) to be in the photo. We set a date and the photos came out beautifully.
“That sparked Albert on, to shoot other personalities and friends who are meaningful to him. He has always wanted to do a coffee table book but just never had the impetus to begin one.”
For make-up and styling, Nico roped in his good friend (and renowned designer) Orson Liyu.
“It was a very good experience collaborating with Albert as a stylist on this book,” enthuses Liyu. “We learnt a lot of new things; we not only captured the mood, but also discovered the unique personality of each subject. To me, Albert is a role model, someone who never stops learning, who always gives himself new tasks and challenges.”
The subjects of his book are equally generous with their praise.
“Albert is a very experienced hairstylist so I trust him with my hair. As a photographer, he works simply and efficiently, which is good,” says Marina. “When it came to my shoot with him for The Soul Of Portrait, the process was very easy because he knew what he wanted. The end result was very glamorous, not the way I usually look!”
Respected businessman Datuk Kelvin Tan has this to add: “The experience was nothing short of fantastic. Albert was very systematic and deliberate in his approach. I was quite surprised with the end result, to be honest. I am comfortable with his art direction, as his bold approach created a one-of-a-kind, unique artwork.”
Chia, who is used to modelling in front of the cameras, found her experience with Nico a unique one.
“I’ve known Albert for 20 years and he’s always nice to me. I have been a fan of his street photography so I joked to him a few years ago that he should photograph me. So, when he called me about The Soul Of Portrait, I dropped everything to be at his studio! As models, we’re used to our pictures being taken but in Albert’s case, it’s different as it’s in black and white. I respect how he keeps evolving in his career,” she concludes.