“Say Cheese”: Family Photos, Modern Malay Masculinity and Family Narrative in Some Malaysian Films

Jamaluddin Aziz


Family photographs are often used as a prop in a set-up of a family home in a film. Employing visual culture approach, I would argue that through the use of family portraits both in figurative and artefactual forms, the narrative about family is often unravelled, challenged and subsequently validated. A close textual analysis of three P. Ramlee’s films that mark the dawn of modernism in the immediate post-independence Malaya and the formation of Malaysia in 1963 as a case study, this paper asks the following questions: What types of narratives are created through the display of family portraits? How do these family portraits reflect the changing conceptions of the institution of the family especially pertaining to modern Malay masculinity? And, how do family photographs inform family narratives? The analysis finds that, on one hand, family portraits are used to narrate the exteriorization of masculinity in trouble by revealing its castration anxiety. On the other, they also point to “the hero journey archetype” that apotheosizes masculine dominance as proven by the films’ happy ending. The implication of this study lies in the way family photographs in films can be understood not merely as props, but in visual culture sense, as locating the source of the conflict of modern Malay masculinity in the family itself. Although family portraits in these films are meant to be innocuous to Malay masculinity in crisis, it is ideologically a folie de grandeur about the family and what it means for the nation in transition.


Keywords: Family narratives, family photographs, malaysian films, visual culture, masculinity.

Full Text:



Anderson, B. (1991). Imagined communities. London: Verso.

Althusser, L. (2004). Ideology and ideological state apparatuses. In Rivkin, J. & Ryan, M. (Eds.), Literary theory: An anthology (pp. 693-702). Blackwell Publishing: Oxford.

Barnard, T. P. (2005). Sedih sampai buta: Blindness, modernity and tradition in Malay films of the 1950s and 1960s. Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde (BKI) Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Southeast Asia, 161(4), 433-453.

Barnard, T. P. (2010). Film Melayu: Nationalism, modernity and film in a pre-World War Two Malay magazine. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 41, 47-70.

Barthes, R. (1981). Camera Ludica: Reflections of photography (Trans. by Richard Howard). Vintage Classics: Farrar, Straus and Giroux Publishing.

Becker, H. S. (1974). Photography and sociology. Studies in Visual Communication, 1(1), 3-26.

Cartwright, L., & Wolfson, E. (2015). Introduction: Affects at the limit of photography. Journal of Visual Culture, 17(2), 141-151.

Hariman, R. (2018). Love in the ruins? Or, photography’s radical promise. Explorations in Media Ecology, 17(4), 491-497. https://doi.org/10.1386/eme.17.4.491_1

Hasan Sazali, & Lutfi Basit. (2020). Meta analysis of women politician portrait in mass media frames. Jurnal Komunikasi: Malaysian Journal of Communications, 36(2), 320-334.

Humm, M. (2003). Modernist women and visual culture. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.

Li, Z., & Zeng, Y. (2019). The connotation interpretation of typology photography. 2019 9th International Conference on Education and Social Science (ICESS 2019), Francis Academic Press, United Kingdom (pp. 1773-1776). Retrieved from https://webofproceedings.org/proceedings_series/article/artId/7526.html

McGlynn, A. (2010). Fathers, daughters and masculinity in crisis in contemporary fiction (PhD. Thesis, Graduate Department of English, University of Toronto).

P. Ramlee. (1964). Madu tiga [film]. Malay Film Productions Ltd.

P. Ramlee. (1965). Masam-masam manis [film]. Merdeka Filem Studio.

P. Ramlee. (1967). Sesudah subuh [film]. Merdeka Filem Studio.

Parsons, S. (2009). Sontag's lament: Emotion, ethics, and photography. Photography and Culture, 2(3), 289-302. http://dx.doi.org/10.2752/175145109X12532077132356

Rousseau, J-J. (1762, 2012). The body politic (Trans. by Quintin Hoare). Milton Keynes: Penguin Random House.

Schirato, T., & Webb, J. (2004). Understanding the visual. London: Sage Publication.

Scott, A. O. (2011). On (digital) photography: Sontag, 34 years later. The New York Times. Retrieved on 2020, August 15, from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/08/magazine/mag-08Riff-t.html?pagewanted=print

Sontag, S. (1977). On photography. Retrieved from http://writing.upenn.edu/library/Sontag-Susan-Photography.pdf

Sontag, S. (2003). Regarding the pain of others. New York: Picador. Retrieved from https://monoskop.org/images/a/a6/Sontag_Susan_2003_Regarding_the_Pain_of_Others.pdf

Sturken, M., & Cartwright, L. (2009). Practices of looking: An introduction to visual culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Zawawi Ibrahim. (2007). The beginning of neo-realist imaginings in Malaysian cinema: A critical appraisal of Malay modernity and representation of Malayness in Rahim Razali’s films. Asian Journal of Social Sciences, 35, 511-527.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

e-ISSN: 2289-1528