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Malaysia, First Day….

Feb 1

In In The Field at 5:01am

29 hours, door to door. Check into hotel. Sleep 3 hours. Up at 4am. Go to Thaipusam.


Didn’t know about Thaipusam before this trip, and the timing is completely coincidental, but photographically fortuitous. It is one of the wildest explosions of human frenzy, devotion and religious fervor I have ever been to. It is the Hindu celebration of the birthday of Lord Muruga, and thousands gather amidst the heat, sweat and incense to seek his blessings and render homage. Many bear gifts, simple as a pot of milk, up the long walk to the Batu Caves. Others spin themselves into a frenzy, drift into trances, pierce their flesh, and hoist enormous kavadi on their shoulders. The kavadi is a physical and symbolic burden, a means of imploring help from Muruga.

Many Hindus prepare for the day by cleansing and fasting, and then, upon arrival at the shrine, shaving their heads.


Cleansing is one of the watchwords of the day, as devotees gather at the river to wash and prepare for the hike up to the caves.


It was down by the river that trances were induced and the ritual piercings began. In the intense, sweaty crush, air thick with smoke from burning joss sticks, camphor, and spice smells I had no knowledge of, people yipped, spoke in tongues and were literally harnessed for the journey to Muruga.






Yikes. My head was swirling with the smells, the beating of drums, the feverish cries and acrid air, redolent with incense smoke, not to mention no sleep and a total parachuting into a different realm of senses and beliefs. Potent stuff for pictures. I must have been wide eyed as this young boy, all morning.


Back to the hotel. Sleep. Monday’s on my doorstep…..more tk….

Tony says:

on February 1, 2010 at 5:05 am

Great stuff – as usual!

Jamie Willmott says:

on February 1, 2010 at 5:10 am


Huey Yoong says:

on February 1, 2010 at 5:10 am

Welcome to Malaysia, Joe!

Yes you are extremely lucky to be in town in the same weekend as Thaipusam as the dates change from year to year. Hope the intoxicating welcome is preview enough of what’s in store here in our country for you! :)

Cant wait to meet you in person this Saturday, till then hope you get to catch some winks after all the lights 😉

Like us Malaysians say, selamat datang!

timothy tan says:

on February 1, 2010 at 5:12 am

great shoot joe..
dint know that you are there that day till my buddy show a photo of with and him..

welcome to malaysia and hope you enjoy the stay~~


Henson says:

on February 1, 2010 at 5:17 am

Welcome to Malaysia Joe, glad that Thaipusam has brought you a new experiences in Human Photography!

Ben says:

on February 1, 2010 at 5:17 am

Fantastic colors. Those images are jumping off the screen…

almostinfamous says:

on February 1, 2010 at 5:27 am

wow – i didn’t know Thaipusam was such a big deal in Malaysia, and no idea indeed that so many Hindus were there. Thanks for the Eye-opener!

wazari says:

on February 1, 2010 at 5:39 am

Welcome to Malaysia Joe, during Thaipusam is very happening here in Malaysia, full of colors, you can’t take bad picture there… :-)

Sebastian Castro says:

on February 1, 2010 at 5:44 am

Wow, it really takes the experience you carry on your shoulders to document an event like this one. Amazing! (especially the third photo)

Gordon says:

on February 1, 2010 at 5:57 am


Mark says:

on February 1, 2010 at 6:02 am

Flat out amazing.Can’t wait to see more.

peter says:

on February 1, 2010 at 6:09 am

It is an international event.

Monte Stevens says:

on February 1, 2010 at 6:27 am

Amazing images and not because they are technically good but because of the scenes themselves. It is difficult for many in the west to acknowledge cultures who have traditions and rituals as these people do. Thanks, for sharing these images!

Matthew says:

on February 1, 2010 at 6:31 am

Very cool, and painful. Loving the colours and the inspiration. Thanks!

Chris Roberts says:

on February 1, 2010 at 6:36 am

Fantastic set of storytelling pictures. pic 8, (2nd from last) is just superb.

Michael Laverty says:

on February 1, 2010 at 6:46 am

Brilliant stuff Joe – Love the vibrant colours, your photos are great as usual……have to say though, the hook and piercing photos are making me go OWCH!! :-)

Low Bi Hong says:

on February 1, 2010 at 6:52 am

Great to know that you having a great time at Malaysia, and you are lucky enough to witness one of the greatest festival over there.
Can’t wait to be at your class on Friday!!

Ian Mckenzie says:

on February 1, 2010 at 6:53 am

Awesome, look forward to reading more of your adventures in Malaysia

Aad says:

on February 1, 2010 at 6:57 am

Interesting images Joe!Sure you did not try any of these tricks on yourselves I hope. Have a great time , regards Aad

abdullahjones says:

on February 1, 2010 at 7:04 am

selamat datang joe mcnally. hope you have a ‘veri enjoi wan’.

Thomas says:

on February 1, 2010 at 7:12 am

Great images Joe!
I experienced Thaipusam as a child in Singapore. Comming from the Nordic countries and only 10 years old it really made impressions. Great images, they really catch the atmosphere as I remember it!

Yanik's Photo School says:

on February 1, 2010 at 7:38 am

I experienced the Thaipusam in in Penang, Malaysia about 12 years ago. What an experience indeed! Thx for bringing back some wonderful memories Joe.

dom bower says:

on February 1, 2010 at 7:43 am

man those shots look coool and painful! I wonder if Joe himself got the guts to give some self sacrifice a go?
Bizzare magazine would love these kinda shots.

nocturnale says:

on February 1, 2010 at 7:44 am

Welcome to Malaysia!

Andrew Livelsberger says:

on February 1, 2010 at 8:20 am

Geeat to see more of your awesome work. Looking forward to hear how you light something like this . The event appears to be so dynamic. My guess is probably need to put some faith in the CLS system with some slight tweaks

ron hiner says:

on February 1, 2010 at 8:23 am

cant wait to see your new haircut and piercings!

marcel says:

on February 1, 2010 at 8:25 am

Are you sure you are In Malaysia??? It looks like you are in India or something 😉

Carl Licari says:

on February 1, 2010 at 8:48 am

Hey Numnuts, get out of there before you come home with a bone in your nose!

dian nais says:

on February 1, 2010 at 8:50 am

wow.. you should come here often.. we had more festivals like this.. 😀

George Terrizzi says:

on February 1, 2010 at 8:59 am

Great series! I love the color and the attention to detail. I have always been a fan of your work, just hope that you will be one of mine someday! says:

on February 1, 2010 at 9:08 am

nice angle and nice moment….

Dennis Pike says:

on February 1, 2010 at 9:15 am

wow, can I come on your next trip… I know you already have an assistant. but umm, I could serve as another photographer and compared to my work, yours would look THAT much better.

Girish says:

on February 1, 2010 at 9:20 am

Amazing colors and expressions. I am sure it’s a great opportunity as a photographer, but a little harsh to accept such torture on human body. But for people who have so much belief and faith in their gods and culture and religion they have no pain.

Some of the photos are truly professionally done and very candid.

Loved it.

Jay Mann says:

on February 1, 2010 at 9:21 am

7 years in South East Asia and I have missed this??? Looks like it is worth going back for. Any exuse to see my favourite part of the world.

Al says:

on February 1, 2010 at 9:43 am

What to do, what to do? I think I’ll stick 19 fishhooks in my back and run a wire through my face.

Dwayne.D.C.Tucker says:

on February 1, 2010 at 9:46 am


Geat post and shots I love the hues :)
Damn they go allll out though; their backs ?!?
I was scared of falling yesterday at the skatepark and that lady is like yeah just peirce my cheek!

Get your rest, I will be back here tomorrow. Getting back on my hustle to letting my talent and my love make a name for myself :)

Nassau, Bahamas | Miami, FL

Airlangga says:

on February 1, 2010 at 10:11 am

Wonderful photos!
I went to the place too. Couldn’t stand the smell of the flower. So sad I can’t attend your workshop here in Malaysia.

Ken Toney says:

on February 1, 2010 at 10:26 am

Joe, I bet you fit right in. Birds of a feather.

Skip says:

on February 1, 2010 at 10:30 am

Great images, as usual, Joe. Do you have a new piercing?


Ish Ibrahim says:

on February 1, 2010 at 10:41 am

welcome to malaysia joe.. how unlucky of me not getting to meet u at the festival.. hope u enjoy malaysia..

Ramkumar Saranathan says:

on February 1, 2010 at 11:04 am

Hi Joe,
Welcome to extreme human beliefs!! Thaipusam is very famous in India too, every other South Indian town celebrates(!) it. I grew up shooting these festivals with my Yashica MF2,FX3..:-)
“ShivaRathiri” is another one like this type…I used to like shooting for the colors and emotions.


George Paganini says:

on February 1, 2010 at 11:32 am

Incredible. I could see it, feel it, and smell it. Great work!

randy baran says:

on February 1, 2010 at 11:53 am

interesting, joe. i appreciate the expose and take it as a cautionary photo essay. i don’t agree with it – it goes on – but let me assure you, i have the right to express and judge. that’s america.

thanks. rb

Doede says:

on February 1, 2010 at 12:20 pm

I’ve been following you (online) for a while and though you’re like my Nikon CLS idol, it’s fun to see how you seem to enjoy something totally unexpected & spontaneous!

Ian Pack says:

on February 1, 2010 at 1:14 pm

Awesome! It’s a shame that stills can’t communicate the sounds and smells.

Eugene says:

on February 1, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Welcome to Malaysia! Well you can head south to Singapore for some of the landscape/buildings there are some interesting things to take. :)

Jan Shim says:

on February 1, 2010 at 7:14 pm

Greetings Joe,

Hello from Brunei.

I’m going to be covering your workshop on Feb 5/6 and looking forward to meeting you and catching up with Louis again since his “Shoot Like A Pro” workshop in Brunei and to meet other photogs for coffee and tour a bit of the city.

Though Malaysia and Brunei are practically neighbours and have a lot of similarities, Thaipusam is not celebrated here.

Kenneth says:

on February 1, 2010 at 8:05 pm

Malaysia Boleh! Represent!

Mark Astmann says:

on February 1, 2010 at 8:09 pm

Rick Steve’s had better watch out! McNally, the international travel guide. Great stuff Joe.

JayB says:

on February 1, 2010 at 8:47 pm

Joe did you get any piercings?

Dee says:

on February 1, 2010 at 9:45 pm

Stunning shots Joe….Welcome to Malaysia and looking forward for your class

Tim Woodard says:

on February 1, 2010 at 11:08 pm


Great shots! As I was looking at the photos they look like you were not shooting with a flash, and using natural light. However, I know how you shoot photos and know you love to light. So please tell us were you using just 1 SB900 attached to your hot shoe, or did you have some other lighting off the camera?



Doug Wittrock says:

on February 1, 2010 at 11:17 pm

What a happy accident, and some great images. Beautiful colors and textures and light. Wish I was there!

David M says:

on February 1, 2010 at 11:20 pm

So Joe, did you get your head shaved or anything pierced? haha. Love the photos! You truly are an inspiration.

John says:

on February 1, 2010 at 11:31 pm

Beautiful images Joe…

Jomi Garrucho says:

on February 2, 2010 at 12:39 am

Amazing images of your journey. thank you very much for sharing.

Ed Baumgarten says:

on February 2, 2010 at 6:32 am

What a great ‘target rich’ environment………

Kalvin Khoo says:

on February 2, 2010 at 10:53 am

Hi Joe,

Welcome to Malaysia Joe. It was pretty stunning on your shots, this will be your first time to experience how it looks like in Thaipusam. Basically, i just dropping by your blog every day to check it out what new, well and you got the nice shot in Malaysia.

By the way, thanks alot for making workshops and seminar in Malaysia. I wish i can join one of them but i have some financial problems and i can’t make it. Lastly, i’m from penang.



niki says:

on February 2, 2010 at 1:55 pm

since when are you shooting with the “new” d3s ?

Gilbert Wong says:

on February 2, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Awesome shots Joe~! See u this Sat in the KL Seminar hot Shoes Diary~! Excite~!

Ehab says:

on February 2, 2010 at 5:28 pm

Great shots. planning to go there with a friend this month :)

KALBO says:

on February 3, 2010 at 4:32 am

These are amazing shots. I love the colors in these photos and the expressions on the individuals faces.

Euro Traveller says:

on February 4, 2010 at 5:17 am

Simply Amazing !!!

I was in Malaysia 5 years go and it is such a great country. I miss the people, the food and how people lives.

We need more update…please. Bringing memory back! :-)

Denise Hickox says:

on February 5, 2010 at 8:57 am

Amazing photos!!!!! Your work never disappoints. I can’t wait to see more.

shawn chamberlin says:

on February 7, 2010 at 8:59 pm

malaysia seems like an amazing place to capture photos. anywhere you can discover new cultures, you’re bound to find new things you’ve never experienced. i love the photos you’ve gotten so far.

syam says:

on February 8, 2010 at 6:09 am

Hi Joe,

Glad that you’re in Malaysia and I take some of your photos to my blog as my greetings to you.

David Jr (Malaysia Asia) says:

on February 9, 2010 at 3:12 am

Amazing pics Joe. Love the 3rd shot and the piercing cheek shot! Glad you had a great time in Malaysia and I really enjoyed your workshop on Sat. Hope to see you again in KL.


hfng says:

on February 10, 2010 at 12:30 pm

Awesome photos. Glad you survived the humidity.

karl bratby says:

on February 12, 2010 at 4:35 pm

super pics joe…

harry eldridge says:

on July 13, 2010 at 11:58 am

Incredible photo of that Hindu cleansing. Magic.

Karthik says:

on May 31, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Great photos as usual.In India too we have similar Hindu festivals named “Panguni uthiram”.
Check the photos:

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