The annual Month of Photography returns this month with its most eclectic line-up yet. Iola Lenzi charts the event’s development
Photography is such a democratic medium that many people have a hard time believing it can be art. After all, anyone with a mobile phone can take a picture, so does sending your buddy a photo of yourself on the Flyer qualify you as an artist? ‘It is ironic, but whether in Asia or Europe, despite or maybe because photography is so accessible, people have difficulty thinking of a photo as art,’ says Gilles Massot, a Singapore-based art photographer who teaches history of photography at LaSalle College for the Arts. ‘Art photography is young in South-East Asia, but the learning curve is steep and creative photography is at an exciting junction in Singapore now.’
A sign of changing viewpoints is the launch of the Singapore International Photography Festival this year; the maiden biennial event is scheduled for October. And though photography blogs, shows and spaces have also sprung up recently, the key event remains the annual Month of Photography (MOP) starting on 13 June. A series of public exhibitions devoted to photography, Month of Photography exists in other cities, such as Tokyo, but was launched in Singapore by the French Embassy in 2002. The French were among the early pioneers of photography in the 19th century, and through the years have spearheaded an MOP in many cities around the world. The Singaporean version now enjoys a degree of recognition among locals.
‘MOP is inclusive,’ says organiser Shirlene Noordin. ‘As a result of welcoming both high-profile international photographers and Singapore-based ones, we not only give the public a feel for practices from every corner of the globe, but we also facilitate local/foreign artistic exchange.’ The technical and conceptual cross-breeding provided by events such as MOP is crucial to artistic development on the island. ‘Photography in our part of the world has its own themes, underpinned by indigenous history,’ says Singapore-based filmmaker and photographer Sherman Ong. ‘There is a certain literalness in Singapore that photographers can escape by opening to the work of others.’
But Singapore’s MOP wasn’t always viewed through rose-tinted glasses. It has had a chequered history, suffering early on from a lack of participation. However, as more locals realised it was all theirs to develop rather than an expat event, grassroots interest has increased (though financial support – from both Government and private sources – could still be more substantial). Noordin explains that the idea now is to develop MOP’s local identity, drawing it even further from its French roots. To that end, MOP’s ‘Out of Focus’ exhibit – on display at Night & Day Gallery – provides an open platform for (ahem) underexposed local photographers pushing boundaries. And though Singapore’s MOP is only three years old, it’s already gaining international credibility and could eventually inspire copycat versions elsewhere.
MOP 2008’s overarching title is ‘Still/ Moving: Photography & Cinema’. The festival this year explores the relationship between – you guessed it – photography and cinema, and includes five exhibitions in various venues around town, as well as lectures and workshops. Two exhibitions will be on at the Cathay: ‘The Magic of Cinema’, a show of classic cinema celebrity stills by international photography co-operative Magnum; and local multimedia artist Khairuddin Hori’s new work, ‘Reconstructing Sentol’. If Hori’s series of images, which borrow from the Cathay-Keris Malay Classic film character Mat Sentol, is as visually sharp and conceptually thoughtful as his P Ramlee-inspired installation at the Esplanade two years ago, audiences are in for a treat.
More Singapore photography can be found at Post-Museum, where Sean Lee is showing his edgy life-as-a-transsexual colour prints (‘The Life of Shauna’), and at Night & Day Gallery, where the aforementioned ‘Out of Focus’ spotlights the work of emerging Singapore-based creators: look out for images by Gözde Zehnder, Ng Sze Kiat and Chen Shi Han, as well as for Geoffrey Pakiam’s spooky surveillance series, which reminds us that Big Brother is always watching. Finally, at the Singapore Art Museum, time and movement are explored through the work of leading experimental French photographer Alain Fleischer. Insider reaction to this year’s proposed MOP line-up is positive so far and the event’s selection of artists the broadest to date. The highlight, of course, is the mix of participating local and international talent. ‘It is important not to stay in a closed, inward-looking space. Seeing what goes on outside and interacting with it can make us all go forward,’ says Singapore photographer Chua Chye Teck. ‘Much Singapore art is shallow and trend-based. We need to look at our own production more critically, and we need such events for fresh creative air.’
Month of Photography 2008 runs from 13 Jun to 20 Jul. See here for more information.
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More photography to zoom in on
2902 Photo Gallery
#B2-09 Old School, 11B Mount Sophia (6339 8655)
Kay Ngee Tan Architects (Gallery)
16-17 Duxton Hill (6423 0198)
Asian Photography Blog by Ch’ng Yaohong