Thursday, October 26, 2006

A sense of community

Sometimes when you begin, you have your nose to the grindstone and all you can focus on is getting your work done. When you first start being a photographer, you know nothing and getting an image out of the camera is a success in itself. Then you get to a certain stage where you are comfortable with your equipment, but there does not seem to be any way to improve your ability or your way of thinking. No man is an island. It is important to engage with your community, people who may or may be in the same profession as you, but people who can help to widen your horizons.

Kay Chin kindly invited to speak on my internship in Chicago at a photographer's forum at Kay Ngee Tan Architects (Gallery). Also speaking was Ernest Goh speaking on his visit to the Perpignan Photo Festival. This used to be a photo festival for photojournalist to meet with editors of major publications. But now, the festival has grown much larger. There was also Sherman Ong, an artist who uses photography and film as his medium. He was talking about his experience of exhibiting his work in the Nordelicht photographic festival. Sherman also got a scholarship from the Goethe institute to do work in Hanoi for a month.

I think that as different as all the three of us are as photographic practitioners, we are all balancing our practise with survival. All of us have come to the conclusion that photography in Singapore is of an international standard. And as the market for photography is too small, we all have to find ways of working overseas or for overseas clients. This is the most obvious conclusion from the forum.

However, I was intrigued by Sherman's viewpoint of art photography. The idea that photographers in America, Europe and China have rich art cultures and histories to build on. Photographers coming from a rich artistic heritage are able to get a grasp on composition and technique quicker, and there work has more depth. I have to agree on this point. The work I see in Singapore has some technical merit, but tends to lack depth and/or a coherent aesthetic. But being a Singaporean, I have to believe that we have to either study aesthetics from more mature societies or create our own. Actually we have an artistic tradition in Singapore from people in the Nanyang School to the potter Iskandar. It is just that they are not as well promoted as Zoe Tay and Fann Wong. Ugh. Anyway, I believe that practising photographers need to explore rich art histories and derive their own visions. Being able to copy commerical styles is not going far enough.

On a side note, KF Seetoh was at the forum too and shared his own experience about his stock agency and his suing M1. He is now focusing more on his company Makansutra. Just listening to what he has done is breathtaking. You can't keep a determined man down.

Then on Tuesday I had brunch at my friend Juliana's home. Juliana had invited a group of arts people to meet French sound artist, Emmanuelle Loubet, working in Japan. She records sounds and makes interactive flash programmes to play the sounds. One of the other guest was Samuel Ong, a young pipa player who played a piece for us. And then there was Angela Liong from Arts Fission, Joyce Teo who heads a Gamelan group and Aaron Kuek, artistic director of dance group Ah Hock and Peng Yu. People that I have known for a while now. It was a chance for all of us to catch up and find out what is going on. And whether I do any photographic projects with these friends or not, I learn things about how they work and get inspired by their projects.

Aaron is setting up a studio in Kuala Lumpur. He hopes to teach classes there and also rent out space to other people who need studio space. He told me that his activities came about after what I told him at my dinner table once. When he was younger, he and his friends were always bitching about things and people. I told him that I was not interested in the bitching, I was more interested in people doing things and sharing their experiences. Now he is doing things in Kuala Lumpur and he is willing to share his experiences with other people. How wonderful.

We all need community to go further. Nuff said.

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