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Eyes Wide Open (8 – 20 September), a recent photography exhibition held at the Annexe Gallery, was an eye opener indeed. The exhibition features a small selection of works previously shown at the inaugural Singapore International Photography Festival held last year in several venues on the island republic. The one-of-a-kind, volunteer-based festival attracted more than 6000 submissions from photographers all around the world and was meticulously selected by four curators based on the consistency of theme as well as treatment in each body of work. The exhibition at Eyes Wide Open selected just over 100 from the original 900 works on display in the festival and was a visual feast of photographic genre, techniques and themes. Each photographer deserves many accolades and appreciation but I have chosen five of my favourite works from the exhibition for further consideration here.

Singaporean Joel Yuen Kong Chong is the recipient of the UOB Painting Awards 2008 as well as the 2008 Crowbar Gold Awards in the photography category. His work focuses on portraits of foreign workers in Singapore, where he invited construction workers passing by his studio to come in and take a head shot as well as a photo of what they had in their hand at that moment. While the theme of foreign workers has been visited in many bodies of work, Joel Yuen’s images are an honest representation of these workers and the nature of their work, giving them a face and a silent voice, so that their presence and contributions are not just seen in passing, but also recognized and their values understood.


Khairul Azril Ismail, Eye, Pudu Jail: Aesthetics Beyond the Prison Cells, 2008

Khairul Azril Ismail’s photographic documentation of the prison graffiti in Pudu Jail is not only a commendable effort in preservation of visual artifact, but a powerful tool for initiating discourses about power in the Malaysian society. Khairul Ismail’s captured images reveal inner conflicts within the psyche of the prison inmates, wherein their personal struggles are manifested and expressed through their “Art” on the walls of the infamous prison. Ismail’s work presents a morbid yet thoughtful souvenir from the past, a chilling reminder that sometimes the greatest lessons we will learn do not come from what was lost or absent, but from what was left behind.


Frank Rothe, On The Cell, Running Through The Wind, 2008

Seeing Frank Rothe’s Running through the Wind feels like a perversely intimate yet delightful look into someone’s visual diary of time spent at summer camp. The beautifully poignant images are Rothe’s attempt to relive a period of his own childhood spent at Artek Camp, the same camp where the images were taken, an area on the Crimean peninsula of the Soviet Union. His images chronicle the lives of children as they spend their summer blissfully in the campsite making friends and doing camp activities together, oblivious to the happenings of the outside world. His work is both an excellent visual manifestation of his nostalgia for the days when his youth was spent with abandon and an introspective study on the current generation of Russian youth.


Vee Speers, Untitled 37, The Birthday Party, 2008

Vee Speers’ collection of children’s portraits, entitled The Birthday Party, gave the impression that all of the photographed children celebrated their parties on Halloween (which feels a little unsettling, even for Halloween babies like me). Her work is inspired by her own daughter’s birthday party, and is a study on the perceived innocence of childhood and the seemingly harmless game of role-playing among children as they don costumes of those inspired by magic and fantasy to the worlds of quasi-realistic science fiction. The results are disturbingly surreal. An image of a girl with long braids and her back on the viewer showing a pair of scissors in her hands was reminiscent of Rapunzel, albeit a sinister-looking version of the original fairytale character. Speers’ images invite audiences to evaluate their deep-seated perceptions not just of childhood innocence but also themes relating to anarchy, play and freedom of expression during a person’s childhood.


Corinne Vionnet, Paris, Photo Opportunities, 2008

Corrine Vionnet’s Photo Opportunities at first do not look like photographs. Her method of superimposing image after image of conventional snapshots of monuments, compiled over a period of time, created an effect not unlike that of a painting. But Vionnet’s work is inspired by the sociological behaviours of travelers . Here, she highlights the repetitive consumption of the same angle snapped over and over again in order to capture the perfect shot of famous tourist destinations. Her images exude a wry sense of humour that mocks the fact that while everyone can now take decent pictures easily even without professional cameras, not everyone has an original perspective.

Each photographer presents a solid body of work focusing on a lucid theme and consistent photographic treatment. What drew me to these photographers is their ability to capture images that offer a complete representation of their ideas about the world, which may or may not be easily interpreted by the audience. Even so, it is often the case that works of art beg for more questions than they provide answers for their audience. If you are interested in participating in next year’s Singapore International Photography Festival, go here for more information on the next open call for submissions.



This article was first posted on the original Arteri site on 30 September 2009.

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