Goodbye Questions for the 2014…

Yes, it is that time of the year for lists… Bidding goodbye to 2014 with 21 most frequently asked questions that best summarises the year in my neck of the woods.

Are you a photographer or an artist?
Should I even make a photobook?
What paper, gsm and binding?
Should cameras be cheaper?
Should birds of a feather flock together or should we go run with them hounds?
Are you making too much work – overproducing?
Is #Everyday #Everywhere a little too #Everything now?
Are Street Photographers repeating, I repeat, repeating themselves?
How many “Lessons (Insert Master Name) Can Teach You” articles can you read before you become a Master yourself?
Is it better to be international or local?
What was this year’s trend and what will be the next?
Is the Decisive Moment a Fossil Concept?
Should I participate in this photo festival or the other?
Should language be a barrier still?
And yet again, what is truth?
What do your beliefs in life? Does your work reflect that?
Why are you doing what it is you are doing?
Money or Love?
What are you really saying with your #SG50 Project?
Are many small steps better than one big leap?
What are you going to do different next year?

Hello 2015, let’s not be too sheepish shall we…

Upcoming Highlights in 2015

Bangkok Taxi, 2014

Wrapping up the year and looking forward to some upcoming highlights for me in 2015…

PHOTOQUAI Biennial 2015
Happy to be joining the curatorial team for the 5th edition of the PHOTOQUAI Biennial in Paris come September 2015. The festival is presented by the Musée du Quai Branly. I will be making a selection from Asia for this wonderful festival of outdoor exhibitions along the banks of the Seine. Much thanks to returning Artistic Director Frank Kalero for the invitation.

Prix Pictet Nomination 2015 – Disorder
I will be making my second nominations from Asia for the Prix Pictet Award. This year’s theme is Disorder. I previously contributed nominations for last year’s Consumption theme.

IPA Photobooks Show 2015
We still have limited resources but I’m hoping to level up next year’s edition of the IPA Photobooks Show when it returns to Singapore. Our travelling edition this year at Angkor Photo Festival was a small, humble show but the response and support was great. Hope to secure a lovely new venue and to see new partners and participation from the region, and of course some great new photobooks from Asia in October 2015.

A Short Curatorial Note: We Are Farmers Exhibition, by Ore Huiying

I was invited by Singapore Photographer Ore Huiying to curate her first solo exhibition “We Are Farmers” currently showing at Objectifs. I was surprised at first, but accepted as I have known Huiying for a while and familiar with her work. She had shown me her early black and white documentary photographs of her family a few years back and I had recently worked with her on an edit of her Mekong – The Mother of Rivers photographs. It seems Huiying has changed her camera, in turn the way she saw the world, and taken a more subjective approach. I also have a special affection for personal work, and particularly those on identity and notions of family.

Editing with Ore Huiying

Archival vernacular pictures from Ore’s family album

Huiying describes “We Are Farmers” as a visual study on her family – 4 generations of farmers in Singapore. This description allows for much fluidity in constructing narratives. It is the artist Huiying’s prerogative to channel her perspective into a narrative. My curatorial role was merely to help her craft and communicate that narrative. The book format of Huiying’s upcoming photobook of the same work prescribes a more linear interaction with the work through page flips from left to right. Audiences occupy and move in a 3 dimensional exhibition space differently and according to their own sense of flow. During the opening night, some guests moved from the left wall to the right, while others who arrived later started from the right wall as the room filled.
The approach taken to curating the exhibition was one where we imagined a gathering of family, friends and strangers in a small, intimate living room. We imagine the air filled with conversation and whispers, and much eavesdropping. On the left, opening wall, Huiying reconciles her past with her present through nuanced pairings of archival family album images with new photographs. The pairs speak of change and progress, hint at regret, and ponder on inevitability. On the facing right wall, Huiying questions the future with formal portraits of 4 generations of her family. The wall sequence begins with a faceless portrait of her grandma, worn and weary, with her head down in a surrendered position, and ends with a portrait of her bright, young niece in the arms of a maid.

Coincidently and unfortunately, Huiying’s grandma passed away in the weeks prior to this exhibition. And one sensed how central a figure she was in Huiying’s narrative. We decided to bring art and exhibition back home where it belongs, especially in this case, by dedicating a wall to Huiying’s grandma. The centre wall is montaged with a series of photographs showing Huiying’s grandma blowing candles on her birthday cake alongside moments before and after, across various years of her life. The repeated sight of her and others blowing, as if bestowing breaths of life, in the various images is poignant in its effect. The wall of images is also accompanied by a slow, one-take video interview Huiying made with her grandma. The sound of grandma’s worn yet wise voice speckles the space with meditation, a subtle reminder that in the Ore household, the words of elders are the thread that weaves and binds.

Accompanying the walled exhibition and on the open roof of the Objectifs building is an installation of 2 greenhouses seeded with vegetables from the Ore farm. The Xiao Bai Cai and Chinese Cabbages will take the duration of the exhibition to grow and harvest. The little plants are sprinkled with historic mementos of the family farm alongside Huiying’s first black and white attempt at photographing her family. The installation is an homage to Huiying’s Chinese title 耕 for her work, Gēng meaning ‘toiling and cultivating the land’. Huiying, the grand daughter who left for greener pastures, has returned home with a new harvest to offer.

Huiying’s ‘We Are Farmers’ is indeed a peep into the little known lives of one of Singapore’s few remaining farming families. One may also see it as a small epic of founding generations and legacies, as embodied by Huiying’s Grandma, the reluctant protagonist. On the opening night, I even heard whispers, and questions, about Singapore – past, present and future.

“We Are Farmers” by Ore Huiying the exhibition is open now till 12th January 2014 at Objectifs, 56A Arab Street, Singapore 199753.

JAPAN, A Portrait from a Larrikin Ex-Salaryman.

The last time I spoke to Junku Nishimura he told me he was moving back to his small coal-mining village in the Yamaguchi Prefecture. His father is now old and Junku’s dream was to pass the last years with him growing and harvesting rice in their family paddy fields. He had left years ago to become a salaryman in big city Japan.

Anyone who knows Junku knows he has three great loves – Photography, Music and Whiskey. He found his love for music and whiskey while moonlighting as a DJ in bars serving customers from the US Military Base. He found photography while snap-shooting his blue collar peers in his early days in Japan’s building industry.

A friend of Junku’s recently got married and invited him to the wedding ceremony. He asked if it was okay to go without a suit because he didn’t own one. He quit his suit for a camera years ago. The friend replied “Yes, as long as you don’t smell.” Junku showed up, with his signature, heavily stitched and patched fisherman hat. Vintage Junku!

I’ve always believed the notion that every photograph is a portrait of the photographer. Here is a selection of Junku’s photographs of Japan – a portrait from a Larrikin Ex-salaryman.

Photographs: Junku Nishimura | Text: Kevin WY Lee

Music: Toki No Sugiyuku Mama Ni (As time goes by) by Kenji Sawada.

More from Junku Nishimura:


Photograph © Junku Nishimura

Lamenting Photography

Dad, Shanghai China. circa 2010.

A photographer friend visited me this afternoon and lamented the current state of photography. His words mourned the dying of simple photography as an appreciated art. The simple process and physicality of photographs are no longer valued, nor the humble desire to just see what something looks like photographed, straight, as is. History will not be kind. He digressed.

We later took a walk and popped by a print shop. The printer was alone but busy printing images on order. I noticed a series of photographs in queue on his computer screen. They were vernacular travel photographs. But there was something about them that intrigued me. The pictures all depicted a tall, thinnish man standing alone against various landscapes, across various seasons. He wore a smile in all of them. There was one of him on the banks of a river, one on a mountain top, and another against a pole in a snowy winterscape. The falling snow glittered like stars in the foreground against the light of the camera’s flash. It looked like the tall, thinnish man led a happy life and travelled the world over and beyond.

Then there was that last picture in queue, that had two men standing side-by-side in that same snowy winterscape. The tall, thinnish man was smiling as usual, as was his friend (I assumed).

I asked about the photographs. The printer said he was printing them for the friend of the tall, thinnish man. He had passed away suddenly, unexpectedly. The photographs were a gift to the daughters he left behind.

Using Format