I somehow manage to join Zhuang Wu Bin photography workshop in the last few weeks and to be honest, it was one of the best workshop that I have ever joined especially in terms of photography theory and history. The workshop focus on conceiving a Photography Project and it is not limited to just Journalism and pure documentary but it can also be conceptual as a whole.
Zhuang Wu Bin is well known around South East Asia as a Researcher, curator and a Photographer. I am familiar with his name from his featured article in Invisible Photographer Asia and of course for his project on the Chinese community in South East Asia. A photographer that I thought were very serious in nature but actually it was the opposite when I went through his workshop.
The workshop was organized by a good friend of mine, Mr Irrezizam or famously known as Mr Jebat Legacy, founder of Jebat Photography Club in Kota Kinabalu. It was a great opportunity for all photography enthusiast in Sabah to be able to work with an experienced curator for the whole week. It didn’t took me long to write up an email to register myself for the workshop but I was in for a surprise because the workshop actually begin much ‘earlier’ than I expected. Although the workshop start a few month before the registration date, our discussion on photography project begin right after a few e-mail exchange and soon it become more like an essay writing class. What I was doing is basically trying to understand photography through writing.
The way the whole online session goes was rather frustrating but Wu Bin always gives a clear reason and explanation whenever I got confuse. My initial idea on how to use the workshop was rejected by Wu Bin and he told me that such project could be edited easily by myself and the series itself is rather hard to edit because I have already finished the project. The project that he refer to was the photograph that I took during my undergraduates study, something that I choose for its sentimental value. It took me a while to understand the purpose of the whole exercise but once I understood Wu Bin intention, I quickly proposed my ongoing project on the shorelines of Labuan.
It took a while but he finally agree on helping me with the project.
As a photographer, I am really confident in my skill to capture the desire image but when it come to constructing a clear concept on my photography project, I am not any better than most amateur photographer. The project that I have been doing revolves mainly around the Island of Labuan. My desire to capture the island intimate story from a local perspective has been my motivation throughout the year, or so I thought.
Wu Bin like how the project is conceive but he told me what he thought was wrong with the series and the picture that I have took so far. The main problem is mainly the lack of consistency and clear objective, be it in terms of visual or narrative. The purpose of the whole exercise is mainly to make it ‘easier’ for me to went through the 6 days workshop. After a few (43 email to be exact) e-mail exchange and excessive facebook chat, we finally got a solid foundation for my project (sort of). From here on, I had a better understanding on my own intention on the project and now I finally decided it was the right time to use medium format camera for the project.
Fast forward to a few days later, I finally meet the man in person and it was not as epic as I expected. (it was late evening and everyone was hungry)
The workshop is an intensive 6 day session complete with one-to-one critique session during anytime of the day (depending on Wu Bin schedule) and by the end of it, we will have an internal critique session, editing session and an open house session. The workshop was held at Arena Belia in Putatan and we basically stay at the hostel throughout the workshop. It was actually a great idea because we can hang out with Wu Bin at night although he is usually tired around this time.
The first day of the workshop is basically a presentation by Wu Bin on ‘Documentation Impulse’ and only to sort our project later with him to clarify our schedule for the entire workshop. I personally knew most of the participant in the workshop except for Paik Yin and Mark Chai but everyone is rather excited to show their finding before the workshop start. For my ongoing project of the shorelines of Labuan, I decided to stay for the workshop in the first 3 days before heading back home to Labuan for 2 days to shoot some material base on the feedback from Wu Bin.
The way I used the workshop is a bit about finding my own voice or standing in Photography. Having joined the previous IPA Street photography workshop made me realize that I am not the kind of person to document the street life in urban area for most of the time. I had very little attachment to the town of Labuan and with how Wu Bin slowly explaining to me his thought about my project, it finally make sense.
For the workshop, I decided to use a Film camera, a medium format TLR camera to be precise. I have always wanted to shoot the project in film but I always thought that digital camera would be the best because of its quick nature for reviewing and editing. Wu Bin manage to persuade me to try myself with a film camera and I took the initiatives with a loan Seagull TLR. The reason for adopting another new format is basically to slow my pace a bit and also to allow myself to become much more consistent in terms of visual approach. Square format is also one of the easiest to compose mainly because of its symmetrical geometry.
And during the workshop, I manage to develop my negatives for the first time, thanks to all the help from a friend of mine. Wu Bin didn’t like it at all because it makes the whole toilet smells bad.
Other part that is worth mentioning is about the opportunity to meet new people. I finally met a few passionate photographer of my age and it was great to know this people personally since all of them have different perspective on how to use photography. So I met Shio So0n Yi who I knew quite a while on facebook for his documentation on his girlfriend and this time he even bring some contact sheet with him to show to Wu Bin for some comment. Shio is one of the participant from Wu Bin previous workshop and he will be assisting Wu Bin throughout their trip around Sabah. (lucky bastard…)
During the final day of the workshop, it is worth noting on how the editing session goes and its interesting because not every project is edited in the same way while some other are rather hard to edit especially those that works around local history. The internal critique session is interesting because all the participant can share their thought on other participant work followed by Wu Bin thought on some necessary key information that we should remember.
To wrap up the whole workshop, the organizer did an open house session where we will invite all of our friend to come and eat while looking through our work for the workshop. The participant are required to explain to the visitor about their project but it became much more casual afterwards. Some great people came to the Open house session which include Su Chung Chong, Flanegan Bainon, Uncle Peter and many other photographer that I only saw on facebook.
Hanging out with Zhuang Wu Bin for the last 6 days of the workshop is a great experience itself. He is a passionate teacher and willing to go further to explain something especially those from his research material. There is a few quote that I manage to note down from the workshop and that include;
“…How can you call yourself a photographer if you are not sensitive to the people (subject) around you?…” – Taken from our walk back to the car from our rather weird dinner experience at Kampung Air.
“…Editing is only an exercise to make stronger project by highlighting the good and hiding the flaw of the whole project, but is never mean’t to fix a badly conceive project…” – While explaining about photo editing during our one-on-one discussion.
“…You are rushing on your approach and easily distracted on other stuff. FOCUS!!!…” – On telling me his thought on my project during the first few days of the workshop.
There is more to write down on anything that Wu Bin have to say throughout the workshop but I decided to keep it for myself to allow other people to know him more in person. He have a great deal of experience as a photographer and curator and I believe it gives him a slight advantage when he is giving his comment on any photography practice. With his research focus more around South East Asia, he is probably one of the best person to go through regarding any great photography practice or project in South East Asia.
The workshop was by far the most casual (and serious some times) of all the workshop that I have attend so far. There is this nice school camp atmosphere to it and I agree with Paik Yin on that matter (owe her some chocolate as well).
As a conclusion, it was a great workshop and probably worth all the money spent (on the workshop fee’s and film). So what do I learn from this workshop?, a LOT!!!. But one of the main thing that everyone should focus on is probably being consistent and having a clear idea on how to execute the project, something which Wu Bin keep on stressing about throughout the workshop.
I am going to miss everyone though. Zhuang Wu Bin runs a few blog by himself and a blog post of this Photography workshop can be find here along with his other previous workshop.