Few years ago, I thought mastering all the technical matter of photography will make me a good photographer but whenever I think about that thought this day, I couldn’t help but to smile on how naive I was back then.

There is more to Photography than just simply taking pretty pictures and it is in-fact it’s ability to preserve a mere fraction of a second of something that is perhaps Photography greatest pleasure. Photography helps the world communicate and this is one of the few reason on why I have been interested in Photography in the first place.

While I am still buzzing from the previous IPA Street Photography Workshop in 2013,  I have decided that part of my resolution for 2014 is to join more Project based Photography workshop and a friend of mine recommend KLPA Exposure+ 3 Program for a starter. A quick research on what the workshop could offer reveal a rather impressive line of mentor with a very flexible working schedule. The main objective of the workshop is to expose the participant in developing their own personal project with the help of their own mentor and by the end of the program, they will have to present it in a form of Exhibition and presentation; thus ‘Exposed’ (there is more to the workshop than that).

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My first public presentation during the KLPA 2014 Exhibition at Whitebox Gallery, Publika. (Picture courtesy of Steven Lee)

The workshop is a 3 month program with a monthly gathering in between. Each participant is assign to a mentor and will then be guided through the entire 3 months to complete a Photography Project. The mentors consist of a number of well known Photographer in Malaysia namely Eiffel Chong (not related to the Eiffel tower in Paris),  Steven Lee, and Cheryl Hoffmann. All 3 of them probably doesn’t need any introduction but its worth noting that each of them has their own main forte’ and I just can’t wait to learn more from them.

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Monthly discussion is done often and sometimes weekly depending on everyone schedule. Note how dedicated Steven is in keeping tabs on other participant works. (Photo courtesy of Nurul Munira)

Since I am based in Labuan, interacting with other mentors and participant on weekly basis is basically impossible and luckily they are offering an online session as well as online discussion. The registration is a straight forward task with a few words exchange through e-mail and a few weeks later, It was announced that I will be a part of this year KLPA Exposure+ 3 program. Suprised as It seems, my mentor for the next 3 months is Steven Lee, a rather familiar name but just can’t seems to recall from where (A friend of mine, Flanegan Bainon told me that he used to study under him somewhere during his degree study in Australia).

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Our usual Skype session (sorry for the printscreen Steven)

So basically my whole mentorship was done through Skype and to make it worst, my mentor lives in London so we always have to consider about our time zone difference whenever we decided to set our online session.

In a sense, those who are staying in Kuala Lumpur will benefit more from the workshop since they could discuss directly with their mentor but the online session isn’t that bad apart from the troublesome internet connection from our very own lousy internet provider. I update my work from time to time through email and only arrange a Skype session whenever we need to discuss about something important.

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Our group discussion with the rest of the participant plus another one from Australia. It was fun and all until the internet line went nuts.

I submit a few project proposal to Steven and when he went through all of my suggestion, he share his thought on the proposal and in the end, we pick the Oil and Gas worker as the Project main focus. The reason for this is because we need something that is interesting enough to work with and also to be able to complete the project within 3 months. Due to my work and family commitment, I could only take some pictures during the weekend (like I always do) which require a bit of planning to provide some space for the project to develop.

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My first few proposed approach on the worker in coverall.

We discuss a few method of approach for the project and I personally wish it could be taken in a more candid approach but Steven convince me in some way that such method is weak and it might prove to be difficult to work with within a short period of time. The stand-out of the subject is their different ‘coverall’ that they wear which is what we were trying to highlight throughout the series. Basically a Photography project needs to have a clear objective, consistent working approach and a proper time frame. Its interesting to work on the Project since it is different from what I am used to and despite some early difficulty with the project in the first few weeks, It became much easier as it progress towards the final months.

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We went through my work for the project and everyone gave their feedback from the session. I note down everyone comment on the ongoing work.

The project require me to interview an Oil and Gas Worker around the town area and asking for their permission to have their picture taken for the project. The idea is to show how common it is to find this worker in public spaces but also to highlight the uniqueness of Labuan as an Industrial Island. The coverall is unique to the worker as it represent the company that they are working with as well as their rank within the industry.

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My contact sheet marked by Steven during my first few weeks on the project.

While working through the project, Steven is totally aware of my progress and told me to treat this more as an exercise since I am not entirely comfortable with the new approach but nevertheless he gave me enough guidance and confidence throughout the 3 months period.

Some of the crucial stuff that I learned from the workshop is;

1) Awareness in Photography project objective as a whole.

During the earlier stage of the photography project, we took about 2 weeks before finalizing the project concept. The main discussion during this stage is probably the way we intend to see through the project when its finished. Steven taught me that this is an important matter to consider not only from a photographer perspective but also from the public perspective. The Oil and Gas worker approach shows a common scenery in Labuan that couldn’t be found anywhere else in Malaysia. This in turn will create an awareness on the impact of Oil and Gas industry in Labuan which have been the island main role in developing Malaysia as a developing country.

2) Experiment done right.

I begin the workshop at a state where my mind is deliberately filled with images taken by Alex Webb, Josef Koudelka, and Jun Abe. The idea of capturing a complicated composition with perfect timing is what I thrive to improve during the workshop but Steven bring me back to sense where he pushed me to become more self-aware as a Photographer. (note : refer to Alec Soth working method)

I am an introvert person by nature and asking people for a permission to have their picture taken is like living in a nightmare. Even when I am taking street photograph, I always let other people start the conversation before me. Asking for permission is a hassle but as week goes through, I find it very comfortable and I became much more confident with the project.

By the end of the workshop, my experience that I learn from doing the project is stucked with me and conversation with a stranger becomes more like a second nature (slightly). Sometimes its a good thing

3) Time management.

3 months might sounds like a whole lot of time to complete the project but like 99% people in this world, Procrastination is man worst enemy (or friend). As the title suggest, time management is important and I couldn’t have done it without making a target list handy on my notebook, and a huge calender.

 

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One of the picture from the ON-SHORE project.

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Steven suggest me to make a Photobook of my project and it looks awesome. Printed from blurb with help from Steven, straight from UK.

Past forward to a few months, the project is finally finished with 25 Portraits and we are ready for our public presentation on mid August 2014. The presentation itself provide a good opportunity for the participant to express themselves in a more open manner in which everyone will be getting a direct feedback from the audience. I receive some positive thought from other people after the presentation and it gives me a great deal of confidence for my next Photography project.

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Steven is getting warmed up for an interview regarding the opening and prize winning ceremony for KLPA 2014.

By the end of the workshop, I learn a lot from it. As usual, it took me a few months before I could digest everything that I just learned and hence this blogpost which has been in draft for a couple of months!. I printed a small book of my work which I had been showing around after the presentation and even by today I use it as a reference when explaining people about conceiving a Photography Project.

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Ramlen Salleh giving his presentation on his project for Exposure+.

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A picture of me during the photography presentation at the Whitebox Gallery Publika. (Photo courtesy of Shio Soon Yii)

Exposure+ photography workshop program is probably one of the most effective and reputable photography workshop in Malaysia at the moment although it might not specifically tailored for beginners photographer, the opportunity to learn Photography in a new perspective is certainly a refreshing than the usual camera technique workshop and their awesome network might help you progress forward as an emerging Photographer.

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Picture of me with Steven Lee, Ailsa Bowyer, and Anne Benedicte during the KLPA 2014 Exhibition and award winning ceremony.

I would like say thank you to Steven Lee for all the help during the entire mentorship and not to forget Erna Dyanty and Kak Nurul aka Moon for dedicating their time to keep everyone on track. Looking forward to see the work from the next Exposure+4 participant, they seems to be doing something interesting.

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