OBSCURA 2018 – A ‘brief’ visit

OBSCURA 2018 – A ‘brief’ visit

This year Obscura Photo festival was something to remember. I didn’t join through the entire week but it was a short break that I needed after an intense week in the office.

Obscura Photo Festival 2018 program schedule went out late and most their full list of activities was out few days before their opening ceremony. Nevertheless, it was something that I knew I shouldn’t missed out on and bit of excitement came inside of me when they updated their facebook page stating ‘PORTFOLIO REVIEW AT BLACK KETTLE THIS SATURDAY’. Among the name on the list was Hajime Kimura, Maggie Steber, and Ian Teh.

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Last minute cutting at the printer shop. 

It was exciting as I just finished my 5 years project on documenting Labuan shorelines and I needed some feedback on the project as a whole. Of course, this could be counter-productive as I could risk getting unnecessary influence or direction into the project. But I am quiet matured in my artistic insight compared to years ago and the review might just give me an extra perspective on what I need to do for my next upcoming project. I went back from my office that night and started arranging a series of my scanned negatives for printing tomorrow morning. I hit the bed early so I wouldn’t overslept for the registration tomorrow at 10am.

As expected, I had trouble waking up on time and it was hectic as I rushed to the printing shop near my office. The shop was open and the printing went on smoothly until the time when the owner ask me whether I want the picture to be cut to sized. But seeing that it takes time for the old owner, he was kind enough to let me cut it myself using one of their cutting machine. By the time I finished cutting the print, it was already 10:25am. 25 minute late for the registration.

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The portfolio review session starts and I am late. 

I arrived at Black Kettle around 10:55am. However a woman at the registration counter told me that I am already late and the session already started half an hour ago. But despite her fiery glare, she was kind enough to put my name into the list. For the portfolio session, we are able to set an appointment to whichever photographer that I wanted. The list of photographers are;

• Maggie Steber
• Ian Teh
• Wawi Navarroza
• Nicolas Combarro
• Léonard Pongo
• Peter Bialobrzeski
• Hajime Kimura (I am a fan of his work)
• Atsushi Fujiwara
• Yusuke Takagi
• Tom White
• Louis Lim

It was an easy choice on who I want to meet, and since I dont know half of the other photographer (sorry, but I manage to google you guys afterwards) the choice was set to Hajime Kimura and Ian Teh. The only regrets is that I didn’t went for Peter Bialobrzeski as well, it seems his work and opinion might be worth listening to.

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This year booklet is small an economical. Easy to carry throughout the week. 

   My portfolio review session was set around 1pm and 3pm for Ian Teh and Hajime Kimura respectively. It left me with some time to prepare myself and seeing the people around the room shows that I am the only one who seems to be unprepared. They present their work with laptop, business cards, and glossy prints while I am the only one with a lousy cheap inkjet print on cheap paper. So I thought since I already registered, why not grab a lunch and maybe get my laptop as well. At least it makes me look prepared in a way.

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Some of the participants waiting for their turn.

The first session is with Ian Teh, the entire room is filled with photographers doing a review session. It does made me nervous in some way but I was hoping for the best. Ian Teh needs no introduction, I have 2 of his books and been a fan of his work on China Industrial landscape.

This is my first time attending a portfolio review and to be honest, I don’t have any idea what to do next after saying ‘Hello’.

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Ian Teh with one of the participant. Waiting for my turn. 

During the session with Ian Teh, I gave a brief introduction about myself and the work that I was about to present to him. The work is of course my recent project on my hometown. Overall, the feedback was good. Most of his concern is basically on what I actually want from the series. I wouldn’t share most of his word here but it was positive. I did ask him how he would usually do for his project and he gave me some great insight on his own editing approach on TRACES and Confluence project.

One thing that I realized is that you have to come with a clear idea of your own project (I actually do, just the final edit need time to decide) and also a final edit of your work. Mine was so half-assed that it became hard to comment on especially since its a portfolio review. But the experience was good and I learn much.

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Part of the image from my project. 
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Some lovely work show inside the room. 
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Manage to catch-up with Alvin Lau. An upcoming photographer from KL. The second person that I show my prints to. 
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I am not sure but why but their shirts match one another. 

My next session is with Hajime Kimura. Again, this guy needs no introduction as well and I had his book reviewed many years ago in this blog. Currently he is a full time photographer and working on some interesting project which he will present tomorrow.

Of all the photographer in the room, Hajime is someone that I can relate to slightly. He is an Architecture graduate and one of his big break in photography happen to be done when he went out in search of himself. Hence, his first photobook.

Hajime is a funny guy and somehow have this bright smile eventhough we just met. Typical Japanese I presume. We exchange greeting and sat through the session. As I was arranging the prints on the table, I manage to tell him my admiration on his work and stating that our work is similar in certain way. He reply with a bow saying thank you and quickly going through my work. Again, I wont be sharing much of our session but enough to say that it was positive.

And yes, I manage to ask him about the camera that he use for the Kodama photobook, It is a Nikon FM2n with black and white film pushed all the way to 3200 ASA.

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A creative approach for exhibiting photo. Cheap and big, but the impact from this kind of presentation is questionable. 
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Manage to catch up with the owner of Bang Bang Geng in Publika. Thanks to Andrew for letting me know. 
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My kind of photography work. Simple. 
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The title is stated. 
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“Kagerou” by Yusuke Takagi, Japan.
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One of the interesting story among the exhibited work. Worth a read. “Confiteor (I Confess) by Tomaso Clavarino, Italy. 
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ABKHAZIA by Ksenia Kuleshova.
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A very nice touch. Not sure if its necessary. 
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“I’ll be looking at the moon but I’ll be seing you” by Harikrishna Katragadda and Shweta Upadhyay, India. 

I intend to take a few picture around Georgetown area but looking at the time, waiting for a few hours before Obscura Festival opening ceremony seems like a better idea. I know a friend that is coming all the way from KL and will be arriving soon so I also think it would wise to stay and catch up with the others.

The opening ceremony is held at Hin Bus Depot along with a number of photographer exhibiting their work. Going through the previous edition of the photo festival, this year exhibit seems to be staying away from the conventional photojournalism and documentary issue. The theme for this year exhibition is ‘Multiplicity’ which is curated by Anshika Varma. There is a long write up on her curation but simply put, this year  they explore the hidden human condition that seems to blur the line between reality and fiction. I dig most of the work shown here.

As the night approaches,  more people gathers around the gallery area. Some familiar people pop-in and a number of VIP seems to be there as well for the opening ceremony. It was a warm atmosphere and surrounded by the exhibited work, people can simply take their time while waiting for the event to start.

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Only For “THE DEAD ON DUTY” by Naraphat Sakarthornsap. Thailand.
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The MC starting to warm up the space. 
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The people within the room. 
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All attention towards the front. 
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The people that make the photo festival happen. 
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My favourite series from the entire exhibition. ‘Uncanny Lovers’ by Paulina Otylie Surys, Poland.

The opening ceremony was a success, everyone was happy and the atmosphere turn casual as everyone decided to catch-up with one another. It was great opportunity for those who wanted to do some networking. For me, I am just trying to enjoy my weekend.

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Eiffel Chong. I have been studying his work recently. Probably one of the biggest name in Photography coming from Malaysia. Adding his picture here in a hope that it will increase my blog traffic someday. 
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The organizer did a good job. Free beer for all. 
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Catching up with William Sim and Alvin Lau. Not to mention Munirah on the right outside of the frame. 
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Hajime got drunk. 
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It was a nice evening.
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Slightly sober and getting some drinks with Moon and Ben. William join us afterwards. 

The next morning, I attend the Photobook Presentation by Atsushi Fujiwara, Matt Alett and Hajime Kimura. They have an evening session as well but I got caught up with my office work.

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Some of the exhibited book. 
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They compile all the students work for Ian Teh Masterclass into a book. An interesting compilation of work taken in Penang. 
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Check out that clean binding. 
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I have no idea what is the book title or photographer is. 
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But the content is good. 
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An interesting cover and content layout. Yoshikatsu Fujii, must google. 
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One of the highlight of the session for me is probably the chance to go through Hajime Kimura photobook. Ever since I continue my study, I never got the chance to get his latest book after Kodama. I read about his scrap book photo book concept that earn him some awards and I finally I got the chance to go through it.

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The proportion of the book is interesting. 
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The scrapbook contains a lot of photograph that is not selected into Kodama. It is arranged in a way to resemble a photo diary of Hajime journey with the Matagi.
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Love this series. A scrapbook where you thought she is Hajime relatives but it is not. 
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Hajime told me that Kodama is a book that is not edited by him and as a result, not the way he intend to tell the story (lucky, as I am a fan of that series) but he told me ‘Scrapbook’ is a book that he made base on his original intention to use the photograph. 
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He told me to attach some personality or identity into your work through old picture or sketches. I think this is what he meant. 
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I also ask him what camera he use for the Kodama series. He told me that he use Nikon FM2n as the weather is cold on that area and a compact fully manual analog camera would have better chance of surviving. 
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And he is also a fan of Presto 400 before Fujifilm discontinued it. 
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I like the way he insert some graphic with some high contrast imagery. 

   Overall, it was satisfying. I didnt manage to follow the whole week of activity but catching up with some people while learning something new is always a good way to keep the drive going. The photo festival is a success as well and here I hope that the next edition would be better. This year exhibited work is a great departure from the usual documentary/photojournalism approach, a rather refreshing change of view.

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Hajime Kimura presenting his published book. He also talk about his own personal approach in photography and also about his ongoing project. Good stuff. 
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The end. 

FUJIFILM XT20 – An hour with XT20

FUJIFILM XT20 – An hour with XT20

I rarely had the urge to write something about a camera that I try before but this one is an exception as I felt that there is a few points that I need to put out.

A week ago, Fujifilm did a camera hands-on session which include a small street photography workshop done by one of their brand ambassador (I think). To be honest I do not expect much from the workshop but the chance of trying out Fujifilm high end equipment on the street of Georgetown is much more interesting, and it’s free.

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Fujifilm XT20 – the camera that I tried for an hour. 

Ever since I continue my study in Penang, I never got the chance to explore the street of Penang as much as I thought I would be. Project submission and curricular activity has made me very occupied throughout the week. So this is like killing two bird with one stone, a chance to explore Georgetown with a better camera and to actually try Fujifilm recent offering.

Since it’s free and doesn’t seems to restrict only to Fujifilm camera user. I decided to give it a go.


The event was held at Gayo Cafe, next to the Chinahouse. A cafe that doesnt seems to bother to check their location on facebook, which made many of us late for the event as we scramble to find the exact location of the cafe.

As I was late, the talk already gone through halfway and the place was literally packed with people. The talk was done by Thomas Phoon where he gave a basic introduction on street photography.

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Street photography talk by Thomas Phoon. 

Street photography in general is a very difficult genre to dissect. Even the speaker try to keep it simple while at the same time entertaining to the crowd. It keep up with the basic approach to street photography while at the same time showcasing why Fujifilm X series camera are the best camera for street photography.

But I am not expecting a talk from Alex Webb here.


The only experience that I had with Fujifilm camera before is their X100 model. A camera which I was planning to get before getting a second hand Sony a900.

But that was back in 2012, where the autofocus was not up to standard and the control is a bit tedious compared to what I heard recently. For this session I was hoping to try the X-pro2 or the X100F in which I was unlucky as I was one of the last few at the back of the line.

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Due to my phone camera quality, the thing that the girl was holding is actually the Xpro2 Graphite. 

So for this, I have to settle with the Fujifilm XT20 with some random zoom lens that is left with them. The girls in front of me manage to use the Xpro2 Graphite, damn.

We left our MyKad with the organizer before taking the camera off to the street of Georgetown. I also ask one of the brand representative to teach me how to use the camera and to adjust the setting in which I find the camera control to be similar to my Olympus OM-1.


After a 10 minutes of basic Fujifilm camera session with one of the Fujifilm representative, I head out with the usual intention of taking photograph of whatever that I deem interesting.

This is also a good way to try the camera where in the recent year, saw many hardcore Nikon and Canon enthusiast to switch to the X-series system. On first impression, the camera control is pretty direct and simple with most of the necessary control are put on top of the camera plate. The most noticeable difference compare to the usual DSLR is the classic look of the camera which resembles the SLR back in the 70’s from the like of Olympus OM and Pentax LX. The camera is also surprisingly solid with the lens built quality is stunning, similar to a solid classic analog lenses made from stainless steel. Even though my loan lens had some used mark here and there.

You can refer to more information on XT20 at Dpreview.com, as this blog is never meant for a scientific camera review. I used to like Fujifilm for its 400H Pro film.


One of the first frame that I took after I went out from the Cafe. Autofocus is blazing fast, no complain on that matter. 
I believe I was struggling with the EVF response rate. The camera has a rather annoying turn on rate when I switch from using live view to the EVF. Perhaps there is a problem with the sensor. Solved the problem by using only EVF for the entire time. 
So while testing the camera, I bump into my long lost senior back when I was studying for Diploma. On a side note, the camera retain the highlight details perfectly well and this is converted from RAW. 
I think this stray dog develop a sort of bond with the community. So chill. 
I was hoping for a Daido Moriyama kind of head turn from the dog. But no. Again, the camera retain great detail from this image file. 
Chill dog, enough said. 
The camera is not exactly discreet but the shutter sound is definitely quieter than what I am used to. The guy was talking something about California.  
More chit-chat on California. 
His name is Syed Mahathir. I did chat with him for a while. Wish to talk more but I am in a rush to return the camera soon. 
More people on bicycle around Georgetown. Again, great detail and sharpness from the camera. Wish I have some spare 8K under my pillow. 
Miscellaneous item. 
I wish to take this one with my TLR but somehow the shutter is stucked few days ago. 
One final picture before I return the camera. The kid was cute as she pose for her mum. Should have try a higher ISO for this. 


In general, mirrorless camera is a very viable option as a serious workhorse camera. For me that is. But this is not a surprise considering that Sony has somehow conquer the market with its mirrorless full frame camera, the RX1r and A7 series camera.

My point here is that I used to have some doubt on mirrorless camera, not in term of image quality but more on the actual shooting performance and I am glad that the technology for the camera is getting better.

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They were giving out comment on a selected 2 image from the outing. The selected 2 image were given some sort of prize. But the first selected image is interesting though. 
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The end of the workshop. 

In this day, most digital camera is a good camera. With only differences is more on the features than the actual image quality. For a starter the only thing that I find irritating with the camera is only the following (nothing serious) ;

  1. The EVF still could not replace the actual experience of using a viewfinder. Which I believe the X100F or Xpro2 suits me more. I am the kind of person who use viewfinder most of the time.
  2. The organizer doesn’t even bother to provide a neckstrap for their camera. So basically you are carrying 7K equipment around the area by holding onto the expensive lens.
  3. I just wish to try the Xpro2 instead. 😦

Given the opportunity, I wouldnt mind using the XT20 all year long. Its a great camera with tons of feature but so far, I am impressed.

As for the event, I believe it was a success. I consider myself a neutral when it comes to camera brand but Fujifilm did a good job on this and they even have a free meal.

Looking forward for a Leica camera hand-on test in the future. Hopefully.


OBSCURA PHOTO FESTIVAL 2016 – An experience | PART 2

OBSCURA PHOTO FESTIVAL 2016 – An experience | PART 2

That night was as good as it gets, not that I am getting laid in any other way though.

We followed the procession all the way to the main street in front of Chew Jetty. 
The big offering that is presented in front of Chew Jetty. The heat was intense even from distance. 

   A friend, Mr.Hasnoor, decided to show the way around Georgetown to find the best place to take pictures of the Chinese offering and the procession. It was tiring for everyone since we have been spending the rest of the day out in the city, and as for me, I have been walking non-stop around the town area up until the projection night at Hin Bus Depot.


Hanif is a friend that I met few years ago during IPA workshop few years ago along with Ms Shafina (who happen to have her face covered) that I met during the last KLPA Exposure+ exhibition at Publika.  This was taken after coming back from the Chew Jetty.

The next morning were meant to be spent to visit all the photo exhibition that is laid all over Georgetown. The list of all the exhibition is very impressive with Photography works coming from Europe, America, Africa, and even Malaysia. The list for the photo exhibition is as follows;

  • The 1% Show – Curated by Myles Little
  • Royal Malaysian Police – by Eiffel Chong (Sorry Eiffel, couldn’t make it)
  • What News of the Snake That Lost Its Heart In The Fire – By Arko Datto
  • The Immense Night – by Alisa Resnik
  • Paradise Right Here – Curated by Waswo X Waswo
  • Vertigo – by Gihan Tubbeh
  • Whiteout/Whitenoise – by Anne Nobleand Anna Brown
  • Everyday Africa – Curated by Peter Di Campo
  • Belonging – Curated by Daniel Boetker-Smith
  • West County – by Talia Herman
  • Rhymes of Eurasia – By Ikuru Kuwajima

   Before I went to the photo exhibition, I decided to attend the last talk for the International Photobook Show. When I got there, I was already exhausted from last night and decided to read all the photobook that I haven’t gone through yesterday instead. Unfortunately, this also mean that I didn’t listen to the sharing by the Photobook making participant on their project, which is interesting in many way but somehow I just found that the book on display is much more interesting especially the Black passport (which this time I spent more than 30 minute going through it and the beautiful infrared photograph taken by Ed Thompson, The Unseen.

Hanif was obviously tired from last night. 

   The first exhibition that I visit is the “Paradise Right Here” curated by Waswo X Waswo. For some odd reason, I only have it taken using my smartphone. The series is impressive and it speaks volumes when you had seen the prints being hanged outside the gallery. Rightly fitting for the narratives that they were trying to showcase, the choice of such print size justify the quality of the series as it try to show the strength of the subject that has to gone through life hurdles after overcoming a serious sickness.

The exhibition was done in a large space and the print were given proper distance from each other for a very good visual break. I should have took more picture of this. 

   The second exhibition would be the “Rhymes of Eurasia” by Ikuru Kuwajima. I happen to found it when I was looking for the toilet at INCH food bar during the International Photobook show. The series is impressive with all the panoramic picture shows the grandeur or rather the uniqueness of the  countryside of Central Asia and Russia. But as much as I find it interesting, I somehow feel that the location of the exhibition has somehow reduce the impact from the work itself. The arrangement of the prints seems random with prints is hang all over the eating area (probably so you could enjoy the exhibition while eating) while the interior lighting doesn’t do justice to the prints as it is very dim (my camera made the picture brighter), the space also feels a bit claustrophobic, just barely.

   The next visit is a bit tricky, not only I got lost despite the map in hand, I also happen to pass by the venue a few time. It is located in some empty shophouse near Lebuh Victoria and the only sign that tell that there is something being exhibited inside is the plastic chair with open metal shutter opening, plus some small Obscura Photo festival poster. I didn’t take any picture of the building facade though.

   One of the exhibition that I look forward to is the “What News of the Snake That Lost Its Heart In The Fire” by Arko Datto andThe Immense Night” by Alisa Resnik. 

   Both of the exhibition are held inside the same place. The space is worn out empty shop house with barely minimum finishing over the wall and floor. But at least the lighting was better and the emptiness of the entire space compliment well with the exhibited work, especially those by Alisa Resnik.

Upon entering the building, I was welcomed with a rather subdue picture of a white horse, the same picture that is used on Obscura Photo festival website and promotional material.

One of the first of many picture by Alisa Resnik. 
The quiet and rustic atmosphere suits well with entire exhibited material. 

Alisa Resnik series were entirely ‘dark’ with a rather cool cinematic feel to it that is accentuate with a mix of blurry and sharp photo. The entire idea seems to revolve around the mysterious and cold feeling of midnight where each photograph seems to raise more question as you go through it, neither does it feel restricted with a certain narrative either.

“These images materialize into projections of your memories and start living their own lives. They tell the stories for you, the stories you might think you’ve seen with your own eyes…becoming part of you, and you’re sentenced to return to them again and again.” – Alisa Resnik 

Arko Datto exhibition is certainly one of a kind. The prints were covered all over the wall which reminds me of ‘LOMO’ wall. The color is pretty interesting as well. 

   Apparently, there is a total of 97 photographs taken by Arko Datto being arranged in grid all over the space. It cover a rather huge space on the wall and going through all of it by myself takes times, but surely interesting in it’s own way. The idea seems to be done on purpose where it tries to create a confusing visual that befitting with the photographer ideal of seeing the people Penang in confused state. The blue hue combined with the strong flash binds the entire series together rather well.

“When it calls, we manifest. We rise from the undead. We slide out of our wet holes. We untwist our bodies from warmer bodies. Our pleasure oozes across the concrete like murder. Our lungs fill with the miasma of stale sex. We take stock of the rusty pipes and tungsten halls. Rub nitrogen from each other’s eyes as we consider these flimsy walls.

We take the stairs. The black sun beckons. We storm the high roofs of high rises as windows shatter on the floors below. We are those glass shards in free fall, screaming with joy as we slice into the belly of the rising tide. We spill out of these skeletons. Smoke rises from the calluses on our feet.

When it calls, they sing. The clouds in the sky sing a song to send skulls flying. We fly. We fuse. My
erstwhile selves sink into the deep. I turn to the smoldering sky.” – Arko Datto

   According to the exhibition statement, most of the picture were taken in the past 3 months of the artist stay under the Hotel Penaga Artist Residency programme in collaboration with Obscura photo festival. His work on Penang is  a nice reference for myself who is planning to do a photo project in Penang but certainly I won’t be trying something so flashy to begin with.

Overall, the entire photo festival program and activity was great. It was unfortunate that I was unable to visit all the exhibition due to time constraint but it was great to catch up with some old acquaintances that I met before during my previous photography event. Hopefully the next Obscura photo festival will feature something better or as interesting as it was this year, and I have more time for it.



OBSCURA PHOTO FESTIVAL 2016 – An experience | PART 1

OBSCURA PHOTO FESTIVAL 2016 – An experience | PART 1

Obscura Photo Festival is an annual photography festival that is held yearly at Georgetown, Penang. It is currently in it’s 4th edition which is also the number of time that I had missed the festival. I nearly missed the recent edition and somehow managed to salvage the remaining few days of the festival.

Like any other International Photo festival, it has became a great stop for a gathering among International photographer community prior to the upcoming Angkor Photo Festival this November. The festival has certainly grown a lot compared to its first edition where there is more serious photography discussion with the participant and at the same time with the public. It has also manage to brought in some great name in Contemporary Photography to share their view on current issues and also their perspective on their own work.

Among the program on the list that really capture my attention is the talk from Shahidul Alam on “Finding New Narratives in Photography.” and of course the International Photobook show.  I missed the talk due to my commitment for my University Faculty programs but somehow able to drop by for the International Photobook Show at INCH.

The Photo Festival starts on 15th August until 31 August although the first few days are for the Masterclass workshop while the exhibition is open to the public on 19th August 2016.

On 24 August, I finally managed to get myself free and spent the rest of the day solely for the Photo Festival. The morning was terrible as I was staying up late that night and only to get lost on my way to INCH.

Alvin giving a stare to the camera. Looking forward to see his upcoming work on a visual diary of some sort next year. 

When I arrived there, the talk was already halfway through and the atmosphere were rather serious with a few casual laugh in between. Most of them are totally focus on the talk while some other were browsing through the books that is on display. A scan through the room shows a few people that I knew online mainly Daniel Boetker-Smith from Asian-Pacific Photobook Archives and also Sim Chi Yin who is rather famous recently with her works from China (I am a fan of her work). I didn’t notice anyone familiar until Alvin (a friend from KL who joined the masterclass workshop) say Hi to me.

The crowd is very receptive during the talk by Teun Van der Heijden. 

The first talk was done by Teun Van der Heijden, famously known for his photobook design ‘Black Passport’ for Stanley Greene. He is a creative designer that works on photography editing and photobook design and to summarize his talk, it was more about how, why, and his preference in making a photobook. The talk was interesting as he keeps on showing example from his previous work (which is available on display during the International Photobook Show). There was a few interesting point that were discussed which I wish I did a recording of it. It was on how he recently working with a fine art photographer to conceive a photobook while despite all this, he still prefer or rather, more comfortable to work with Photojournalism type of work. There was also something that he mentioned on how working with the two genre is different and what we can learn from this and reapply to any other project in terms of visual presentation or impact.

Of course, the Q&A session were ruthless and perhaps rightly so since we are surrounded with talented photographers of such high caliber.

The design process of the ‘Black Passport’, one of my favourite photobook ever. Current price for a copy is about 450USD. Wish I can have this on my wall for my room.
Some of the visitor who decided to go through the books instead of taking their lunch. 
Sim Chi Yin going through some of the photobook. She teach one of the masterclass for the Obscura Photo Festival this year. 

After the first talk were done, everyone were going downstairs to take their lunch. I already taken mine so I decided to spent my time browsing through the books that is on display. The main objective to go to such event was to gain inspiration and I am taking my time to go through someone else photography zine and dummy book. Not to mention some rare and expensive books as well.

A collection of photobook on display. Spent a good solid hour going through the books. Immense stuff. Notice the Henri Cartier Bresson book on the bottom left corner?.

There was also a number of photobook on display and particularly those finalist and winner that have won some ‘Photobook Award of the year‘, can’t seems to recall the name of the award though. Just to name a few, there was also the super expensive Henri Cartier Bresson recently republished photobook ‘The Desicive moment’, the writing were good but I still can’t understand why it was that ‘famous’.

Daniel Boetker-Smith giving his talk and view on the current state of Photobook Market especially in South East Asia and Australia. 

The second talk of the day is by Daniel Boetker-Smith, an enthusiastic photographer/educator from Australia. I knew him from Photobook Australia and he is also the Director for Asian Pacific Photobook Archive, big stuff.

Throughout the talk, he discuss the current state of Photobook market especially in Asia and how aspiring Photographer that want to publish a photobook can do so for themselves. There was also some discussion on the pro’s and con’s of self publishing where opinion were threw in by some of the audience. Since I had no such intention to do a photobook at the moment, I tend to ignore the whole talk apart from the Asian Pacific Photobook Archive effort in promoting photographer work to a wider audience.

A summary on what Asian Pacific Photobook Archive has been trying to achieve in the past few years is to promote the joy of Photobook viewing in a form of travelling mini library. This is achieved by joining/involved in as much Photo Festival that they can afford to. Through their effort, there is some Photography project that manage to capture the attention of a Publisher and from what they said, there is a follow up collaboration with the photographer.

Waiting for the program to start. Beer is on sale by the way.

The next program of the day is the Projection Night “Judgement of Line Orientation” curated by Anshika Varma, which if I was not mistaken, a Photo Editor for NGEO India.

One irritating things that I don’t really like with the Photo festival is that the programs doesn’t start punctually. But this is understandable and can be well tolerated as most of the participant and audience has probably been tired from following all the program for the past few days.

The hardworking people behind Obscura Photo Festival and of course, the big ass projector. 

Before the projection night starts, they were giving out some handouts that gives some short description on the selected photography works and also the curator statement on the slideshow.

Here are some of the short writings on the projection;

“Judgement of Line Orientation stems from exploring social structures created for people to find a sense of belonging as a community. The works included explore and question the act of creating such norms. These questions become more relevant in the context of our current times when constructs are blatantly exploited by the politics of nations and its powerful to divide. The photographic interrogations included draw from a strong base in the photographers personal thoughts or politics. For the curator, it questions the need and relevance of these structures and its impact on how we choose to live our lives today. The curation questions the formation of our multipletures and its impact on how we choose to live our lives today. The curation questions the formation of our multiple identities for nations, religions, mythologies, families and gender homogenization and its subsequent politics.”

  • Aapo Huhta – Ukkometso
  • Alejandro Chaskielberg – Otsuchi Future Memories
  • Andre Fernandes – Killing Kittens
  • Diego Moreno – Guardians of Memory
  • Dragana Jurisic – Yu the Lost Country
  • Kosuke Okahara – Ibasyo
  • Laurence Rasti – There are no homosexual in Iran
  • Magda Biernat – Adrift
  • Vasantha Yogananthan – Early Times
  • Yoshikatsu Fuji – Red String

The projection showcase a bunch of visually interesting narratives that really challenge the common society thought on a bunch of issues such as cultural minority, mentally challenged, and also towards understanding the common theme such as love. There is a lot to learn from it as well and hopefully it could go through (in some way) to the works that I had been working on myself.

Daniel questioned the narratives and objectives used for the projection. 

After the projection night was done, I was somehow been able to join a group of friend for late supper before taking our time to take pictures of some people burning offering to the god. It’s that time of the month in Chinese Calendar and the whole town seems geared towards it as well.

Another late night stay before tomorrow.






Hari Gawai 2015

Hari Gawai 2015

Earlier last month at the end of June, I decided to join a friend back to his home village to celebrate the Harvest Festival. Being a Sino Kadazan, I never been to a longhouse before but my friend assure me that although the longhouse nowadays are made from a much more contemporary material, the culture has pretty much remain the same.

The town at Limbang is busy with people preparing for the Harvest festival tomorrow.

We took the ferry from Labuan and arrive at the Limbang Jetty in the next few hours. The ride was smooth while the immigration system is pretty efficient as well. Limbang is part of Sarawak therefore its jurisdiction is different compare to those from Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah.

The town however; although small, is pretty busy with people stocking all the necessary item for a feast. A longhouse usually hold at least 10 family but its not uncommon for some longhouse to have at least 50 family in a single row. My friend brought his family back to the village for the holiday and as usual, we will bring our own share of the celebration by buying liquor and meats.

A pig head that my friend brought back for the barbeque.

After we were done with the shopping, the next agenda of the day is to visit their ancestor graveyard which is meant to pay their respect and praying for their blessing for the upcoming festival. It is a pretty common practice for most races in Malaysia.

A Christian Cemetery
Paying their respect for the elder. My friend grandfather who passed away few years ago.

The journey back to the village took us about 1 hour and half despite our aggressive driving. There is no proper asphalt road that connects the village with the main road but according to my friend, the road is in a much better condition than it was few years ago, plus there is electricity grid throughout the area.

4WD vehicle is a standard choice for the people around the area. We are stopping by at my friend family orchard before continuing our ride back to the village.

The longhouse is actually really long. Its similar to the British terrace house design with a long corridor or ‘ruai’ connecting the house. The ‘ruai’ is consider as a public area where kids and elders usually hang out. I didn’t spent much time exploring outside the longhouse since the family has been very welcoming ever since I got there. Everyone is pumped up for tomorrow and preparation is hasten towards midnight.

Part of the ‘Ruai’. Its big enough for the kids to play and surely big enough to hold hundreds of people celebrating the harvest festival.
The backyard of the longhouse. Store were built to keep farming equipment away from the longhouse.

Iban people are known for being fond with alcoholic drinks and true to their reputation, we were serve with some rice wine and pork barbecue to freshen our day. I couldn’t remember much after that day since I haven’t been sober for the next few days. Drinks were serve like there was no tomorrow but falling asleep was pretty easy.

Alcohol can do wonder to people.
A family gathering.

The next morning I woke up with a terrible hangover. My mouth was dry and my stomach was hungry but that is pretty much what we do for the next few days; drink, eat, and sleep. Its holiday and many of the family relatives came back for the week to celebrate the festive occasion where having a great time being their main objective.

Barbecue pork meat and a few shots of whiskey.
Serves up!
Again, Alcohol could do wonder and at a time like this I wish I was not that drunk to hold the camera properly.

Later on that day, I did got the time to explore some part of the village. The village is surround by dense forest with a river passing through in between. Back then, people of the village have to rely on the river as their main transportation method but ever since the road was built, it hasn’t been used much due to safety and convenience.

Gathering some edible palm from nearby tree for tonight dinner. 
The scenery around the area. 

My original intention to join my friend back for a visit is actually to have a look at their old wooden longhouse structure, which remain pretty much as it is despite being in ruin for a long time. My friend uncle brought me to the place and being drunk as hell, the three of us make a journey through the forest, barefoot.

Entrance to the old longhouse.
The inside of the longhouse with the top space being used as a place to keep harvested rice. Similar to how Kadazan people used to keep their rice.
Drunk as hell. To be honest, I didnt remember how we walk out from that place.

The highlight of the harvest festival would be during midnight where blessing and prayers are given throughout the longhouse. Again, I don’t really remember how the night goes, my camera however are still by my side and somehow I manage to even change my memory card. Looking through the picture do made me realize that festive event should be fun for everyone while preserving our own culture and identity. The night last until dawn with people tossing their glass and laughing at each other jokes. During the last day of my stay there, they even hired a local band to entertain the people with everyone joining in for the dance.

A truly festive season that I truly enjoy which I wish I was not that drunk during my entire stay.

Sarawak national flag.
Before the praying session start. I didn’t ask about the ceremony in detail though.
The younger people enjoying the drinks and music.







My experience with KLPA Exposure+ 3 program

My experience with KLPA Exposure+ 3 program

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).


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.


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).

Screenshot 2014-06-08 23.10.53

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.

Screenshot 2014-06-14 15.10.07

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.


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.

Screenshot 2014-06-14 14.29.18

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.


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.



One of the picture from the ON-SHORE project.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.

A day with a Professional Photographer : Zhuang Wu Bin

A day with a Professional Photographer : Zhuang Wu Bin

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.

SONY DSCThe great and hungry Zhuang Wu Bin

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)

SONY DSCZhuang Wu Bin (on the right) chatting with Shukur during lunchbreak.

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.

SONY DSCPaik Yin and Wu Bin is having a late discussion on photography project while I am stuck at the toilet developing my film negatives.

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.

SONY DSCLooking through Abd Salam project on the Japanese descendant in Tawau.

SONY DSC SONY DSCWu Bin going through with everyone before letting them go to shoot for their project.

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.

SONY DSCZhuang Wu Bin camera for most of his latest work on the Chinese Community in South East Asia.

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.

SONY DSCThe developing set, thanks to Shukur and Ejump for the help.

SONY DSCSetting up the toilet to dry the film negatives.

SONY DSCHaving my negatives scanned at ProArt. Mrs Kan checking through my negative before scanning.

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…)

SONY DSCShio best camera pose.

SONY DSCShio contact sheet from his latest project on understanding the Malaysian culture.

SONY DSCWu Bin looking through all the contact sheet.

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.

SONY DSCEveryone preparing their answer and question base on my photo project

SONY DSCMark Chai explaining his project to everyone.

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.

SONY DSCHappy Wu Bin.

SONY DSC SONY DSCThe open house session.

SONY DSCFlanegan and Su Chung.

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.

SONY DSCWu Bin in lecture mode.

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).

SONY DSC SONY DSCBunk bed session with Paik Yin and Shio.

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.

– http://zwubin.wordpress.com/2014/06/24/photo-project-workshop-at-kota-kinabalu-sabah-5-to-10-jun-2014/


SONY DSCWu Bin going through my negatives before I went to scan it at ProArt.

SONY DSC This would be a great motivation for the next few years.