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The 2nd Annual KL Photoawards

Posted by on Friday, 18 June, 2010 at 8:00 AM. Filed under: Reviews

Finalist Portrait Individual – Jimmy Khoo (Malaysia), Family 1

Photography in Malaysia is still building its profile as a recognised and respected exponent of fine art. And since it is a mechanically reproducible medium, the market, which praises the uniqueness and romantic qualities of painting, struggles to support such an art form, and museums have yet to pick it up in a concerted manner. As such there are very few dedicated platforms in the capital to expose audiences to what the shutterbugs are up to. If you want to see images you have to go online to Flickr and Facebook or flip through various fashion, news and lifestyle mags. And so it is framed within virtual screens or printed pages that we most frequently encounter the arty photographic image.

Finalist Portrait Individual – Sushant Chhabria (India), Daredevil (from Circus Series)

Although a great way to gain mass exposure, I think photographers and photography lovers would still like a physical place to call home in our fair city. As we say at ARTERI home is where the heart is. But nope. The rental and risk seems to be too high on this one. Which is a shame considering the very sophisticated and aesthetically compelling images that artists are creating today, which when seen first hand create an altogether different viewing experience.

1st Prize Portrait Story – Aglaé Bory (France), Corrélations

The KL Photoawards aims to change all of this by increasing the visibility of photography in the Kuala Lumpur. Taking place for the second time at The Annexe Gallery last month the Awards once again selected the theme of portraiture. The brainchild of London based Malaysian photographer Steven Lee this year  displayed an encouraging array of contributions with greater attention paid to installation than last year: magnetting actual prints instead of printing on foamex, and no logos in site on the image. Open to international submissions (practitioners from 38 countries submitted work) there is certainly a cross section of approaches and sensitivities that clearly come across as one treads the boards of The Annexe side stepping from one image to the next.

2nd Prize Portrait Story – Rachel Lim (Singapore), The Scene: Butter Factory 121009, 03:08

2nd Prize Portrait Story – Rachel Lim (Singapore), The Scene: Cannery, 280210, 00:59

Stand outs for yours truly included none of the individual winners, but the Portrait Story winners. This category allowed a series of photographs to be submitted that discussed a common narrative/subject and Aglaé Bory (France) and Rachel Lim (Singapore) stood out with their intimate looks at the complex single parent relationship between mother and child as well as voyeurism and young female identity in Singaporean meat market clubs. Deigo Ravier’s (France) The Theater of Life in terms of composition, technique and engagement with subject were particularly entertaining. The work was displayed in one of the upstairs mezzanine’s in the Annexe Gallery and portrays the inhabitants of a leper village on the borders of Nigeria and Chad. Oscillating between objectification and provocation due to the sheer intensity of emotion projected by the subject, this focus on people living on the fringes of society created the right amount of tension that makes looking at photography so enjoyable. Individual works that also grabbed me included Indian Circus performers by Sushant Chhabria (India), Jimmy Khoo’s (Malaysia) elderly bride in Family I, Dominique Schmidt’s (Switzerland) illegal immigrant series and Michael Goldberg’s eccentric Barcelona bar inhabitant.

3rd Prize Portrait Story – Diego Ravier, The Theater of Life

Criticisms include the good intention to show as many works as possible which meant the gallery space suffered from overcrowding at times. As per usual for me, it was mainly the Malaysian and Southeast Asian/ Asian works that spurred a second and third look. This, on a personal and professional level seemed to have the most relevance in terms of subject matter. Which is my continuing questioning of the Awards. Why an international submission process? Although understanding of the intention to contribute different perspectives that aim to diversify and raise the standards I would like to see either a more common thread (perhaps a Jakarta Biennale strategy by asking only international artists who had conducted a residency in Southeast Asia which meant that every artist had a common subject matter and visual iconography to play with) that links the exhibition. It still feels a little loose even with a thematic approach, and if local ownership of these awards is to take off then more importance must be given to context. But with good funding in place and attractive prize monies it appears that nevertheless the KL Photoawards is on the right track.

1st Prize Portrait Individual – Max Pinckers (Belgium), Transitions No 6. (series)

I leave you with a blurb from the organisers on the remit of the Awards.

Seeking the best interpretations of the contemporary portrait premise in two categories: individual and story portraits, the kl photoawards attempts to bring together photographic practitioners within studio, photojournalism, documentary and conceptual genres to discover a common theme, that is, portraying people with emphasis on their identity as individuals in relation to their surroundings, status and humanity.

2nd Prize Portrait Individual – Christopher Zedano (USA), Jeff (from Intimate NYC series)


Portrait Individual Category

1st Prize USD, 2500: Max Pinckers, Belgium: Transitions No 6 (series)
2nd Prize USD 1,500: Christopher Zedano, USA: Jeff (series)
3rd Prize USD 700: Andrew Ng, Singapore: Kenny

Portrait Story Category

1st Prize USD 2,500: Aglaé Bory, France: Corrélations
2nd Prize USD 1,500: Rachel Lim, Singapore: The Scene
3rd Prize USD 700: Diego Ravier, France: The Theater of Life

3rd Prize Portrait Individual – Andrew Ng, Kenny



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