Published: Sunday August 17, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Sunday August 17, 2014 MYT 9:42:25 AM

Kuala Lumpur International Photoawards: Facing the world

The Kuala Lumpur International Photoawards celebrates and promotes the very best in portrait photography.

WHAT makes a good portrait? Many struggle to express this with words, its definition as varied as the portraits come, and as broad as the themes they encompass.

Perhaps in this case, pictures do really speak louder than words.

The Kuala Lumpur International Photoawards (KLPA) is testament to this.

Having been around for six years, this annual international contemporary photography competition, based on portraiture and open categories, attracts entries from all over the world.

The entries run the gamut from the theatrical to everyday, absurd to intense – truly a melting pot of prespectives and taste, composition and style.

Kuala Lumpur International Photoawards. Category A Portraits (Open), first prize. Photo by Paulo Nunes Dos Santos, Ireland.  Phil Harrington 92, Irish WW2 veteran. Mr. Harrington is one of the few remaining Irish men who joined the British army during the war. As a neutral country, Ireland considered him a deserter and on his return home he was put in prison for several years, charged with treason to the nation.
The KLPA first prize for Portraiture Open went to Paulo Nunes dos Santos (Ireland). His photo features Phil Harrington, 92, a Irish WW II veteran. Harrington is one of the few remaining Irish men who joined the British army during the war.

KLPA founder and project director Steven Lee says that he started KLPA to create a new and challenging platform for exposing local photographers to an international standard portraiture competition, based on a long-established British awards, the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize, run by the National Portrait Gallery in London.

“I wanted to encourage local and regional photographers to compete amongst the world’s best photographers in this genre, and set a standard for contemporary portrait photography in Malaysia,” says Lee, who is also a photographer.

He mentions that whether a portrait is perceived as “good” depends very much on the viewer and his (or her) understanding of the portrait.

“If the portrait captures your attention, even for a split second, and creates the urge to take a second look – that is a good portrait. It isn’t about aesthetics or beauty,” says Lee.

He sees portraiture as one of the most difficult disciplines, and yet, it could be the simplest.

Category B Portraits (Theme: Savage and Serene), first prize. Patrick Wack, China. 'Portrait Chongqing 02.'Wack says,
Portraiture (Theme: Savage and Serene) first prize went to Patrick Wack (China). He captured this portrait of a young Chinese man on his motorbike looking unfazed by the chaotic urbanism and science-fiction atmosphere in modern China.

“Here is where the contradiction lies,” he says, pointing out that portrait photography covers a wide range of styles, from the simple snapshot of a family gathering to a fully staged studio set up.

“In between, there are the street captures, the modelling shots, and the fine art studies of light and shadow. The ability of a photographer to capture, in essence, the ‘look’ of the sitter, his or her thoughts, mood, and so on, is essential in all of these situations. That is the most intriguing aspect of portrait photography.”

On KLPA, he says that it has grown in stature and he believes that it is an important event in the photography calendar in Malaysia, Singapore and the region.

“It is attracting not necessarily a larger crowd, but a better quality of photography. In terms of the standards, we have definitely seen a shift to more imaginative and stronger content, especially from the region.”

The awards has certainly come a long way from when it first started.

The inaugural awards in 2009 welcomed 500 entries, and peaked at around 2,000 entries in 2011. This year, the judges sorted through 1,300 entries and whittled it down to a Top 50 winners and finalists list. The KLPA panel of five judges this year includes a curator/art consultant, an art editor, a culture and arts radio presenter and two educator/photographers.

Andy Massaccesi, Italy, finalist: Fabio. This is a portrait of Fabio, an inhabitant of Broglio, a small village in Switzerland. He has always lived in the mountains and turns his hand to many tasks, including gardening and woodcutting. In his youth, Fabio used to smuggle goats across the border to sell in Italy. This portrait refers to Fabioâ¿TMs past exploits.
Andy Massaccesi, Italy, Portraiture Open finalist. This is a portrait of Fabio, an inhabitant of Broglio, a small village in Switzerland.

These photos are currently on display at Publika in Kuala Lumpur.

This year’s categories are: category A (Portraiture Open); category B (Portraiture, Theme: Savage and Serene); and category C (Photostories Open).

Despite greater participation from Malaysia and Singapore every year, the judges did not put a single entry from any local photographer onto the finalists list.

“Perhaps the competition from abroad have stayed truer to the genre of what portrait photography means, in the eyes of the judges,” says Lee. “It is easy for new photographers, especially from this region, to submit something ‘exotic’ from their local travels, which have been done time and time again, without much thought about originality and uniqueness.”

He adds that the winners and finalists of KLPA 2014 have stayed true to what a “good” portrait is, “without the bells and whistles, distractions and cliches”.

“Especially the main winners,” notes Lee. “Have a good look at them, at the exhibition, see the enlarged prints and take in their messages. Spend time on each image, until you feel the story.”

When words are not enough, maybe pictures and emotions will do the trick.

The Kuala Lumpur International Photo awards exhibition, featuring this year’s winners and finalists, is on at Whitebox@MAP, Publika (Level G2-01, Block A5, Menara Sapura Kencana, 1 Jalan Dutamas 1, off Jalan Duta, Kuala Lumpur) till Aug 24. The gallery is open daily from 10am to 6pm. Free admission. Visit for more information.

Tags / Keywords: kuala lumpur international photo awards, klpa, steven lee


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