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Sunday June 23, 2013

Awaken your vision at Obscura Festival of Photography

In Close Distance, Jannatul
Mawa depicts 57-year-old Anjumanara (left), a
housewife living in a middle class neighbourhood
with 50-year-old Jibonunneesa, a home servant of
hers for the past 10 years. Keeping a home servant
is a common scenario among both middle and
upper classes in Dhaka, Bangladesh. In Close Distance, Jannatul Mawa depicts 57-year-old Anjumanara (left), a housewife living in a middle class neighbourhood with 50-year-old Jibonunneesa, a home servant of hers for the past 10 years. Keeping a home servant is a common scenario among both middle and upper classes in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Obscura Festival of Photography brings the best of Asian photography and beyond to Penang.

EVERY other person has a camera these days. Owning one isn’t quite like it used to be, and anyone with a keen eye can produce stunning images. But only a certain breed get it right consistently, or as Obscura Festival of Photography director Vignes Balasingam put it, “Photography as an artform still belongs in the realm of dedicated practitioners.”

The Penang-held Obscura, the first festival of its kind in this part of the world, aspires to parade the best of Asian photography to the world and bring the best works from around the globe to Asian audiences. It is being held at China House on Lebuh Pantai and Victoria in Penang till June 30.

According to Vignes, the festival is trying to be a catalyst for dialogue, understanding and progress in the region through the sharing of photographic projects, discussions and an exchange of ideas.

“It also seeks to bring some of the region’s and world’s finest practitioners of the art to Malaysia to help nurture the next generation of photographers, curators and editors as well as to raise the public consciousness in photography as an instrument for change and channel for art,” he revealed during a recent interview.

Doing this for the first time, there was naturally a learning curve for Vig and his team to overcome, but the fruit of their labour has been encouraging, even if it took three years. “It’s a culmination of research work since 2010 of festivals in the region as well as smaller initiatives organised by myself and my friends between 2010 and 2012. The Festival in that sense is a culmination of these smaller exhibitions, workshops, talks and other photographic initiatives from that period, now manifesting itself as a larger festival,” he added.

Obscura’s inaugural show will see works from the likes of Pablo Bartholomew (India), two-time World Press Photo winner, Pulitzer Prize winner and National Geographic contributor Maggie Steber (USA), Agence Vu’s Ian Teh (Britain), visionary street photographer and educator Che Ahmad Azhar (Malaysia) and contemporary artist, Yanming (China).

The exhibition will also be hosting a series of works by younger Asian photographers who will be exhibiting their material under the Asia by Asians theme, including Bharat Choudhary (India), Jannatul Mawa (Bangladesh), Rony Zakaria (Indonesia), Andri Tambunan (USA), Sanjit Das (India) and Suzanne Lee (Malaysia).

In addition to the print exhibitions, the festival has curated eight slideshows for the festival, which feature more than 200 photographers’ works from around the world. Throw in master class workshops and Obscura becomes the one-stop centre for all things photography-related.

So, what’s with the name of the festival then? Well, “camera obscura” is the precursor to the camera as we know it. Like what we learned in science at school, it can either be a dark room or a box which passes light through a tiny hole and projects the image inside on a screen upside down, with both colour and perspective intact. “Camera Obscuras were large rooms from which the world was projected into darkness, inverted. So, the name is really a throwback at the history and innovation of the camera,” Vig related.

Maggie Steber captures a young Haitian man writhing in grief at the funeral of his mother in the
National Cemetery in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in November 1987. Maggie Steber captures a young Haitian man writhing in grief at the funeral of his mother in the National Cemetery in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in November 1987.

Obscura – which is part of the ongoing George Town Festival 2013 – might only be into its first year, but Vig already sees the potential and hopes his sentiment is echoed by the viewing public. “The Festival will always be here to acknowledge new talent and help play a role in the development of photography in Malaysia and Asia.

Hopefully, the festival will continue to grow and invest itself in promoting the best of photography from Asia and around the world. With our growing partnerships globally and locally, I am certain the festival will become a regional and local event to look forward to.”

> Obscura Festival of Photography, held at China House on Lebuh Pantai and Victoria, George Town, Penang, ends on June 30. For bookings, e-mail contact@obscurafestival.com or visit www.obscurafestival.com for more info.

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