Young South-East Asian photographers capture the fragility of youth

  • Arts
  • Friday, 02 Nov 2018

Amrita Chandradas (Singapore) All Is Not Lost. Photo: Ilham Gallery

What makes a good photograph?

The legendary Swiss-American photographer Robert Frank once said: “there is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment”. He couldn’t be more correct.

And that moment, captured in a photograph, is a story – present, the past and the future – encapsulated forever.

This is a project that all 12 participants of the South-East Asian Photography Masterclass by German photographers Jorg Bruggemann and Tobias Kruse (from Ostkreuz Agentur der Fotografen) at the Obscura Festival Of Photography in Penang explored for an entire year.

“The workshop encouraged young photographers to explore issues in their personal lives and for each of them to create a visual narrative that exists not only on its own merits, but as part of this collective and as part of a wider world,” says Vignes Balasingam, Obscura Festival Of Photography’s founder, who conceived the masterclass programme.

“The photographers were asked to ‘create a visual narrative’ from their current perspective, knowing that those stories will exist in the future to remind them of who they were in the past,” he adds.

A total of 164 photographs were developed over the span of 12 months through the masterclass and are now exhibited at KL’s Ilham Gallery.

The exhibition titled we will have been young is currently showing at the gallery till Nov 18.

Watsamon Tri-yasakda's (Thailand) 7465.

In fact, the exhibition debuted at last year’s Obscura Festival Of Photography and began its tour in George Town and travelled to Singapore, Bandung, Jakarta and Manila before returning to KL.

It is presented in collaboration with Ostkreuz and the Goethe-Institut (in KL).

Through an email, Watsamon Tri-yasakda, a Bangkok-based freelance photojournalist, says the masterclass programme pushed her to look at her craft from a completely different vantage point.

“The mentors encouraged me to try different styles and approaches. In fact, conceptual photography was something that I had never done before,” reveals Watsamon, 28.

Watsamon’s work called 7465, which centres on Thai school uniforms and male students, “represents the hidden identity of young people whose struggle for self-expression is still suppressed”.

7465 is not just a student number sewn onto their uniform, but also a fight for their own identity. Young, free and the right to be themselves – that is all that they want to be, and to have,” she points out.

Watsamon graduated from Chulalongkorn University in 2013 with a degree in cultural studies and has a photojournalism diploma from the Konrad Adenauer Asian Centre for Journalism.

Alvin Lau's (Malaysia) Is This What Love Is. Photo: Ilham Gallery

The other featured photographers are Alvin Lau (Malaysia), Amrita Chandradas (Singapore), Muhammad Fadli (Indonesia), Dennese Victoria (Philippines), Kanel Khiev (Cambodia), Dwi Asrul Fajar (Indonesia), Elliot Koon (Malaysia), Lee Chang Ming (Singapore), Geric Cruz (Philippines), Linh Pham (Vietnam) and Yu Yu Myint Than (Myanmar).

This exhibition leans heavily on themes of belonging, family, love, identity, mental health, history and oppression. Specifically, it looks at the fragility of youth and the ambiguity and transience of the futures.

Linh Phams (Vietnam) Behind Closed Doors. Photo: Ilham Gallery
Dennese Victoria's (Philippines) Days Spent With Pretend Family.

This can clearly be seen in Malaysian freelance photographer Lau’s work.

“In this current work that is being exhibited, I’ve explored the notion of contemporary love that exists within the realm of online dating sites.

“It is also a part investigative and partially personal effort to figure out, very vaguely and inwardly, whether love exists in the 21st century,” says Lau.

The KL-based photographer has a total of five works at this exhibit. Is This What Love Is, a close-up photograph of a burning paper at the edge of a bathtub, is most striking. It seems to speak of the fiery passion of love which is all-consuming but also transient.

A close-up image of Muhammad Fadli's (Indonesia) 'Vespa Warriors'. It is part of the 'we will have been young' exhibition at KL's Ilham Gallery. Photos: Handout
Elliot Soon's (Malaysia) Sons of The Soil.

“The photo came to me as a personal statement towards the idea of death and rebirth. The paper can be seen as a form that carries the identity of age old practices and burning it away leaves more chances of rebirth,” explains Lau.

The we will have been young exhibition is also accompanied by a series of public programmes, including the An Overview Of Malaysian Photobooks session on Nov 3 at 3pm. It will feature independent photobook makers and photographers like Nadia J. Mahfix, Nik Adam and Hafiz Hamzah of Obscura Malaysia.

This exhibition will continue its tour to Frankfurt, Germany in March 2019.

The exhibition we will have been young is on at Ilham Gallery (Ilham Tower, No 8, Jalan Binjai, Kuala Lumpur) till Nov 18. Opening hours: 11am-7pm daily. Sunday: 11am-5pm. Closed on Mondays and public holidays. Call 03-2181 3003 or visit

Geric Cruzs (Philippines) Eva. Photo: Ilham Gallery
Geric Cruzs (Philippines) Eva. Photo: Ilham Gallery

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