Obscura Festival: Cream of the click and crop

British photographer Patrick Brown captures the grim realities of illegal trade in endangered animals worldwide in the 'Trading To Extinction' exhibition.

British photographer Patrick Brown captures the grim realities of illegal trade in endangered animals worldwide in the 'Trading To Extinction' exhibition.

Obscura Festival brings the best photography, and photographers, from Asia and around the world to George Town.

The young but growing Obscura Festival of photography returns for a second year in George Town, Penang, bringing with it another stellar itinerary of works by established and emerging photographers. This year, the festival will host 14 exhibitions, six master class workshops, five slideshows, 10 talks and a photobook salon.

Various venues in George Town will host the festival’s exhibitions and workshops.

“Obscura Festival celebrates the best in photography from established and emerging photographers. The festival brings some of the world’s top photographers and curators to Malaysia to help nurture photography talent and appreciation through education, exposure and connections,” says festival director, Vignes Balasingam.

One of this year’s highlights is Magnum photographer Jacob Aue Sobol’s Arrivals And Departures, which charts his journey from Moscow to Beijing on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Sobol is well-known for his stark black-and-white imagery and raw energy, and the extra-large prints of his work will be displayed in their full glory at The Press.

There are two major showcases at the festival this year, both curated by Yumi Goto from the Reminders Project in Tokyo. Goto is a photography consultant, curator and editor, who has curated for countless festivals including Chobi Mela in Dhaka, Bangladesh. This is her second outing at Obscura festival, which she says she finds – “really engaging locally and internationally. I look forward to reuniting with old friends and meeting new people and talent at the festival.”

Wenxin Zhang's Five Nights Aquarium.
Wenxin Zhang’s Five Nights Aquarium.

Both showcases feature young and emerging talents from this region. The theme of the Japanese Photography Showcase in China House is Co-existence, and it explores man’s relationship with his surroundings. Masamichi Kagaya’s surreal but powerful work on the radioactive aftermath of the Fukushima meltdown is haunting, and Hajime Kimura’s dual-exhibition Man And Dog/Path In-Between documentation of his late father and his dog is heartfelt.

As for the Asian Women Photographers’ Showcase held in various locations like the Camera Museum and The Press, it features works from Iran, Turkey, Bangladesh, China and Japan. Fatemeh Behboudi, a young up-and-coming photographer from Iran, is one of the exhibiting photographers. Her work Mothers Of Patience is a poignant series on grieving mothers who have lost sons in the Iran-Iraq war.

A special feature of Obscura Festival is that the works are often taken out of the white box of a gallery and placed in unique locations around George Town. Last year, Malaysian-born British photographer, Ian Teh, had his epic Traces Dark Clouds exhibition in the derelict but highly atmospheric 212 Beach Street gallery before it was renovated. This year, Patrick Brown’s decade-long work Trading To Extinction, on the illegal wildlife trade in Asia, will be held in Poh Hock Seah, a traditional Hokkien clan temple.

If photobooks are your special interest, then the International Photobook Salon will scratch your itch. Six curators, among them from Japan, Germany and the Philippines, present a variety of photobooks from their own countries. Up to 140 gorgeous photobooks will be on display at Shop Howard, with curator talks and book signing events to boot.

Noriko Takasugi's Fukushima Samurai.
Noriko Takasugi’s Fukushima Samurai.

One very important component of the Obscura Festival is the workshops. These three to five day workshops are conducted by some of the biggest names in the industry, including two-time World Press Photo winner Maggie Steber. The workshops cater to a wide spectrum of photographers, both amateur or professional, who are interested in discovering their photographic voice and developing photography projects. The bulk of the workshops are from Aug 11 to 15, and participants will show their work at a slideshow screening on Aug 20.

Success stories from the workshops have been quick. Julie McGuire’s Hounds Of Hope, produced during her workshop with Justin Mott, won third place in the Daily Life (singles) category of the prestigious World Press Photo Awards 2014. kG Krishnan won the Golden Peacock Excellent Photography Work Award at the Xishuangbanna International 2013 for his series, Continuum, that he produced after his workshop with Ian Teh. Krishnan returns to the festival this year with a solo exhibition.

“One of the goals of having this festival in Malaysia is so the public can start to connect with, enjoy and develop their photography. It is to give them a chance to make connections with international experts in the industry and to help them grow as photographers,” says Balasingam.

The exhibitions will be held from Aug 11 to 31, but the Obscura Festival runs from Aug 16 to 20. During this time, there will be talks by the exhibiting photographers, special feature talks from the professionals, and nightly slideshows at the Whiteaways Arcade. Entry to all activities, except the workshops, is free. For more information, go to www.obscurafestival.com

Obscura Festival , Penang