These pictures can talk: Photographers share their stories at OBSCURA Festival 2014

Vignes Balasingam speaking at the media launch of OBSCURA Festival 2014 yesterday. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Vignes Balasingam speaking at the media launch of OBSCURA Festival 2014 yesterday. — Picture by Choo Choy May

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GEORGE TOWN, Aug 6 — OBSCURA Festival, Malaysia’s first annual photography festival, is back in town! With a total of 14 exhibitions, 5 masterclass workshops, 10 talks, 5 slideshows and a photobook show, not to mention international photographers flying into Penang from around the world, the festival is bigger than ever.

“OBSCURA Festival celebrates the best in photography from established and emerging photographers. By bringing some of the world’s top photographers to Malaysia, we hope to nurture photography talent and appreciation,” says Vignes Balasingam, OBSCURA Festival’s director and curator.

Held in conjunction with the George Town Festival 2013, the inaugural edition of OBSCURA Festival last year saw a daily participation of about 200 people in its various activities and 5,000 walk-in visitors over the entire period. 

Unique locations are a draw: from outdoor public slideshows to the Poh Hock Seah Twa Peh Kong Temple hosting Trading to Extinction, an exhibition by Patrick Brown on the wildlife trafficking trade in Asia.

“We are very happy to collaborate with and be part of the George Town Festival again this year as it’s an inclusive platform. This means not only photographers will be visiting the exhibitions but also people from other walks of life,” says Vignes.

While Vignes curated all 11 exhibitions in 2013 by himself, this year he approached others to contribute. Guest curators include Yumi Goto, founder of The Reminders Project; Arko Datto from India; the Leafhopper Project, comprising Spain-and-Malaysia-based duo David Simon Martret and Blanca Galindo; and Yuko Yamaji, the curator of the Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts in Yamanashi, Japan.

“There is a sense of community at these festivals. I remember meeting Yumi Goto at the Angkor Photo Festival and was impressed by her generosity. She has a big personality and is a real force to be reckoned with,” says Vignes.

This year look out for two major showcases, both curated by Goto. Co-existence: Japanese Photography Showcase, which will be launched on August 15, 8pm at China House, offers a contemporary look at the Land of the Rising Sun. The Fukushima nuclear disaster is captured in all its radioactive decay by Masamichi Kagaya in his exhibition Autoradiograph. In The Hidden Blood, Nozomi Iijima digs deep into the conditions livestock farm animals endure.

The Asian Women Photography Showcase launches on August 16 (12pm) at the Camera Museum. Goto presents selected prints by female Asian photographers such as Fatemeh Behboudi and her harrowing series of mothers who have lost their sons during the Iran-Iraq war titled Mothers of Patience. In Call me Heena, Bangladesh-based documentary photographer Shahria Sharmin peers into the lives of the Hijras.

Masterclass workshops will be conducted by award-winning international photographers including National Geographic photojournalist Maggie Steber and social documentary photographer Ian Teh.

“The point of these workshops is to create an opportunity for our local photographers to learn from international photographers. This is a very different level of exposure,” says Vignes, who had himself had won the Golden Scarf Award after participating in the 2009 Foundry Photo Journalism Workshop held in Manali, India.

The workshop formula certainly works. One of Ian Teh’s workshop participants from last year, kG Krishnan, went on to win the Golden Peacock award at the Xishuangbanna International 2013. He will be exhibiting his winning series Continuum on the transgender community at OBSCURA Festival this year.

Vignes adds, “We started out as a grassroots project. We felt obscure, hence the name of the festival. But obscura is also a nod to the Latin name for the camera, camera obscura, or dark chamber. We hope to keep sharing these stories captured via the camera obscura by all these dynamic and exciting photographers for years to come.”


OBSCURA Festival

11-31 August 2014

Various venues, George Town, Penang

Fees and registration are required for the workshops; the other activities are free.

For more information, visit or email [email protected]

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