The power of photography in today’s world
Photographer Kevin Lee’s photo book, Hundred Daughters Hundred Patience Hundred Meals, is among the many photobooks on sale at the Singapore International Photography Festival.

The power of photography in today’s world

A collage of different family portraits photographed in living rooms in Singapore, a picture of pink rubber gloves placed all around a corner of a kitchen, and a close-up of a female Hindu devotee participating in a religious festival. These are just some of the many captivating images on display at this year’s Singapore International Photography Festival. 

Held from 5 Nov to 31 Jan 2021, the festival features works by 150 photographers and artists from more than 30 countries, presented across more than 30 exhibitions in 10 different venues, including the former Singapore Chinese Girls’ School campus at 37 Emerald Hill, and photography gallery DECK. 

This edition of the festival promises audiences a fresh look at shared experiences among different societies and communities, and how narratives captured in photographs can bring people together. Besides viewing the exhibitions, audiences can also join a series of online dialogues with artists, curators and photobook publishers from more than 15 countries.

Ahead of the artist dialogues, hear what five photographers participating in the festival – George Wong, Kevin Lee and Liu Ying from Singapore, Bob Lee from Malaysia, and Vasantha Yogananthan from France, have to say about the relevance of photography in today’s image-saturated world. 

SIPF image of Singaporeans in black and white
This photograph by Singaporean photographer Kevin Lee shows a group of people trying to trace their family history in a village in Guangdong, China. 

What does photography mean to you?

Kevin Lee: Photography means different things to me at different times. One day, it is a medium to express ideas or a point of view. On another day, photography is used to mourn someone’s mortality. I do enjoy the many “windows” photography offers me.

Yogananthan: It is a means to engage with the world.

Liu: Photography is a way of stealing moments from life, which is fleeting and ephemeral. It is also a tool that I use to make sense of the world around me.

SIPF image of gloves in a kitchen
This photograph of pink rubber gloves placed around a kitchen sink is Singaporean photographer Liu Ying’s way of depicting how perfectionist living habits, such extreme cleanliness, can be counterproductive. 

How would you describe photography today in a single word? 

Liu: Copious. Most of us have access to a camera on our phones and I suppose you can say we are creating even more images today than before.

Bob Lee: Memory. The medium of photography has changed over the years, from film to memory card. Despite this, its purpose remains unchanged. Photography continues to capture a transient moment in time and makes it a permanent memory for its viewer.

Wong: MSG – it is invisible yet present everywhere. Photography also seems to make the world a better place.

SIPF image of an elderly couple in a living room
A portrait shot by Malaysian photographer Bob Lee, which shows how families pass time. 

What do you think is the future of photography? 

Bob Lee: To me, photography will always be a medium to capture moments and precious memories of people, places and issues. There may be more innovation in the way images are presented but the fundamental purpose of photography will always remain unchanged.

Wong: I think it will become an evolved version of the contemporary art movement, Arte Povera, in the late-1960s, where artists tapped into unconventional processes and the use of commonplace materials to make art.

Yogananthan: I think this is a question no one has the answer to, and certainly not myself.

SIPF indian rubbing face with red cloth
An image from Afterlife, the sixth chapter of French photographer Vasantha Yogananthan’s long term project, A Myth of Two Souls

What makes a photograph stand out from the average?

Yogananthan: Its mystery and imperfections.

Bob Lee: A good photograph is one that makes viewers pause, ruminate and reflect on the social issues behind it.

Kevin Lee: Everyone makes and measures photographs differently and you can see this clearly on Instagram. A good photograph is one made with craft, a point of view and rigour, and to really stand out, a photograph should show something we haven’t seen before – not easy.

(Photos: Artists’ own)

Replies have been edited for clarity. 

Purchase your festival pass to Singapore International Photography Festival 2020 here.

We can’t wait to share more awesome content with you. This is going to be so much fun.

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