London mourns

France24 broadcast journalist reporting live from the Candlelight Vigil at Trafalgar Square for the victims of the terrorist attack at Westminster on 22 March, 2017.  The last vigil I attended here at the same London landmark was on the occasion of the Paris attacks of November 2015.

This evening’s vigil was attended by thousands of local residents and visitors who filled the square, surrounded with armoured police vehicles, road closures and many armed officers.

First post, 2017

Bosphorus, 2010

Troubled waters ahead. On the first day of the new year, a gunman dressed as Santa Claus entered a nightclub on the Bosphorus and killed over 39 people, as hundreds celebrated the New Year. There’s an unspoken protocol in the UK that the Brits do not normally discuss politics and religion at dinner tables, and presumably Brexit also.

However, as I see it, these subjects define who we are and how we exist – politics have to do with every facet of our modern connected lives, from the price of oil to the car we drive, and sadly, our day to day security. Everything is connected. Europe is currently facing an unspoken crisis and this will only deepen in the coming months as Britain prepares for Brexit and the EU sees several General Elections in 2017.

We scorn at the opinionated and so-called experts, but I fear those who have no opinions more, as you don’t know where they stand.

 

 

Merry Crimbo!

Wishing everyone a Happy and Peaceful Christmas.

With a little over a week till Christmas, and soon 2016 comes to an end,  I look forward to another awesome year ahead to new projects, new friends and more personal photography projects.

Coming straight up, in February – KLPA2017 will be launched with a brand new and exciting theme. In May, we will hosting the first ever Photography Symposium Asia in Kuala Lumpur, promising a great line up of presenters and focusing on Education and Opportunities.

2017, also sees the second phase of the Two Mountains Photo Project taking shape. Six photographers from Japan and Malaysia have been commissioned to photograph stories surrounding the mythology, socio dynamics and natural aspects of Mount Fuji and Mount Kinabalu.

KL-Ga was also launched this year and we continue with this photoblog for 2017. We have already seen some great single images and stories about the city, as we take on new photographers.

In the pipeline also  – is a personal project centred around the printed image and more details will follow.

Happy Holidays!

Steven

 

A Hitchcock moment

I don’t know what it is, but the last two weekends I have been encountering flocks of docile pigeons during my walks with the dog and elsewhere. Perhaps it is the time of the year, when it starts to get colder, they fly around less and spend more time huddled together. Was it Plato who wrote about ‘birds of a feather flock together’ or it could even be much earlier, but what we know for sure is, the saying holds true in whatever we do, in today’s societies.

How we select our friends, our social and work affiliations, our interests and politics, our work colleagues – and even amongst the social circles from art and photography – are determined by commonalities like genres, interests, upbringing, education and outlook.

People congregate and share common interests and goals. This is a natural thing and made easier with social networking today. There are no more physical boundaries but only unlimited experiences.

In Malaysia today, there’s a groundswell going on in photography, where I keenly and closely have my ‘eyes on the ground’.

Obscura Festival, a world-class event is now established in the annual arts calendar. We have just seen the first Kota Kinabalu Photo Festival concluded this week. There is the KL Photography Festival which attracts product manufacturers as well as hobbyists in every field and genre, as well as professional events like the WPPA and numerous other speciality groups. Personally, I have been involved in the KL International Photoawards since 2009, again a niche and event promoting portrait photography in the region.

Several ‘collectives’ and groups have formed in recent months and perhaps more will spring up in the near future, and that is encouraging. My observation tells me that there is a healthy discourse amongst the many photography groups that are established  to cater for almost every aspect of photography – wildlife organised by the Malaysian Nature Society, film shooters, street photography groups are particularly active, various photowalk social groups, Afghan box camera, large format enthusiasts, and so on.

However, what is lacking, in my opinion are fine art practitioners and serious documentary photographers.  A handful of friends and acquaintances are indeed working in these fields, but as a whole, there is a lack of interest. A few years ago, a spark was lit in photography book making, but recently this have fallen silent, as  least from where I am observing.

These activities set within the larger photographic communities lack impetus, support and opportunities to maintain momentum – not helped by the absence of dedicated photography galleries and space, curators, collectors, funding, and education.

Photography education by it’s very definition, is misleading. At least in Asia. Education is a path to a career, but photography is a past time.  The very concept of enrolling into a photography degree, BFA or MFA  to become an artist, is unheard of amongst the general student populace a decade ago, and today there are only a handful of colleges and universities offering photography as modules or subjects with Graphic Design, Journalism or MassComm degrees and diplomas. The modules are also largely technical based with introductions into all manner of photography genres including camera handling and practical skills. Perhaps lacking are the historical references and personal development, critical examinations and research aspects in photography that is much needed.

Perhaps there just isn’t an appetite for anything formal or structured, and that is fine. Perhaps there is a latent demand for formalised training, following the ‘if you build it and he will come’ adage. I personally think there are opportunities to explore. I am always open to new ideas and methods and listen to the experts. There is perhaps a need to engage with colleges and universities which are providing photography education – to take a lead, or innovate with private groups. There are also avenues to explore in private workshops and programs specially targeted at young and keen photographers.

Then there is the question about opportunities. What are the channels that are available to young photographers to show their works? There are no dedicated galleries, or proper curation of work. There is little funding available from government and corporations, little or non-existent collectors of contemporary photography. Independent groups can only do so much in terms of advancement of the art. Festivals provide a useful glimpse of what the rest of the world is up to but is not entirely accessible due to specificities of curation.

A plan is underway to bring together some leading players from the region to Kuala Lumpur in May 2017, to share ideas and recommendations on how to address this gaping hole that is, photography education. I hope also to have the educators. students and lecturers come together and create dialogue.

I invite everyone who is thinking along similar lines to support and attend this KL gathering – to discuss, give your views and help shape future plans in photography education in Malaysia and also the region.

More information soon, or send me an email message if you have any proposals or comments.

Steven

info@explorenation.net

 

 

 

Gallery

“We can’t live without forests.” Featured artist – Mitsu Maeda

With the recent announcement of the new Baleh mega-dam project in Sarawak, following the Murum project which was commissioned in 2015; combined with the severe deforestation of primary rainforests in this naturally endowed state in East Malaysia, the plight of the nomadic communities of the Penan people have been dealt another blow.

The Penan of northern Borneo are primarily ‘hunter-gatherers’ or nomadic indigenous peoples. In Sarawak, the Penan plight was highlighted by international media attention by their 1960s resistance to the Baram dam clearing. Dam projects and deforestation go hand in hand, and these nomadic people were promised resettlement and land, which to most, were alien to their lifestyle and their hunting traditions. Today, only several hundred Penan still continue with their nomadic lifestyles, and resisting further intrusions into their habitat. Their fight against conglomerates and big, well-connected  business entities are all but futile.

I discovered that Mitsu Maeda, a freelance commercial photographer from Japan, whom I met at Mt.Rokko International Photo Festival in 2014, had traveled into the interior of Sarawak in 2010 and lived amongst the Ba’Marong community, to document their lifestyle. Her project titled “Forced Changes : The Penan and Life in the Rainforest” was published in 2011 by Days Japan magazine. This photo series gives us a glimpse of their nomadic lifestyle, which is fast disappearing and serves as a reminder about the complexities of developmental changes and the importance in maintaining the balance between man and its environment.

I recently asked Mitsu Maeda why she became interested in such a project, and how she managed to travel into the interior to engaged with this community.

In 2010, she became aware of the Penan due to the large scale logging of the forests, where a lot of hardwood timber were being exported to Japan for their construction industry and also paper products.  The nomadic communities were affected most as the deforestation displaced them from their already scarce resource of hunting for food, and habitable land.

“I got interested in their lives in the rainforest itself and also felt that I wanted to cover it as Japan has been one of the largest consumers of wood, paper from acacia plantations, and palm oil from Sarawak. So (indirectly) we were destroying their lives without really noticing it”.

“Vast forests have been logged and become palm or acacia plantations. Palm oil is often promoted as “environmentally friendly”, and acacia is consumed as cheap paper in offices in Japan. But large amounts of pesticides are used in these plantations and it pollutes the rivers which nearby residents use. Now many residents are suffering from skin diseases.”

She arrived in Miri and met with several settled communities before heading into the interior to visit the nomadic Ba’Marong for about a week, living, eating, hunting and sharing their stories. This community of nomads was made up of 8 families and totaled 20 persons.

“I contacted Friends of The Earth which is an NGO helping Penan people in Sarawak. They arranged my trip.”

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Sagun, the leader of Ba’Marong.

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Listening to the sounds of the forest on their way hunting.

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Mitsu Maeda followed some men on a hunt for monkeys and even sampled some of its meat.

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Cutting down a sago tree

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Processing tapioca from the sago tree. They take fibre from the tree, soak them in water, filter, and dry. The process takes almost a day. Tapioca is their main source of carbohydrate since the community does not cultivate rice or wheat.

“I liked the Ba’Marong people a lot. I felt like they really know what they need. And the girl, Sagun’s daughter, she was running around naked but on the day I left she wore a pretty pink one-piece!”

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Ranny with her grandmother.  Older generations prefer to stay in a “hat house” while younger generations live in a house with walls. The grandmother is making rattan products.

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Bathing and washing clothes in the river

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Ranny, daughter of Sagun, the community leader. There are two children in the community but there is no school since the community is nomadic. This is one reason why Sagun is thinking to settle.

“Their life is facing changes and problems. Some of the people in Ba’Marong do not even have Identification Cards or birth certificates which the government is supposed to issue, meaning they are not registered as Malaysians.”

This is why most of the Penans are not able to simply go to the towns to work when there is not enough food to eat in the forest and have to find other ways to take care of their families.

Also, many land disputes are occurring between Penan communities as the forest resources become scarce. Basically, people in a community can only hunt and gather in the forest area which has been decided in community leaders’ meetings in the past. However, as the forest resource become scarce, some communities cannot get enough food and other resources from their area and started to claim other areas. It is ironic that people who did not even have a sense of land ownership now have to fight over it.

“Anwi, the leader of Ba’Marong told me, “I want more people in the world to know what is happening here. Forests for us are like supermarkets for you. Even we settle, we can’t live without forests.” ”

All images © Mitsu Maeda


Mitsu Maeda is a Japanese photographer currently based in Kochi, Japan. Her theme in photography is to capture emotions and senses that she encounters. Ultimately she aims to explore the organic complexities of the individual.

www.mitsumaeda.com

Normalisation

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Well, Obama shook hands with Castro in Havana today. The US national anthem is played over and over in front of José Martí’s memorial in Independence square. Historic day indeed, as President Obama is the first US president to set foot in Cuba since 1928.

The people of Cuba long for a better life with less restrictions, to travel and run businesses. Only 90miles from US soil, young Cubans hang out on the Malecón sea wall in the evenings, to cool off, but mainly to drink, sing and just chill with mates.

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I brought a group of keen photographers to Cuba in 2011 to photograph Havana and the countryside. The Cubans are warm and friendly but in a wary way. The service industry is patchy and the food is only average (apart from several amazing restaurants) but the music and smiles will charm you.

Take a look at what our group photographed in 10-days here.

100 Days

Just 100 days to the Brexit referendum, on June 23rd. The public is getting informed by polls and opinions from both sides of the campaign. No one really knows what the effects would be for Britain if there was an ‘out’ victory.

Sign Posts

What does photography mean to you?

I am starting a response thread on Facebook here with the above question, to which I am posing to all my photographer friends, contacts and acquaintances and those that are involved in the imaging, curatorial and journalism disciplines. We now begin a new year soon, and the flood of images that are being shared on social media and the rest of the internet, no less,  in printed publications, television and commercials continue to saturate our collective minds on a daily basis.

This wild statistic is mind-boggling!

If you printed off the 21.9 billion photos uploaded to Instagram
in a year, it would reach 6,351 kilometres.
That’s a whole lot of selfies!

[Check it out here https://photoworld.com/photos-on-the-web/]

So, in search for more clarity, I would love to learn about your thoughts on photography, to you personally, either a consumer of images, or perhaps as a creator.

What is it about photography that makes you tick, go weak in the knees, perhaps break out in a cold sweat, or just feel chilled. Perhaps it isn’t a tangible thing, like cradling a vintage camera and hearing the moving gears within as you cock its shutter. Could it be the amazing deep blacks from a fine silver gelatin print that moves you to tears, or the heady smell of developer and fixers  fumes wafting through your makeshift darkroom?

Maybe you like to collect photo books and smell the new pages as you sample its contents. You may be into gear fetish, always acquiring new equipment as soon as they hit the stores, or a pixel peeper, demanding to view everything on your giant 25 inch screen at 100%. You could be in love with Photoshop and like to tweak every possible parameter to create your masterpieces in your darkened room, perhaps?

I would also like to know what is the most significant photograph you have ever taken and why.  This does not have to be a masterpiece, a good image, or even a memorable image.  Just an image that has played an important role in your photographic journey, or made an impression to others along the way? Please do share.

I will run this thread for a few months and hope by the end of it, we could have a collection of  interesting writing, photographs and viewpoints to share but I will need your honest involvement and response.

Cheers!

Best wishes for 2016…

Steven

 

Absence of silence

Day 6 -Haste Ye Back! The slogan greets us on a road sign as we drive out of Brora on the A9, heading South and back into England. First, the long drive towards Inverness, Perth and then Stirling, by-passing Glasgow over into Carlisle on the M74. The scenery is spectacular, as you can imagine. Hills, valleys, meandering rivers and streams, snow-capped mountains, sheep and cattle. We had brilliant sunshine, rain, sleet and snow all within a few minutes of leaving. That is the weather in the Highlands in winter time, according to the locals we met, ah, nothing to worry about.

I leave Scotland with a heavy heart, with the Paris attacks fresh in my mind as we watched it unfold on live tv on Friday evening last. Had I not planned this Scottish road trip, I would have gone to Paris Photo this very same weekend, as did several of my photography friends. Thank God they are all safe.

Photographically, I didn’t shoot much on this 1,500-mile road trip, save to say the weather foiled many attempts at trying, what with Storm Abigail blowing 90mph winds on the Days 2 and 3 whilst we sat out the Amber warning. Cameras and horizontal rain do not get along well.

 

Under leaden skies

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Day 3 – After the awful event in Paris last night, a city so close and familiar to me, I couldn’t really sleep, but managed to get a few hours rest from watching the streaming breaking news on TV. We had a 4 hour drive the next morning, which was today, 14th November.  Leaving the West coast and crossing the Highlands down to Brora on the East coast, under leaden skies. It had been raining and sleeting non-stop the whole night, and the clouds are low and menacing.

There is a light dusting of snow on the mountain peaks above 500m and the temperature is hovering around 5C. So no ice. More particularly, no black ice. The A832 to A835 route across from Poolewe to Lairg via Ullapool is spectacular. We practically encounter no other motorists for at least 50 miles on this route. Amazingly raw landscapes of valleys, and mountains, rivers, streams, waterfalls, sheep and huge black cattle. Boggy heather knolls and dark grey granite crags.  Just hoping the car not breaking down or the tyres getting a puncture.

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