This triptych is the result of an attempt at self-portraiture last weekend, with the Self-Portrait workshop ran jointly by Nadirah Zakariya and I, as part of the Exposure+ Photo series of workshops.
The workshop covered the historical aspects of the painted portrait from the Middle Ages through to the Renaissance era and I shared the premise that many master painters utilised photography to influence their great works. I presented how the purpose of portraiture has changed with the invention of the camera and the negative, allowing the masses to make low cost reproducible photographs. In the second half, Nadirah presented and shared the works of contemporary photographers who specialises in self portraits, before setting a task for each participant to shoot a set of home self-portraits to be presented the following week.
Shooting the self isn’t as straightforward as it appears, as there are perhaps more preparations to plan out than photographing another, since you are both the subject and the camera operator. Composition, framing and concept is mostly trial and error. As is focusing, and tripping the shutter – a manual affair for my old school set up. I learnt from the other participants that they used a wifi-controlled app on their phones to compose and shoot themselves – and there was I, darting back and forth from camera to pose, checking framing and focus constantly.
I wanted to make a series of tight head shots with my 90mm at the closest focus distance of 1m, shooting wide open, but obtaining pin point focus was a task in itself, since the DOF is so shallow. Overall I took over 50 shots, most were slightly out of focus or the framing was off. Perhaps I will use a 28mm next time.
Coming up with a concept may not be easy for most, including myself. Self-portraits aren’t my strong point. I seldom even take selfies, but this workshop task has opened up a new way of representation and self-expression that is worth a second look and can be quite liberating.
Incidentally, KLPA‘s theme this year is ‘Sense of Self’ in the Single Image category and is now open for entries.
After much deliberation and planning, and several requests recently, I have decided to plan another Explorenation World Travel Photography and Workshop in 2019 to celebrate its 10th anniversary!
Our first ever tour was in April 2009, just over ten years ago where we visited Sarawak in northern Borneo, which was quickly followed by city trips to Paris, Bordeaux, Venice (for the Carnavale!) and Tuscany as well as longer photo tours to Cuba, Rajasthan, and Istanbul.
Return to Tuscany Photo Tour
In May 2019, I’ll be collaborating with travel and lifestyle photographer and filmmaker Daniela Cesarei who is based in Tuscany for a week-long photography tour of the beautiful and historical countryside, as well as sample some of the local cuisine with visits to vineyards and markets and much more. We shall be based in the medieval hill town of Montepulciano, immersed in the land of the nobile red wine.
This includes local organisation and transport, daily photo instruction and review sessions, planned visits to markets, vineyards and sampling of dishes by a local chef.
Not included : personal travel to Montepulciano, accommodation, entries to museums, tips or meals not stated, insurance etc
Steven Lee & Daniela Cesarei
Format of Tour
We believe that travel photography should first and foremost be enjoyable, but also challenging and what better place than the beautiful landscapes and towns of Tuscany to inspire you to make unique images with a group of like-minded photographers. The tour is catered to photographers and enthusiasts of all levels – whether you are just starting out in photography, or a seasoned traveler needing to polish up your visual and creative skills with some guidance. Photography instruction and set daily projects will be available as a guide for each participant to focus on, with regular evening reviews of the photographs taken in the day. We believe in informal gatherings that will form the basis of constructive feedback of each other’s works, through group participation.
25 May to 1st June, 2019
Minimum 8, Maximum 12
A range of hotels and private accommodation will be suggested. More details to come.
Closest arriving International Airports are Rome, Florence, Pisa and Perugia.
Distances from airports:
Perugia – Sant’Egidio (km 75)
Firenze – Amerigo Vespucci (km 130)
Roma – Leonardo da Vinci (km 200)
Railway station on the main line Chiusi / Chianciano Terme
Two exits on the A1 “Autostrada del Sole” motorway Val di Chiana and Chiusi / Chianciano Terme
To register your interest in this Return to Tuscany tour, or just want to ask a question, please contact either :
Gallery of random photographs from past Explorenation tours by participants and facilitators.
Steven is the founder director of Kuala Lumpur International Photoawards and ran Explorenation World Travel Photography Tours with fellow photographer Andy Craggs from 2009 to 2013. Steven also started the Exposure+ Photo Mentoring program with fellow photographers in Malaysia, and is a regular portfolio reviewer at international photo festivals.
I just returned from attending the 2018 installment of the Mt.Rokko International Photography Festival, my sixth visit as a portfolio reviewer and also to present projects and run a workshop. I join many professional colleagues from the wider photography industry from across the globe as an invited guest with the main purpose – that is, to nurture young and upcoming Japanese photographers create more meaningful projects, strengthen their ability to project a strong story through their picture taking craft, which no doubt, all of them already have brewing inside them.
The festival, headed by its visionary director Takeki Sugiyama, a surgeon by profession, and totally passionate for the ‘meaning behind every photograph’, who is also an avid collector himself, is run with typical Japanese efficiency when it comes to scheduling and timekeeping, and a certain familiarity that is unique to Mt.Rokko. The volunteer team and staff already feel like family after the very first visit.
Photos by Melanie McWhorter & Chikara Komura
Held partly in downtown Kobe for the exhibitions and having the reviews in close-quarter up at Mt.Rokko, makes for an interesting long weekend for the guests and photographers, but slightly inconvenient for day visitors wanting to participate in the workshops or presentations. However, I feel that this arrangement is already being addressed over the last two years to make the festival more accommodating.
Over the years in coming to Kobe, I have gained many connections and friends in the photography world, and have also opened my eyes to contemporary Japanese photography – it’s highly aesthetic based imagery, and the very important link to nature, family and tradition. I speak of course in general terms, and there are photographers who also make non-conformist projects that surprise.
For Mt.Rokko, I believe that it has steadily gained the reputation of being a tight-knit photo community, and being a ‘portfolio review centered’ festival, it has the advantage of fully catering to photographers seeking to maximise their exposure in gaining valuable feedback through the expertly selected workshop mentors and international reviewers. Because of the proximity of the venues and the ability of the photographers to access the reviewers throughout the weekend, there are ample opportunities for casual conversations to happen – and I believe, even more for future installments – that these downtimes are vital to allow honest exchanges on a one to one basis, in addition to the scheduled reviews.
An advantage of being a small festival, the manageable numbers also help enhance the ‘community spirit’ and camaraderie of the participating photographers who come from all over Japan, and overseas as well, and I feel this is very important, especially for first- time reviewees, and more introvert photographers, and a unique feature for Mt.Rokko.
I have been following the progress of several photographers who attended the early installments of the festival and can happily say that many of them have gained new exposure of their projects and have gone on to win international awards, recognised in festivals or have exhibitions in galleries outside Japan. I can safely say that having attended Mt.Rokko previously, played an important part in their successes.
Since 2013, Mt.Rokko festival has been much praised for their purposeful and beneficial portfolio reviews and even as we had a smaller participation size this year, the variety and standard of projects presented were of greater depth and subject matter. This may be due to the stricter pre-selection process imposed by Takeki Sugiyama, the director to improve the overall photographic standard being presented to the international reviewers.
Part of the reason for attending a festival like Mt.Rokko and its portfolio review sessions is to make new connections with the greater photographic world, with international reviewers and also other photographers from Japan and overseas. Many opportunities can present themselves to participants – especially where their projects are unique or strong, and also where the participant makes the effort to communicate and interact in open discussions or during Q&As at the presentations.
I have known several past participants who have submitted entries to the Kuala Lumpur International Photoawards and have been successful in becoming finalists and also went on to be recognised in other awards and festivals. I am glad to see this happen. I am also seeing participants who have been awarded for their projects that have become stronger and more meaningful in their edits, over the years.
The importance of education – that is, not only by the formal way but through personal development by gaining knowledge through experience and interaction, is vital to any photographer who seeks to advance and elevate his or her craft, both technically and artistically. Portfolio reviews are an effective exercise in receiving critical feedback and guidance in a photographer’s journey for deeper self-expression. I am grateful and honoured for being able to be a part, however small, of this journey with the Mt.Rokko participants.
Many people find taking pictures of strangers difficult, and so they end up photographing from a distance or the backs of them. We will practice how to engage strangers and capture their portraits, with their consent mostly.
This is a totally ‘free to join’ session for 2 – 3 hours, where you will practice approaching strangers and making engaging portraits, and having fun at the same time.
Who is this for?
Anyone who appreciates the challenges and reward of street photography and making portraits that communicate with the audience.
You must be well versed in using your camera and its exposure settings. This will not be a tutorial on camera settings and functions, just taking great portraits. Do not let the camera controls hinder your picture taking. Carry a camera and one lens, preferably 50mm or 85mm. Avoid long zooms. It should be an enjoyable experience.
Group size & Registration
10 maximum. Free to join. Advance registration required.
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
Date and Time
11.00 am to 2:00 pm | Saturday 15 September, 2018
KL city centre – to be confirmed
Steven Lee is the founder director of Kuala Lumpur International Photoawards.
He began his photographic career as a documentary, travel and fashion photographer in the late 90’s when began writing travel related articles for magazines and journals. In 2000, he published his first coffee-table book titled Outside Looking In : Kuala Lumpur, which received the Asian Prize at PhotoCity Sagamihara Festival of the Image, Japan in 2007.
In 2007 he published his second coffee-table book MALAYSIANS, with 500 faces of diverse Malaysians. In 2008, he released MUSEO, comprising a collection of black & white abstract studies of antiquities, statuary, and architecture photographed in Europe from 2001 – 2005 is now available as a print-on-demand publication. Steven released LUMINA in 2011 his fourth book.
In 2009, Steven initiated the KUALA LUMPUR INTERNATIONAL PHOTOAWARDS, an annual international portrait photography competition centred in Malaysia, focussing on the best in contemporary portrait photography and has attracted the participation of some top international photographers. Steven continues to run photography educational workshops through EXPOSURE+ Photo Mentoring platform in Kuala Lumpur with other Malaysian photographers, and has been a portfolio reviewer and judge at international photo festivals and contests.
Steven ran classes on Documentary and Lifestyle / Street photography at City Academy, London from 2014-2016 and his latest initiative was organising the first PhotoSymposiumAsia in 2017 and 2018.
I’m currently in Kuala Lumpur, having attended the Mt Rokko Photo Festival last weekend as a reviewer (I will write an in-depth post about that amazing festival shortly), and I just had fantastic KLPA awards and exhibition, celebrating 10 years of the awards. The last weeks had been incredible, making new connections with creative people and seeing many interesting photo projects, especially from young photographers, or even non-creative people attempting their first photo projects.
Meanwhile, I shot a few portraits below in preparation for a Street Portrait workshop this coming Saturday with my ‘new’ Nikon 1 V1 camera I got from Facebook Marketplace last month for a mere £100!
What is in a portrait? What makes us connect with the people we see in portraits? It is the human connection inherent within each of us. The answer to this question could be more intuitive than expressive. Come and join in the discussion at my workshop on 2 September at Mt.Rokko International Photo Festival 2018.
KLPA 2018 finalists overview
Practical exercise in portrait photography
This workshop will introduce you to the significance of formalistic portrait photography, it’s historical context and present-day interpretations.
It will enable you to appreciate the knowledge and skill needed to set up a formal portrait session in a 1-hour practical outdoor shoot.
Brief : 2-hours
We will become familiarised briefly with the historical aspect of the portrait in paintings and from the invention of photography to the present day. We will look at the role of portraits from the invention of the camera in Victorian times, and then to the reproducible image, and the representational aspects of the personal portrait photograph.
We will consider and discuss the modern practice of portraiture and contemporary styles, and look at the importance and significance of the genre in modern society. We will examine some of the notable modern day photographers who used portraiture in significant ways, their influences socially and in journalism.
We will also look at how to appreciate and analyse portrait photographs throughout modern history.
We are able to review portrait photographs brought by the participants and perform a deconstruction and critique of each other’s works.
In the following session, I will present some of my personal choices of the finalist entries from KL International Photoawards from 2009 to 2018 including this year’s winning entries.
Practice : 1-hour
The workshops practical session follows with staged portrait shoots of participants in the studio or gallery space and outdoors. You will be able to make small prints of your portraits.
Note to participants
Please bring up to 5 portrait prints taken by yourself, or from magazines/online that you wish to present or review. Please bring your camera.
I’ll be heading out to the Mt.Rokko Photo Festival in a week’s time. I’m always looking forward to this time, late summer in Japan, and to meet the photographers, and see new faces and new photography. Thank to the Takeki Sugiyama the festival director, once again, for inviting me. I’ll be running a similar workshop to the previous years and it’ll be fun.
Pictures from 2016 workshop, from Mt.Rokko Festival.
I will present a brief slideshow on the historic referencing of portraiture from the daguerreotypes of the early to mid 1800s to the camera obscura, and then to the invention of reproducible film and the negative. We will examine the influences of photography on painters and masters and it’s representational forms.
We will consider the modern practice of portraiture and contemporary styles, and look at the importance of the genre in modern society.
We will review portrait photographs brought by the participants and perform a deconstruction and critique of each other’s works.
In the second session, I will present some of my personal choices of the finalist entries from Kuala Lumpur International Photoawards from 2009 to 2017 including this year’s winning entries.
The workshop practical session follows with staged portrait shoots of participants in the studio or gallery space and outdoors.
Note to participants
Please bring up to 5 portrait prints taken by yourself, or from magazines/online that you wish to review and present. Please bring your camera.
I recently attended the Mt.Rokko International Photo Festival 2016 in Kobe, Japan as reviewer and below are the notable works that I have personally seen over the 3-day event. I have been coming to this festival since 2013, organised by Takeki Sugiyama and his excellent team of volunteers and staff. The festival is centred around the portfolio reviews, of which there are 21 reviewers and 42 photographers. There are also presentations and slideshows from the guest photographers, this year, being Jamey Stillings, Kosuke Okahara and Alejandro Durán.
The overall standard of work is notably higher, since the director implemented a pre-screening and presentation session earlier in the year, to prepare the selected photographers to obtain maximum value in attending the reviews. This is clearly seen, in my experience last week, of being presented with clear and concise statements, quality loose prints in presentation boxes and a few well-edited work. However, as other reviewers also noted, photographers are still presenting too many prints in their series, and in some cases, too many series. Anything more than 20 images for me, would be too many.
One of the most arresting images I recall were the two silver gelatin photographs (above) from Kyoko Maruyama‘s project Heart Island project -Awa. Although the series is not complete in terms of photography, she had an initial idea to photograph the inhabitants of this district in Chiba – under threat from possible massive contamination of the land through the underground storage of unknown polluted soil. The story itself warrants documentation over the next years and has potential.
When Takayuki Narita, a young and trendy photographer, with manly long hair and light beard sat down and presented me his statement, titled ROSE GARDEN and printed on paper with light pink roses and pale green leaves, I didn’t know what to think.
Until he showed me his series of garish, over-saturated ‘studies’ of people enjoying themselves in a sunny Osaka park well known for roses – I begin to understand his obsession with the flower. He writes “The modern day flower thieves snatch the images of flowers with the digital cameras, smart phone in forms of megapixels”. As an observer of human behaviour, his carefully composed scenes are humorous as well as reflective of our modern ‘image-sharing’ societies across the world.
I also reviewed Toshiyuki Shirai‘s [without joy, without happiness] series of self-portraits dressed in what is a typical ‘salaryman’ (business) man suit, posed in expressionless faces in ‘out of context’ situations, eg. playground, swings and slides where children enjoy themselves. He complains of the ‘mental torture that salarymen endure like “a man digging a hole in the morning, and fill it in the afternoon every day, endlessly”. This creative series can be expanded to include other scenarios – like on a beach, in a kindergarten etc where the contrast can be extended. I like this kind of photo series – of self -examination and creative portrait photography.
I knew of Noriko Takasugi‘s recent portrait at this year’s Taylor Wessing Photoprize where she was a finalist with her portrait of celebrated Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Also, her Fukushima Samurai series of portraits which she showed at Mt.Rokko this year. What I didn’t expect was the depth of research she had done in this project which, for several years now, has over 40 fine portraits of modern day samurais, each, dressed in traditional garb and photographed respectfully in and around the Fukushima area. It is time a book is published.
Another promising work I have seen is Ryosuke Saito’s humorous observational series of ‘tourists, smartphones and selfies’ called “#photooftheday” (- complete with hashtag).
His witty captures of beachgoers in Thailand reveals more about what I term the ‘experience’ economies have to offer and yet informational exchange still holds true in our social media world. Similar ideas with the Rose Garden series above.
Another brilliant colour series is by Eiji Ohashifrom Hokkaido.I saw him at Mt.Rokko last year where he displayed a black and white collection of his Vending Machine series. At the time I thought that they could be improved if he captured them in colour instead. This year he showed another set of vending machines in colour, and I thought they were significantly improved, as they showed the placements of these machines in more realistic and contemporary settings. The images are quiet reflections of an essential and modern invention that is found all over the country. He has 9 pieces of this series being shown at the Singapore International Photo Festival 2016 in October.
The photographer known as TOMM is a bubbly person and dons a pair of Yohji Yamamoto trousers. He showed me his series of raw and gritty black and white photographs of festival people from over 30 such events across Japan called Ikai (Spirit World).
His pictures are to record what he calls ‘tamafuri’ or life soul of these events in modern times Japan, where science makes everything efficient and festivals seem irrational and strange at times. He photographs in black and white to depict the sacredness of their existence.
I found his images to be varied, strong and well composed, as often than not, photographing at public festivals can be quite restricted in terms of vantage points.
His images are bold and has a sense of immediacy to them, unlike many festival photography series I have seen. I did suggest to Tomm if he could visit the annual Thaipusam festival in Malaysia one day, that would be right his street.
One of my favourite images of the festival came from Takako Fukaya from Aichi.
She is a mother three girls and she started showing her black & white images of them playing and doing normal things in and around her home, gardens and recreational parks. I didn’t feel as though she was portraying them in their joyful existence as they seemed too contrived. Nonetheless, when she began to show me her previous series of colour studies of them, right at the end of the review session, it completely surprised me! This set of toned portraits was fresh : innovative and whimsical, using homely props and natural light with effect. Beautiful.
Finally, I was also impressed with Yoshi Okamoto‘s series about women scorned. There is much intimacy and isolation that showed through to the viewer with her work about depression, despair, loss and ultimately, an unknown fate which lies ahead for the woman in the picture. Yoshi is no stranger to awards, as one of the images from this series was selected as a finalist in the Kuala Lumpur International Photoawards2016. We also discovered that she has been selected as one of the 100 candidates at Review Sante Fe this year.
I would like to mention Shyue Woon‘s Car Park series of dimly light atmospheric scenes. This was his first review in his photographic practice and was proposed by myself to attend the portfolio review at Mt.Rokko this year. His work was also projected at the Emerging Photographers Slideshow on the final evening to all the gathered photographers, reviewers and guests.
The final mention goes to the Anne-Sophie GUILLETa French photographer on a residency in Japan. She showed two series, Inner Self and Reminiscence.
I’m a sucker when it comes to a strong portrait image, and she has not one but several strong ones in her series Inner Self, which are formal portraits of ‘androgynous’ strangers she met on the street, invited to their homes and photographed. To me, this is such an interesting photo project which does not involve any kind of travel or fanciful enactments but require patience, trust and a lot of goodwill.
Reminiscence goes deeper, and she explores her childhood memories at her grandmother’s house in the French countryside. The house is no longer in the family but she has her grandmother’s objects and belongings to which she photographs at the house and it’s surroundings to immortalise her fading memories.
Each year the Mt.Rokko reviews always bring out some extraordinary work and this year these are the more memorable and meaningful ones for me. I’m sure other reviewers will have their own set of favourite projects, and would like to close by thanking the festival director Takeki Sugiyama for his constant drive for education and exposure, and to make this event a success in Japan.
I haven’t shot in Chinatown for a while, and today was a great opportunity to bring a group of enthusiastic photographers from the City Academy Documentary class, as the sun was shining and the weather was warm. It always brings a smile to me to see tourists eyeing the strung up roast ducks and chickens in the restaurant fronts, as well as more weird and colourful delicacies like chicken feets, squids and offal hanging off steel rack displays. I even saw visitors smelling large spiky durians that cost as much as they weighed.
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.
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.