Mt.Rokko International Photo Festival 2016 : Portfolios reviewed.

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Let’s begin!

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.

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Kyoko MARUYAMA
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Kyoko MARUYAMA

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.

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Takayuki NARITA

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.

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Takayuki NARITA
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Takayuki NARITA
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Laura VALENTI (Photo Lucida Critical Mass)
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Toshiyuki SHIRAI

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.

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Toshiyuki SHIRAI
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Toshiyuki SHIRAI
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Noriko TAKASUGI

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.

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Ryosuke SAITO
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Ryosuke SAITO

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.

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Eiji OHASHI

Another brilliant colour series is by Eiji Ohashi from 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.

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TOMM Photographer
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TOMM Photographer
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TOMM Photographer

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.

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Takako FUKAYA

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 Photoawards 2016. We also discovered that she has been selected as one of the 100 candidates at Review Sante Fe this year.

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Yoshi OKAMOTO
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Yoshi OKAMOTO (R)

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.

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Shyue WOON – Emerging Photographers Slideshow

The final mention goes to the Anne-Sophie GUILLET a French photographer on a residency in Japan. She showed two series, Inner Self and Reminiscence.

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Anne-Sophie GUILLET

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.

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Anne-Sophie GUILLET

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.

Arigatou gozaimasu.

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Open Portfolio Viewing
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Rokko Mountain High – Have your portfolio reviewed in Japan, 2015

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The 2015 Mt.ROKKO INTERNATIONAL PHOTO FESTIVAL is now accepting participants for it’s Portfolio Review session from 28 – 29 August 2015. The festival runs from 21 to 30 August in Mt.Rokko, Kobe, Japan. In it’s 3rd consecutive year, the festival have explored the themes of Communication and Education in contemporary photography practice. I was fortunate to be involved as a Reviewer and it has broadened my perspectives and views about Japanese photography as well as connecting with many talented photographers from abroad and from Japan too.

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I would recommend any photographer hoping to expand their knowledge and obtain valuable feedback from an international array of Reviewers, to apply for this event, not least, the new friendships, sharing and connections you will make.

Apply here 

See below for past articles :

Festival Update 1 2013

Festival Update 2 2013

Festival Review 1 2014

Festival Review 2 2014

Festival Review Highlights 2014

Festival Feedback Lim Paik Yin 

Festival Feedback Nadia J Mahfix

Festival Feedback Syfrey Moniz

Festival Feedback Ailsa Bowyer

Mt.Rokko Portfolio Review Feedback – Syefry Moniz

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How it started

I’ve got an invitation from Steven Lee of KLPA at the end of April 2014, to participate at the Mt. Rokko International Photo Festival Portfolio Review in Kobe, Japan. My feeling at that time was mixed. I was speechless, excited and looking forward to being reviewed. I started to do some research about the event from Steven’s blog explorenation.net and so on. This is the first time that my works will be reviewed by International / established photographers, artists, photo editors and curators from around the world. I’m very honoured for the invitation that I received. From that I started to prepare my works accordingly and put lots of effort on them.

Preparing the Project

Since I’m in the Exposure+ Photo Mentoring Program run by KLPA, I already have one project (Distance) which needed to be finished during the 3 month programme. I also brought another personal project (Bakul Boy). I’ve started the Bakul Boy project since early 2014. It was stressful but yet energetic and excited for me to do both works at the same time and preparing the final outcomes. With a lots of help, encouragement and support from my mentor (The Exposure+ Programme), friends and my most understanding family, finally I’ve was ready.

The Journey

I have prepared everything accordingly such as all the prints, postcards, name cards, hand outs including dummy photobooks for my both projects. Unfortunately a few days before departing for Japan, I got into an accident and injured my knee. With limited time, I have to settle everything despite being in pain. But for me, the excitement to present my works in Japan, the pain never bothered me. On 29th August 2014, with a little help from my ‘tongkat’, together with Steven, Ailsa, Paik Yin and Nadia, we finally arrived at the Tanto Tempo Gallery, Kobe. The venue for the Mt. Rokko International Portfolio Review was held at the YMCA, Mt. Rokko, Kobe, Japan.

The ‘R’ Day

The portfolio reviews for this event was held over 2 days on the 29th and 30th August. I was reviewed by 7 reviewers. The reviewers were Yosuke Fujiki, Naoko Ohta, Natalie Matutschovsky, Tsuyoshi Ito, Yumi Gato, Takeki Sugiyama and one bonus reviewer; Fabrice Wagner. I’ve brought two of my working projects, Distance and Bakul Boy.

Distance is a project that I’ve done with the Exposure+3 Programme. The documentary set is presented as diptychs in one print. This project is about two children’s moments in their daily lives. I tried my best to be close as possible as I could, to capture at the same moments in the day, in order to convey their differences. I want to visually highlight how much education is important to a child. The idea of this project is to pose a question rather an answer.

My second documentary project is called Bakul Boy. Bakul Boy is about a little boy named Salmankan from Semporna, Sabah in Malaysia. This little boy followed his family to come to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah to search a better life. He worked two jobs daily, the first selling plastic bags (bakul) and the other pushing wooden trolleys between the fish sellers and customers at the wet Filipino Wet Market, in Kota Kinabalu. He has to worked to achieve an education, just to help his family survive.

For these two projects, I managed to complete the photobook dummies.

At the portfolio review, we only have 20 minutes to introduce ourselves, giving an introduction on our projects and network. As for me, the first 20 minute session seems like a short time. I was a bit nervous and have not prepared much, and things messed up a little, but then I’ve made it through anyway.

So for the next session, I planned everything accordingly. Firstly, I gave out my name card, giving a short introduction about myself and then explain and presented both projects. I’ve showed the reviewers my large prints and the photobook dummies. I think we need to plan it well because we only have 20 minutes to present and at the same time we mustr receive feedback as much as possible. If we don’t plan or do it well, then we might feel that 20 minutes is not enough. Time is Precious.

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Summary from the Reviewers

DISTANCE – A lot of questions were asked about this photo series. The questions needed to be answered by me. An example of a question being asked was if I could spend more time on the subjects. For every diptych, some of the reviewers asked if may be possible to add a quote from the children themselves. As this series is in colour, the calibration for all the images must be corrected especially the skin tones of the subjects. The sequencing can be change a bit and the images reduced, – “Less is More”. One of the reviewers have also said that my photobook dummies are done in a creative and interactive way.

BAKUL BOY – Most of the reviewers gave compliments and many good comments. They liked it as a photobook rather large prints. This is because the large prints are limited to 20 images only for each project. The prints can’t really show the whole story. I was advised to continue this project, making a series or volumes. Conducting proper interviews with the subjects, if possible, making a video recording too. In the future, I must also have the subject’s personal quotes. Spending more times with them, or make it a long-term project. I also need to be more careful on editing and curating the photos. As for the photobook dummies, most of the reviewers gave a comment that the cover designs are great, but some of the images are repeated and need to be removed if possible. A few of the important images needed to be enlarged up to create more impact.

The Conclusions

The Bakul Boy project is the more popular series from the two. Each project is a different story and genre. Even if they are both documentary projects the approaches are different. For each project, intimacy is the key of the success and that intimacy requires time. The skin tone calibration need to be done correctly for the colour series. From my personal observations, my colleagues from Japan are well prepared with their prints and textured paper (paper that we do not have in our country) and some photographers were equipped with white gloves to handle their prints. This is a good example of we need for the next portfolio review.

Even with different languages we are all connected by photography and the arts. Our works speaks for themselves.

As this is my first time being reviewed Internationally, it was a good experience and a learning process for me.

I would like to express my gratitude to Takeki Sugiyama for the invitation to Mt. Rokko International Portfolio Review. Also a big thanks to Steven, Erna and the Exposure+3 mentors for this opportunity. Thanks to all my friends and families for their endless support.

P.S : for those who are into spicy food,…please bring your own hot sauce – ‘sambal ikan bilis’

~ Syefry Moniz, 18 September, Kuala Lumpur

Mt.Rokko Portfolio Review Feedback – Ailsa Bowyer

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There are so many things to be said about the experience of attending the Mt Rokko Portfolio Review festival so I’m going to attempt a ramble the most significant aspects for me.

From the very beginning, we (the Malaysian *cough*slash*Australian*cough* posse), were treated like the most royal of guests. We may have let the whole team down because our un-showered bodies resembled nothing of royalty, but of course there was no mention of this. Even if people were surprised to find that there were in fact no dead animals in our bags or on our bodies, we (and our bags) were just welcomed with open arms and smiles. This was the first of consistent experiences of the Mt Rokko team’s astounding politeness and hospitality.

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We really were very blessed to have been able to attend this festival. I think pre-conceived assumption was that we, as international guests, had a lot that we would bring to the table. But, for me personally, I feel that I had a lot less to bring, and instead had a great deal that I took away. (And no, I’m not talking about the literal taking of amazing food or drinks. Although, as one exception to the culinary amazingness, if you buy the bottled green tea from the local convenience store, you may as well save yourself 70c, and the walk, and instead toss back the contents of the nearest ashtray).

The biggest realisation that constantly hit me was that there is just so much care and intention and pride invested in Japanese photography (or Japanese ANYTHING, for that matter), and that I have so much to learn in this regard. The ironic thing that I realised about my own art throughout this festival is that, I really don’t often treat any of it “like a work of art.” My prints and presentation really did resemble an eight year old’s artwork folder compared to the standard upheld by the Japanese attending photographers.

The Japanese folios were of gallery quality, and no expense was spared in the treatment or presentation of their photography. My favourite question from a reviewer, Didier Brousse, was “Is this how you usually print your works?” To which I answered a confident, “No, no, nooo…” (and in my head “… … … Um, yes? Shit! HIDE!)” What I was left reflecting on throughout this repeated exposure to japanese works was that, in the western screen-based world, we become so consumed with screen-based viewings, so often don’t connect a great deal with print – whether that be loose prints or book making – as a result. And in screen-worlds, we invest so much time, creativity, energy and planning in the execution of our photography, yet spend very little energy reflecting that in the final outcome of the work. And, to me, that really feels like the print version nestled proudly in your hands. (Don’t even get me started on the LIFE-CHANGING AMAZINGNESS OF MAKING A PHOTO BOOK, in particular. Experience this to know this, I can’t recommend that enough. Even in the initial dummy stages, for me, it is currently the most profound and moving experience. PERIOD).

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Pic by Akimichi Chimura

So for this reason, the open-portfolio afternoon where we all laid out our works and then walked around to peruse others, was the most significant event of the festival to drum home this message to me. At one stage I even panicked that my little yet heavy fingers may crease the tissue paper laying between one photographer’s prints. This is how I want to feel about my own photos, that I have sweated over and agonised over and poured so much of myself into. This is how we all, as photographers, should honour and value our own work.

The other giant benefit of the open portfolio session was being able to get somewhat of a mini snapshot of contemporary Japanese photography, in one hit. Walking around the room, I saw just how central family and history (including repeated references to traumatic historical events) was to most of these works. And how delicate each and every one of these works were. They all had such great contemplation and quietness and depth about them. And such beauty as a result. Further, as english is the second language of all the photographers, little words were used to communicate the intention/concepts behind the works; but little words were needed, which just made me realise the strength of the execution of ideas/concepts in their photography.

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Pic by Akimichi Chimura

Actually, I say they were all delicate, but I lie. They weren’t. There were some that were equally amazing for a different reason: because they were so, freaking, in-your-face confronting. Or entertaining. And to be honest, these works are the ones that I personally remember significantly, not for their asthetic appeal, but because the content of those works shook me the most.

Although it’s a given, it needs to be said – the actual portfolio reviews themselves were incredibly beneficial. I was reviewed by Naoko Ohta, Didier Brousse, Takeki Suigyama, Yoichi Nagata, Tuyoshi Ito, and Paula Kupfer. Every reviewer was very competent and knowledgable, and all had very different things to offer, including constructive criticism, positive feedback, suggestions for where-to-from-here, suggestions for presentation format, suggestions for sequencing or editing (note: bring LOOSE prints to reviews!

No fixed-photo folders!), and most importantly, questions that I hadn’t thought of or answered for myself yet. And although they all had very different and sometimes opposing things to say which did in parts leave me confused and overwhelmed, this to me was not indicative of any error of the reviewers, but rather indicative of just how far I’ve personally got to go in terms of being 100% sure of why I’m doing what I’m doing, and exactly how I want to do that, so I can then pick and choose exactly what feedback fits with my direction and where/who exactly I want to direct my photos to.

I’m talking too much. Let me cram in some parting words. The photographers and photography was incredibly giving and amazing. (AH-MAAA-ZING). Japanese people are ALL FREAKING BEAUTIFUL (mass generalisation, but I’m running with it), and may be deceptively quiet but seriously know how to drink an Aussie under the table. The festival had a real quaintness and naivete to it that makes it feel very precious. Takeki Suigyama (coordinator master #1) was a STAR at spreading love and energy throughout the place and dictating the vibe of the festival (including, but not limited to, frequent episodes of dance-shout-clap-chanting). Mariko Yamada (coordinator master #2) was often spotted running around behind the scenes instead of in the spotlight, but was the equal driving force behind the festival. (And with the sweetest smile in all of Japan).

The facilities were wonderful. (*Ahem* … first public bath experience. BOO-YAH)! The location is to die for. If I spent months on the YMCA grounds alone, I would be a very happy lady. And last but definitely not least, my favourite memory: the “sheet workshop” run by Daiki Usui. Literally, how to place one sheet on your bed, lie on that sheet, and then place a second sheet above you. “Like a sheet sandwich.”

Like I said, care and pride in EVERYTHING.

~ Ailsa, Perth 18 September, 2014

Portfolio Reviews at Mt.Rokko

A warm and humid Kobe greeted us at around midday when the Kansai Airport bus dropped us off at Sannomiya Station on the 28 August. ‘Us’, being the four photographers and myself, ‘Team Malaysia’ on our way to attend the 2nd Mt.Rokko International Photo Festival 2014. I was here in November last year (see here and here ) so there is a familiarity surrounding the event. Not so for the ‘four’ as the thought of attending Portfolio Review sessions over the next two days had put slight fear and anxiety into some of them, as for most, this is their first ever review, and an international panel for that.

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The four were Ailsa Bowyer, Syefry Moniz, Lim Paik Yin and Nadia Jasmine Mahfix. The first three photographers were selected from the alumni of EXPOSURE+, a photo-mentoring program run by myself and several photographers and colleagues in Kuala Lumpur. Nadia had been involved as a participating photographer in the TWO MOUNTAINS PHOTO PROJECT which was part of the Mt.Rokko program of talks, and attended to present her series and took part in the reviews also. They essential presented their portfolios of photographs taken from their experience with the EXPOSURE+ program and came to Mt.Rokko armed with prints in portfolio boxes, folders, dummy books, and not forgetting calling cards. These photographers were selected based on their previous works, and are at a stage in their photography careers where they would benefit from having their works reviewed in an international environment.

No iPads at this review.

Portfolio reviews are an essential and important part of a photographer’s journey to becoming a better and more focussed artist. There can be a limit to attending workshops which give direction and practical tips in self-development, but with reviews, the act of photography takes on a new step, which is the presentation and editing aspects, and are often neglected nowadays, due to the use of on-screen presentations, and lack of opportunities for critical feedback of works.

Reviews are also about communication. Without clear and concise communication through discussions with the reviewer and the photographer, a photographer’s works will only be limited in visibility and understanding. Experienced reviewers can guide and suggest new methodology and editing which may help create tighter narratives or explore new directions.

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Each photographer had the opportunity to meet about 5 to 7 reviewers over both days, and also in casual chats outside the official sessions. In addition to the review sessions, they also displayed their portfolios at an Open Viewing session, open to the public and fellow photographers and reviewers from the festival. This allows a more casual sharing of each other’s photography, and was a valuable opportunity to make new contacts and networking.

Individual feedback from the photographers will follow.

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Follow EXPOSURE+ Photo Mentoring program here