Reaching for the peak

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.

[ Also link to same post in Japanese at http://www.rokkophotofestival.com ]

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.

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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.

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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.

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Engaging Street Portraits – Workshop

In conjunction with the 10th Kuala Lumpur International Photoawards 2018 exhibition in KL (8 – 17 September 2018) I will be hosting a ‘walkabout’ practice session in photographing strangers we meet on the street.

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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.

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Who is this for?

Anyone who appreciates the challenges and reward of street photography and making portraits that communicate with the audience.

Skill level

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 : steven@klphotoawards.com

Date and Time

11.00 am to 2:00 pm  |  Saturday 15 September, 2018

Meeting Point

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 PhotoSymposium Asia in 2017 and 2018.

www.stevenleephotography.com

Mt.Rokko Photo Festival 2018 : Portraiture Workshop 02 September.

Time & Place : The Photographic Portrait

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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.


Overview
Historical context
Current practices
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.

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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.

To workshop registration here.


Steven Lee is the founder director of Kuala Lumpur International Photoawards.

Mt.Rokko Photo Festival 2017 Workshop

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. 

Deconstructing the Photographic Portrait

Historical Context
Contemporary Practices
KLPA2017 finalists overview
Practical exercise in portrait photography

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Pictures from 2016 workshop, from Mt.Rokko Festival.

Brief

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.

Details

Workshop : Sunday 27 August, 2017, 2:00 pm to 6:00 pm

Event Page  & More Info

https://www.facebook.com/events/151517582093908/

USA – CUBA

Musicians from La Bodeguita del Medio, Havana 2011

What great news to end 2014, hopefully to be passed by Congress. USA will begin normalisation talks with Cuba following over 50 years of sanctions in trade and diplomatic relations. We went there as a photography workshop group in 2011 and found the Cubans to be warm and friendly, open and very resourceful. No doubt there will be inevitable changes should travel restrictions be lifted, on both sides.

Cake walk

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Out walking and photographing the cafes and bars in the West End today, with some workshop participants from City Academy’s Lifestyle Photography class and couldn’t help but take this picture outside Patisserie Valerie on Charing Cross Road, W1

Brick Lane with Yelp Elites

Brick Lane with Yelp Elites

Lone rapper doing his stuff, Brick Lane © Steven Lee

Spent yesterday Sunday afternoon at the Vibe Bar in hipsterville Brick Lane sharing a photography workshop session withe City Academy and Yelp Elite members. Yes, Yelp is a huge and popular online review site which organises free educational events throughout the world for their Elite members. Street Photography was the subject for the afternoon, or I would rather call it Photography in the Street, since there are so many definitions of what Street Photography is. We had around 15 members joining the session with Carol Edrich (professional Dance and Travel photographer), Zarina Holmes (Lifestyle and Travel, Design consultant) and myself.

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For those that have not ventured along Brick Lane on a weekend, this is the place to hang out, with bars, street food, trinket stalls, and lots and lots of vintage stuff, some of the best curry houses in town and amazing street art  and grafitti, and did I mention all the different street food from around the world too, like Japanese, Korean, Colombian, kebabs, jerk chicken, dimsum, burgers, bagels, Thai…

LookBack – Old Havana, 2011

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I have been searching for some notable images recently on my archive and as usual, had a good look at the Cuba images from one of the explorenation workshops we ran in the Summer 2011. These stood out for me worthy of a review. They was taken in Old Havana, in a dodgy looking side street around 8pm. Old Havana is like some typical Spanish city, but about 60 years behind. Amazing pre-war architectural, ornate windows, but totally derelict, and in need of regeneration. Sodium vapour lamps casts monochromatic orange hues onto street surfaces, Yank Tanks and children playing football. This picture was taken inside one of these buildings, and was our destination for the evening. It houses a very well-known restaurant  La Guarida (state-run, of course, like every business in Cuba) but totally Western in concept, taste and  even the grungy style added to it’s charm. We hope to make another trip back soon, hasta la vista Cuba.

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More on Cuba here.

LookBack : Couple, Malecón

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Couple, Malecón, Havana, 2011

Reviewing my archive of images taken at our workshop in Cuba in 2011 recently, I came across this lovely picture of a couple hanging out on the Malecón, the definitive seafront esplanade where thousands of Cubans gather every evening to chill, play music, drink and be seen. I love to revisit archives just to pick out gems like this, which I have missed initially.