Lens Based Talent On Display At The Chiang Mai Photo Festival, 2017
The second edition of the Chiang Mai Photo Festival took place from February 3rd to 12th, featuring work by new graduates from 16 universities worldwide, as well as curated exhibits of both emerging and established artists, and photo installations of a more documentary nature.
The bulk of the work was hosted at the Chiang Mai University Art Center, where the ground floor galleries were filled with work by recent grads hailing from NYC to Sweden. One promising student was Hung Ching-Yan Fion, who’s photo installation “To Be Used Someday” deployed bright pastels and minimal compositions, as well as an amusing conceptual premise.
Her mother is a hoarder who always asserted that the things she saved would be used someday, so the artist decided to surreptitiously nab them for use in her art project. In addition to photographs of the hoarded objects, Hung also displayed a diary in which she detailed the daily theft of her mother’s treasures and her feelings about the entire process.
Another young artist who used color and concept to impressive effect was Amnart Sodtichaiarporn, whose candy colored pop-art series “Karniyom” cast a withering glance at consumer culture tropes that have by now become well nigh universally recognizable.
The images struck home in a visceral way, both because of the tactile nature of the subjects represented, and also because many of us may have been guilty of indulging in these vices to a greater or lesser extent at some time in our lives.
In contrast to these colorful projects, the work of Tan Ding Wei stood out as a great example of the power of straight-ahead black and white photography.
His series “For Convenience Sake” consisted simply of photographs documenting locations where people literally strayed from the path in order to take the shortest route from point A to point B, thereby creating new paths in the process.
Of the two separate exhibitions of non-student work on the upper level of the CMU Art Center, “Body As Encounters” stood out for its tight curation. Organized by Singaporean photographer and curator Zhuang Wubin, the exhibit showcased a select number of photographers from across Southeast Asia, some of whom were emerging artists, while others hailed from an older generation of photographic practitioners.
On the younger end of the spectrum was Samantha Tio, whose series “The Hall of Hyperdelic Youths” pictured gamers seated at their consoles. By photographing them with long exposures, Tio managed to capture the ghostly images of the games they are playing, projected onto their faces by the flickering screens before them.
The effect is at once eerie and endearing; eerie, because both the players and their avatars are rendered blurry by the long exposure, and endearing, because the players seem like innocent sleepers lost in a dream, their eyes downcast, their presence absorbed into a virtual world.
Tio’s work was artfully juxtaposed with the work of Thai artist Dansoung Sungvornveshapan, whose series of digitally pastiched self portraits “Time Delay” was created in Bangkok in 1988(!).
As the artist explained in a wall text, “I digitized and imported my self portraits via NewTek DigiView onto the Commodore Amiga 500 computer. I then used Deluxe Paint to manipulate the imageries[sic].”
His work seems charmingly dated from the perspective of 2017, yet by the same token, uncannily contemporary. It is as if his images tapped into a time loop to channel the vaporwave aesthetic with their teal and violet color scheme, as well as brutalist web design with their unavoidably pixelated textures. This is extra ironic, considering that his techniques were cutting edge for the 80s, and the fact that his work was so far ahead of it’s time that it is only now beginning to receive the full recognition it deserves (with the title “Time Delay” being the cherry on top).
Equally nostalgia inducing was the work of Filipino artist Nap Jamir II, whose “Photo Me” series was produced in Manila in 1974 through the use of an automatic photo booth.
Using a mirror, Jamir expanded the possibilities offered by the booth, which itself went by the brand name “Photo Me,” by tricking the machine into photographing itself.
Though Jamir was a pioneer of fine art photography in the Philippines during the 70s and 80s, he later went on to become a celebrated cinematographer, and his photographic archives lapsed into relative disarray.
Thus, it is thanks to Zhuang Wubin’s exceptional efforts as a researcher of Southeast Asian photography that these photographs are once again seeing the light of day. Marking the culmination of such efforts over the last ten years, Wubin recently published “Photography in Southeast Asia: A Survey” for which he held a book launch at The Booksmith, Chiang Mai’s premier bookstore.
Covering all forms of photography across the region (whether anthropological, documentary, or artistic in intent) his book represents an invaluable resource for artists and scholars alike.
In addition to talks, workshops, and the main exhibition, there were also photo exhibits set up in shopping malls and public plazas around the city, which engaged passersby who may not have otherwise known that the photo festival was taking place.
Notable amongst these pop-ups was Luke Duggleby’s “For Those Who Died Trying,” in which the Bangkok based documentary photographer uncovered the histories of 37 Thai citizens who were murdered for trying to prevent the illegal exploitation of environmental resources within their communities.
By re-photographing their framed portraits in the locations where they were killed, Duggleby emphasized the power of images, as well as the weakness of both criminal and environmental law in the third world, since all of these murders have gone unpunished.
Located outdoors in the bustling Think Park plaza, Duggleby’s photos grabbed the attention of unsuspecting tourists and locals alike, interjecting an awareness of local human rights issues into what might have otherwise been a blithe shopping experience. For me, this intervention alone would have made the Chiang Mai Photo Festival worthwhile, but as a lover of art, the rest of the festival didn’t hurt either.