Contemporary Issues and Approaches in Photography (A Module for NAFA)

From July to October 2012, I have taught a module for the 3rd-year diploma students majoring in Photography at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), Singapore.
Prior to that, I have never foreseen myself teaching a studio-based course. But I have been given the freedom to develop the module based on my research. The possibility is hard to turn down.

How then do we teach contemporary photography in a way that is relevant for practitioners in Singapore and Southeast Asia?

In the end, I decided to design the module as a series of sessions for students, tutor and guest speakers to discuss issues and approaches pertaining to contemporary photography, especially within Southeast Asia.

By examining the possibilities and limitations of photography, the module encourages the students to explore different methodologies in relation to the medium. It informs them about the themes and issues addressed by artists working with photography in Southeast Asia. It also encourages them to think of the materiality and “social life” of photography.

In the first few sessions, I offered a timeline of photographic practices in Southeast Asia.

Here are highlights from the other sessions.

287900_516536305029836_1025319961_oSam Kang Li (left) talks about the challenges and potential problems of doing a “hyper-local” project, like his At Our Doorsteps.

621098_516536235029843_161779761_oSamantha Tio (middle) and Kabul (left) present their community-based photo work, Malam di Jari Kita (The Wax on our Fingers), to the class.

242470_518660081484125_124394068_oTay Kay Chin (light blue jeans) and Edwin Koo (foreground), two former Straits Times (ST) photographers, talk about the need to “unlearn” what they learnt in ST when both of them left the paper. They also discuss the notion of “truth” in documentary photography. And they answer the questions of how they make a living as documentary photographers in Singapore.

472810_520183364665130_480176597_oNguyen Nhu Huy, founder of Zero Station in Saigon, speaks to my students about the programmes that they run at the art space.

472606_520183331331800_1599113227_oErin Gleeson, an expert on Cambodian contemporary art, offers an overview of contemporary photography in the country.

289417_528679420482191_890600660_oVisiting her studio at Goodman Arts Centre, Genevieve Chua tells my students about the importance of research in her multi-disciplinary work.

281093_531873333496133_1418196076_oChua Chye Teck reminds my students of the importance of being slow, patient and comfortable in their photographic practices. He explains the basis of his work, which is to use the photographs that he takes to analyse his interests, thoughts and obsessions.

325632_535047413178725_816207018_oStudents and lecturers from the photo department at Chiang Mai University and from NAFA share their works in a combined class, here in Singapore.

134558_537324569617676_2041584907_oToh Hun Ping talks about the history of moving visuals and its longstanding relationship with photography. His video work involves reconstituting the various boundaries and dimensions of the medium.

621404_544558908894242_1579783280_oNurul Huda brings us to the NUS Museum for her exhibition, The Sufi and the Bearded Man: Re-membering a Keramat in Contemporary Singapore, and explains the potential of photography as a visual research tool.