Gwen Lee. Director of Singapore International Photography Festival

SIPF2012 is the third edition of a biennale in Singapore dedicated to photography. More than 55 exhibitors, 28 presenters, 15 film screenings, 6 professional programmes and 6 weekend activities.

This is my interview to Gwen Lee – Director of the festival and owner of  2902 Gallery.

Usually new and old photography festivals around the world choose to be recognizable for some specific topic and theme, SIPF – since the first edition in 2008 – distinguish among the others for its “openess”. No qualifications, no specific subjects, no one approach to photography are required. Why?
The history of photography culture in Singapore and this region (Southeast Asia) is much younger than other parts of the world like France, UK and Spain. Back in 2008, we started this “openness” as a survey to find out  who and what are photographers creating in this part of the world, and since then it became sort of like an ‘archive’ and also discovery of new face, new ideas and works that are refreshing, but also connecting unknown and known photographers and audiences together.

Do you manage a gallery in Singapore as well, then you thought to involve other photo realities in a bigger and unique project. How was the origin of the festival concept?
Yes, I manage a gallery in Singapore. It is founded with my partners in 2008 when most (if not all) galleries in Singapore does not exhibit or represent photographers. Looking back now it was an impulsive act driven by the love of photography, and which later revealed many unexpected aspect of running a space, especially for a medium that is only beginning to gain serious interest from public.  In many ways, the gallery and festival shares similar values, which is a platform for photographers. We are conscious of creating a community and yet at the same times see the importance of interaction and connectivity with communities and photographers outside of Singapore. SIPF became this bigger platform with seek to bring photographers in the regions and as well Asia in general to gather to celebrate photography in different ways.

I think the location of SIPF is very interesting not only for the South-East Asia region. Singapore could be one of the new capital of the international photography. How is the collaboration with the City of Singapore and its population?
SIPF is a young festival… This year 2012 is the 3rd edition. SIPF never think of being the new capital for photography but rather as a platform for photography what difference could SIPF create for the community. SIPF’s priority are the stakeholders – photographers and the audience, and what sort of catalyst can SIPF be for people to better appreciate photography, and what role it could play in nurturing this young growing community, and what opportunity could we produce for young emerging photographers…

Where is the photography industry heading in Singapore and in Asia?
Photography industry is unpredictable, unlike 10 years ago… but overall it is growing and slowing down for some and plus untapped potentials.

The 2012 edition has three new estimeed curators (Alejandro Castellote, Patricia Levasseuer de la Motte, Zeng Han). How have they selected all the images and the authors?
In general, the SIPF curator changes every year to lend a different take on the submission works. Curators go through the works individually using an online system which allows them to see the works and title but not the cv and country. Hence selection is by the merit of the works and not by names or country. After a month viewing, each curator comes back with their initial selection of 100 works. All three curators meet up in person in Singapore in May to go through the 300 selection (100x 3curators), and over 3 days, they view works, discuss, debate  and questions to come out with the final selection  – 50, and they have to eliminate the excess 15 people.

What are your expectations and what will the visitor see during the Festival?
I hope audience will be stimulated and inspired by the exhibition of all these excellent works. Ultimately I hope SIPF will bring the audience and photographers into a common space, and into dialogue.

Do you have some projects or ideas that you would realize in 2014?
Yes, there are many ideas… Such as a major showcase of Southeast Asia and to create an online archive of photography works in Southeast Photography.

SOME PHOTOGRAPHIES // Click the pic to see the photographer’s website.

©Cheng-Chang Wu

©Justin Maxon

©Laura Stevens

©Miti Ruangkritya

©Melissa Moore

©Norihisa Hosaka

©Patty Carroll

©She Chao Liang

©Surun Flore-aël

©Willis Turner Henry

©Zhang Xiao