Gender and sexuality explored: Singaporean photographers at Angkor
Since 2005, 23 Singaporean photographers have attended the workshops at the Angkor Photo Festival. Through three of their works, we learn how the Festival has offered them the space to find their artistic voices.
Since 2005, photographers from around Asia have been drawn to the Angkor Photo Festival in Siem Reap, Cambodia. There, established names meet lesser-known ones, in a town whose arms are open, whose complexion is mixed, and whose boundaries are prone to negotiation. Unsure of their paths in this unforgiving world, young artists are comforted by those who have walked before, and those wandering by their side.
What began simply as a means of sharing knowledge has evolved into a crucible of talent, a week of visual bliss, a candle floating around an incandescent town, their energies feeding off each other for what seems like a flicker in time.
Poof. And then it’s gone.
In the ephemerality of the moment, of the space, and of the people, structures are unlearned, bonds are broken, and a gaping space opens. It's here that the individual can be honest and vulnerable with who they think they are, as their inner self emerges, and as they slowly etch out the grammar of their visual language, the accents of their photographic voice.
A total of 23 Singaporean photographers have now attended the workshops that are part of the Festival. As an accompaniment to last week’s “Postcard from Siem Reap”, Jom has selected and published below three Angkor photo projects by Singaporean photographers—Sean Lee (2007), Charmaine Poh (2016) and Elisa Tan (2023)*—as a means of marking the explorations that the environment has encouraged.
Through each of their works one senses a young spirit aching to fly.
* Charmaine Poh is Jom’s head of visual culture and media. She selected all the images. Sudhir Vadaketh, Jom’s editor-in-chief, wrote the introduction. Jom is also grateful to Sean Lee and Elisa Tan, photographers living in Singapore, for sharing their work with us.
Sean Lee, 2007 attendee, Angkor Photo Workshop
Project title: Shauna
Write-up: During his time at the Angkor Photo Workshop, Sean photographed himself as different characters seen around Siem Reap. He was a tuk-tuk driver and also a construction worker. But the role that stuck with him was the persona of a woman called "Shauna"; through her, he encountered and befriended a small transgender community in Siem Reap. Sean continued with the project for two years after the Festival.
Experience: Since 2007, I have returned to the Angkor Photo Festival on many occasions, usually as a volunteer. To me, what makes the Festival special is the community of photographers who return year after year—many of whom are the Workshop's alumni. When I think about the Workshop, I do not think about photography at all. All I think about are the friends I made and us drinking and dancing, laughing and talking, night after night.
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Re-issued some 54 years later, Wong’s debut book of poems remains pertinent; tender and intimate in its surfacing of questions relating to alienation, belonging and being—as outsider, as Asian, as female.
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Far from the temples, four Singaporeans touch the lives of Cambodians and others in Siem Reap. Through their work they demonstrate to others the diversity and benevolence of Singaporeans, and offer those at home much to think about.
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