3 Singaporeans picked for Steidl photobooks

The works of Woong Soak Teng, Broy Lim and Robert Zhao were picked by publisher Gerhard Steidl.
The works of Woong Soak Teng, Broy Lim and Robert Zhao were picked by publisher Gerhard Steidl.PHOTOS: COURTESY OF WOONG SOAK TENG, SCHOOL OF ART, DESIGN AND MEDIA, COURTESY OF ROBERT ZHAO, DECK
The works of Woong Soak Teng (top left), Broy Lim (top) and Robert Zhao (left) were picked by publisher Gerhard Steidl (above).
The works of Woong Soak Teng (above), Broy Lim and Robert Zhao were picked by publisher Gerhard Steidl. PHOTOS: COURTESY OF WOONG SOAK TENG, SCHOOL OF ART, DESIGN AND MEDIA, COURTESY OF ROBERT ZHAO, DECK
The works of Woong Soak Teng (top left), Broy Lim (top) and Robert Zhao (left) were picked by publisher Gerhard Steidl (above).
The works of Woong Soak Teng, Broy Lim (above) and Robert Zhao were picked by publisher Gerhard Steidl.
The works of Woong Soak Teng (top left), Broy Lim (top) and Robert Zhao (left) were picked by publisher Gerhard Steidl (above).
The works of Woong Soak Teng, Broy Lim and Robert Zhao (above) were picked by publisher Gerhard Steidl.
The works of Woong Soak Teng (top left), Broy Lim (top) and Robert Zhao (left) were picked by publisher Gerhard Steidl (above).
The works of Woong Soak Teng, Broy Lim and Robert Zhao were picked by publisher Gerhard Steidl (above).

Their works will be published by the renowned German firm in a box set of eight books showcasing winners of the inaugural Steidl Book Award

Three Singapore artists have caught the eye of world-renowned publisher Gerhard Steidl, nabbing the coveted chance to have their works put out by his eponymous German publishing firm.

Photographers Robert Zhao, Broy Lim and Woong Soak Teng are among the eight Asian artists to win the inaugural Steidl Book Award.

Their works will join the company's legendary stable of high-end photobooks, alongside creative greats such as American documentary photographer Joel Sternfeld and fashion titan Karl Lagerfeld. All eight artists will have their photobooks published by Steidl in a box set, Eight Books From Asia.

The Steidl Book Award: Asia Open Call, organised by local photobook collective TheBookShow and held in conjunction with the Steidl Deck: 1001 Steidl Books exhibition, which ended on May 22, at independent arts space Deck in Prinsep Street, attracted 56 submissions from across Asia.

This pool was whittled down to just eight, with Mr Steidl flying in from Germany on May 20 to meet the shortlisted artists for a group review session.

Instead of selecting a single winner as planned, he announced that his firm would publish all eight books.

He tells The Straits Times that the quality of the submitted mock-ups was "so good that it would have been unfair to pick a single title as the winning work".

"For this reason I decided to choose eight book projects that are representative of photography and book design in Asia."

Artist Ang Song Nian, who is the co-founder of TheBookShow, says Mr Steidl's decision to publish all eight photobooks indicated his commitment to and enthusiasm for the growing interest in the contemporary photographic book practice in Asia.

The five other artists are the Philippines' Jake Verzosa, Japan's Yukari Chikura, China's Zhang Lijie, South Korea's Park Jong Woo and India's Kapil Das.

The artists - along with creative consultancy Work's founder Theseus Chan, who is designing the box set - will head to the Steidl headquarters in Gottingen, Germany, in January next year to work on the books.

They will be involved in the entire process, including choosing the materials and paper stock.

Steidl had its start in 1972 and has yet to let up on its meticulous attention to detail. Every single book passes through the hands of Mr Steidl, who oversees its journey from layout to print.

Deck founder and director Gwen Lee says: "It's time for the rest for the world to notice new distinct voices - seen in these photobooks - from Singapore and the rest of Asia.

"For the artists, the award is an important springboard out of their local communities. It spells opportunities and new horizons for personal growth."

Zhao's book A Guide To Flora And Fauna Of The World, created in 2013, documents animals, plants and environments that have been affected by men.

It was one of the three books the 33-year-old submitted for the award, but Mr Steidl, he said, "chose this book because he said that it was absolutely crazy".

"He really enjoyed looking through it, reading the stories I wrote. It's an encyclopedia of how living things and environments respond to human pressures such as pollution and genetic modification."

While Zhao has made a name for himself in the Singapore art scene, Lim and Woong - both from the Nanyang Technological University's School of Art, Design and Media - are just starting out.

Lim, 26, and Woong, 22, first met Mr Steidl in April when he was in town for a book review session.

Lim, who has just graduated, recalls presenting his "train wreck" of a dummy - a few sheets of A4 paper held together with paper clips.

But, he says: "Mr Steidl flipped through my dummy deliberately and made sure to look at each and every image. He made sure he managed to digest my work in that short amount of time I had with him and made recommendations to me, such as editing and sequencing."

The meeting helped him clarify the direction of his project, then still a work-in-progress.

And when they met again last month, Mr Steidl said he was glad to see Lim had taken his suggestions to heart.

Lim's book And Now They Know, a year-long labour of love for his final-year project, looks at his sexual identity and his relationship with his partner of eight years.

"This project seeks to reconcile my identities as a son and a lover, in a language that could most potently express my struggles - the language of photography," he says. "Through this work, I want to tell the people around me that this is who I am, without having to say a single word."

Meanwhile, Woong's book, Ways To Tie Trees, sprang from her observations on how trees are curated and planted in Singapore.

The youngest artist on the shortlist, she has just completed her second year in university. She says Mr Steidl told her on their second meeting that he remembered her work.

"He casually mentioned that while reviewing my book in his house in Germany, he was reminded of a plant in his backyard that was tied and staked as well," she says. "He went to look at it and realised that the tree has outgrown the structure and broken free."

She is looking forward to working closely with not just with him, but also the other artists from the region.

"I'm eager to see what exchanges and discussions will spark off, especially since all eight of us come from such different backgrounds and have such a diverse range of works."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 02, 2016, with the headline '3 Singaporeans picked for Steidl photobooks'. Print Edition | Subscribe