Visitor numbers up at Singapore International Photography Festival

An Ocean Of Possibilities. -- PHOTO: ROBERT ZHAO RENHUI
An Ocean Of Possibilities. -- PHOTO: ROBERT ZHAO RENHUI
Thebookshow at the Singapore International Photography Festival is a showcase of self-published books and zines by artists and photographers. PHOTOS: ONG WEE JIN, BERND AND HILLA BECHER, ROBERT ZHAO RENHUI

With its own home this year, the Singapore International Photography Festival has come into its own.

The festival hang-out, named Deck, is made up of 19 shipping containers stacked together. A prominent landmark in Prinsep Street, it has helped the biennial festival that is in its fourth edition deepen its engagement with audiences here, says festival director Gwen Lee.

While Ms Lee, 38, will announce attendance figures only after the two-month-long event ends on Nov 30, she says it has exceeded expectations of 90,000 festivalgoers. Audience numbers for the festival have grown consistently, from 20,000 visitors in the inaugural edition in 2008, which lasted just three weeks, to 60,000 people at the last festival in 2012, which ran for six weeks.

Undergraduate Lu Shi Jia, 21, who is a student at the School of Art, Design and Media at Nanyang Technological University, is among the first-time visitors to the festival this year.

She says: "It is a good chance for budding photographers like myself to see works by photographers from overseas, get inspiration and to know the industry better."

Ms Lee, who also runs the Singapore-based contemporary art photography gallery 2902, attributes the new faces at the festival to its various partnerships and community outreach programmes.

She says: "Last month, the festival education team conducted educational tours and hands-on activities for 390 students and we are receiving more school bookings."

It also helps that key exhibitions, such as the festival's Open Call showcase at the National Museum and Deck, and AfterImage: Contemporary Photography From Southeast Asia at the Singapore Art Museum annexe at 8 Queen Street, are free.

The price of the festival pass has also been reduced. In 2012, the pass, which gave access to activities that had a total ticket value of $190, was priced at $100. This year, it is priced at $50 and offers admission to activities such as talks and film screenings which are worth $216 in total.

Ms Lee says the revision is due to the feedback it received. "We realised the previous price point deterred students from purchasing passes." For students, the pass is priced at $30 this year.

Watch writer V.L. Kong, 45, who is a hobbyist photographer and who has been attending the festival since its start, says: "The pass is well worth the money. The Deck has to be paid for by something and $50 is a small sum to help this festival take off."

The festival is an independent, not-for-profit endeavour by

Ms Lee and a team from the local photography community. She says the festival, including the construction of the Deck, cost about $700,000 this year and the bulk of its financing comes from sponsorship, donations, crowd-funding and ticket sales.

Although overall attendance has risen, Ms Lee says there have been festival events that were "less well-received", including talks on niche topics such as the history of Polish photobooks.

"The photography audience here comes from all walks of lives but we observe that, often, the conversation focuses on equipment and general photography skills and techniques. The understanding of photography is still young in this nation," she says.

There remain, however, opportunities for the conversation to deepen after the festival ends. The Deck will continue to host photography exhibitions and workshops, and make available resources such as photobooks.

Looking ahead, Ms Lee says: "For the next festival in 2016, we hope to introduce a photography award and kick-start a series on photobook publications in South-east Asia."

Festival highlights


This show is a tribute to conceptual photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher who, in the 1950s, developed a unique documentary approach to photography by systematically photographing industrial buildings and structures according to categories of forms and designs. Photos by this husband-and-wife duo were minimalist and were of an unfamiliar aesthetic then, which challenged viewers. This show also considers how the Bechers' work has created new possibilities in photography for contemporary photographers in Asia and features work by artists such as Indonesia's Akiq Aw and Singapore's Ang Song Nian.

Where: Festival Village at the Deck, 116 Prinsep Street

When: Till Nov 30, noon to 7pm (Tuesday to Sunday), closed on Monday

Admission: Free


This shipping container turned life-size camera obscura - a dark room where images from the exterior are projected inside through a hole - hosts a range of photography workshops, including hands-on sessions introducing the fundamentals of analogue photography and darkroom printing.

Where: SAM at 8Q, 8 Queen Street

When: Till Nov 30, various timings (weekend). For details, go to

Admission: $25 to $45 from


Presented in partnership with the Noorderlicht International Photofestival in the Netherlands, the show was first exhibited at the Fries Museum in Leeuwarden, Netherlands, from August to last month. It features more than 200 works, including photographs and videos, by 34 photographers from 21 countries. The works, such as Robert Zhao Renhui's A Guide To Flora And Fauna Of The World, were chosen from an open call process that drew more than 1,000 submissions. Works in the show examine how people have set out to realise a better future amid economic and political failings.

Where: ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands

When: Till Dec 28, 10am to 7pm daily, last admission at 6pm

Admission: $6 (adult), $3 (child, aged two to 12), $1 off for residents, and $4 (adult) for festival pass holders

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