Pujangga mengatakan mata adalah pintu kepada hati. Tetapi wajah atau rupa merupakan pintu kepada karakter peribadi pemunya wajah tersebut. Malah ia mungkin biasa membawa anda menjelajah keseluruh kehidupannya hanya dengan memandang wajah seseorang. Ada garis kedut yang mewakili kesedihan, sinar mata yang sayu mungkin menyimpam seribu rindu. Untuk berdekad lamanya para pengkarya dari lapangan lukisan menjadikan potret sebagai salah satu mahakarya agung mereka. Bagi Steven Lee potret merupakan gambaran pertama untuk mengenali nilai kemanusiaan. Kuala Lumpur Photoawards (KLPA) yang sudah dianjurkan sejak 2011 bukan calang pertandingan. Disenaraikan sebagai salah satu dari 35 pertandingan foto antarabangsa berprestij, KLPA dilihat akan menjadi pertandingan tahunan yang ditunggu oleh komuniti artis/fotografer antarabangsa.
Can you tell me little bit about yourself?
I started as a photographer in the late 90s writing travel articles and photographing for local lifestyle publications and also shot fashion in London where I am based now. Over the last 20 years, I have been a wedding and portrait photographer, as well as involved in education – running workshops, portfolio reviews and presentations at international photography festivals.
What motivates you to start KLPA?
I wanted to promote good portraiture to SE Asian photographers especially Malaysian photographers. Many local photographers have technical skills but cannot photograph with deeper conviction, to inform the public with essential stories.
How is KLPA is different compare to other photo competition?
KLPA only focusses on contemporary portraiture. We prefer to promote a high standard of the craft and to reach out to the wider photo community around the world. Also, we do not encourage images that are over process or manipulated, or select purely on aesthetics or popular themes.
What makes you fascinate about portrait photography?
I have always believed that portrait photography can reflect the society in deeper ways, by engaging the viewer and the subject, a skill only a good photographer can achieve. Knowing and learning about people’s personal stories are important for humanity as it will make us more aware of the world around us.
Who have you discovered in recent years that you found particularly exciting?
There are many photographers I have come across, from photojournalists to fine art portrait photographers. Some names like Fabio Bucciarelli, Lotta Van Droom, Margaret Mitchell, Patrick Wack and many more!
Do you consider what the public reaction might be before selecting the winner?
The selections are done by the judges so I don’t have any say on what they select. In general, no they do not consider the public reaction unless the image is highly controversial.
Can you walk us through the selections process from the beginning?
The early rounds are elimination ones – so a clear yes or no. Then we narrow down the numbers to around 100 or so, which will be decided with majority votes. Finally, the last 40 finalists will be chosen, and the judges will begin supporting their own choices, again through discussions, sometimes heated and intense, until the final winners are fixed. We usually do the selection process in a closed meeting room over a long weekend in Kuala Lumpur around May. This year it was not possible to meet due to the travel restrictions, so we did it through online platforms, with 3 sessions over 3 weekends. It was not easy.
Have it occurred to you that you might be missing a potential talent while revisiting competition archived?
Yes, always! I have my personal favourites but if they are not selected then I have to accept it. That’s just how the process of contests are – they are subjective but I hope our judges are using their informed subjectivities to make good decisions.
Can you share some success stories from the winner, as KLPA may their first breakthrough?
Winning KLPA is a success story in itself as the standards are quite high I would like to think. Many winners and finalists go on to also win other international awards like World Press Photo etc. Luca Sage won KLPA 2011 first prize with his image Ivory Coast United and went on to subsequently win other competitions with the same image in the same year. Also with Carlo Gianferro with his project on Roma Interiors.
What makes one image stand out more than another?
There is no formula for determining this! However, some pointers are – emotional attachment, curiosity, story and the engaging image.
How do you finance your project/competition? Do you have any revenues?
KLPA is totally financed via entry fees. We do not have any financial sponsors but we work with venues, printers and other partners.
Any chance KLPA might shift from portraits to other genres in the future?
One year we did run an Open category and was very successful – but I thought I must keep to the original focus of promoting and rewarding portraiture. So the answer is no. That way we will be seen as being consistent and also improving KLPA’s status amongst the Top 35 recommended contests in the world by World Photography Organisation from 2017 onwards.
What kind of collaborations do you offer to the jury? How is working with different jury shapes the outcome of the competition?
It is important, in my view to have our entries seen and winners are chosen by a different set of judges every year so that we are not influenced by a fixed ‘gaze’. Also, the jury consists of the majority of locally-based experts and one or two selected from the international community. This reflects the Asian viewpoint as well since KLPA is an Asian award.
What do you think of the development of photography in terms of talent growths particularly in Malaysia and this region in general?
Malaysia is still lacking in-depth, unfortunately, from serious photography works in documentary and portraiture genres, but I am seeing very good projects in recent years becoming visible in the international circuit and festivals.