150 years of Southeast Asian photography at the National Gallery Singapore

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There is no doubt that photography is one of the most accessible mediums of our time. It is even more prevalent with the proliferation of smartphone cameras and social media. Beyond simply capturing moments from our daily lives, photography shapes our vision of the world and of ourselves. This is highlighted in a new exhibition of Southeast Asian photography at the National Gallery in Singapore in December.

Living Pictures: Photography in Southeast Asia is a fascinating and innovative survey of photography in the region. It highlights 150 years of photography in the region, tracing the functions and influences of this fascinating visual medium.

The exhibition presents the evolution and the diversified presentation of some 300 works. It offers a perspective of history presented through colonial archival footage, studio portraits, and documentary photographs in photo albums. It also includes social media photos and modern offline and online interventions.

Visitors can expect courtly photos of Thai royalty by one of Asia’s premier photographers and Vietnam War photographs by the late Singaporean journalist Terence Khoo. There are also images from former Associated Press photographer Nick Ut, who photographed Napalm Girl (1972), and internationally acclaimed British photographer Don McCullin.

Beginning with photography’s first arrival in Southeast Asia in the mid-1800s, the exhibition will show how photography got its start as a tool for European exploration before taking on a more local and cosmopolitan perspective in through studio photography.

Widely employed to spark discussion of social issues, capture historical events, snapshots of daily life and the realities of wars, photography has also played a role in the development of visual culture in Southeast Asia.

Beyond the pictures

A departure from the usual photography exhibitions, Living Pictures presents its photos in a variety of modes and mediums. This includes an immersive 3D installation by Vietnamese artist Dinh Q Lê that includes over 500 individual photographs. There is also a retail store selling photo postcards to take home as souvenirs.

Visitors can also jump into photo booths and zine-making zones to boost their creative freedom. They can also chat live with four notable photographers from the region – Nguan, Shwe Wutt Hmon, Veejay Villafranca and Agan Harahap – on the Gallery’s Instagram page.

Living Pictures: Photography in Southeast Asia will be on view at National Gallery Singapore’s Singtel Special Exhibition Gallery from December 2, 2022 to August 20, 2023.

(Images: National Gallery of Singapore)

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