Past Summer & Spring LABs Summer LAB 2019

Visual Anthropology & Journalism Masterclass: Obscura Festival


Duration: 1 to 9 August (Masterclass) and 16 to 18 August (Festival), 2019

Project Instructors: Tom White and Ian Teh, in partnership with the Obscura Festival of Photography

This Visual Anthropology LAB was developed by Yale-NUS instructor Tom White in partnership with documentary photographer Ian Teh, working alongside Vignes Balasingham, Director of the Obscura Festival of Photography.

For the first run of this LAB in 2018, photographer Louis Lim from the Queensland College of Art joined Ian and Tom in the mentorship team. In 2019, Ian and Tom were joined by Gareth Richards and Bettina Chua, co-founders of the Hikayat art space in Penang (among many varied activities), writer and educator Adeline Chua, and audio engineer Rowen S. Nirmal.

Drawing on the wealth of experience each of these mentors bring, the programme rapidly developed into an evolving masterclass in photographic storytelling, visual literacy, and critical writing. The primary goal of the programme was to equip participants with the tools to create sophisticated stories and develop their technical skills and practical experience using a combination of anthropological and journalistic disciplines. This was achieved through analysis of research-based storytelling approaches, styles and concepts, as well as in-class and field-based assignments.

The mentorship team used an iterative methodology grounded in participatory pedagogy, using ongoing critiques with instructors and peers to explore emergent themes of the photographic projects,  all of which were relevant to the community in which participants were working in. These critiques also allowed each participant to bring their unique voice, vision, and individuality to the process of conceptualising, producing, and editing a vibrant portfolio. These portfolios were presented in the form of a public slideshow during the Obscura Festival of Photography in Penang, Malaysia to an audience that included photography, media and art industry professionals. Participants attended the festival over a weekend visit and took part in portfolio reviews, artist talks, exhibition walks and networking sessions. Their projects were also presented in a hand-made photo book in 2018, exhibitions in the Queensland College of Art in Australia and The Objectifs Centre in Singapore, and a “zine” publication in 2019.

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  • For myself, this masterclass embraces the trans-disciplinary nature of a liberal arts education. The partnership gives students across the majors the opportunity to work on in-depth research-based documentary arts projects in an intensive masterclass environment which aims to simulate the professional environment. With facilitators working alongside students to generate rather than transfer knowledge, we encourage this collaborative space as one that speaks to the pedagogical strengths at the heart of the liberal arts model. For me personally, seeing participants’ work evolve throughout the masterclass as we build the structures on which we can expand the horizons of their creativity is an immensely satisfying challenge.

    Tom White
    Instructor of Humanities (Documentary, Photojournalism and Visual Communication)

  • The LAB programme was well-organised, offering ample opportunities to engage with very experienced mentors culminating in a chance to exhibit amongst professional photographers in at the Obscura festival. I enjoyed how it challenged us to think more critically about photographs, the narratives they construct, and how they function as a tools for exploration. Overall, I had a fruitful and memorable experience and would strongly recommend to anyone looking to explore photography as a medium further!

    Eddie Lim
    Class of 2022

  • The LAB was one of the most memorable experiences I have ever had as I had the freedom to do my own documentary project while receiving valuable feedback from our mentors Tom White and Ian Teh, and I was put in many situations out of my comfort zone like going out to sea with the fishermen I was documenting. I would go for this LAB again if I could!

    Ashbel Chioh
    Class of 2022