Meet OpenWalls judge Vignes Balasingam, founder and director of the OBSCURA Festival of Photography

Vignes Balasingam has juried the POPCAP Prize for African Contemporary Photography, the Kuala Lumpur Photo Awards, and Travel Photographer Asia, and is now lending his judging expertise to OpenWalls

Vignes Balasingam has an staggeringly extensive CV. His foremost position is as founder and director of OBSCURA Festival of Photography in Malaysia. Through the five editions of the festival, he has curated over 40 exhibitions, featuring both international and Malaysian photographers, and incorporating works by multi-award winning photographers.

Alongside this, Vignes has produced and co-edited Ian Teh’s third photographic monograph, Confluence, and has served as Executive Director for We Will Have Been Young, a year-long travelling exhibition and book publication featuring 12 emerging artists from Southeast Asia. He is also a renowned educator, and is presently appointed as a mentor for the Masters in Photography programme at the Photography Studies College in Melbourne, Australia. A long-serving judge and curator, Vignes will be bringing his unique experience as one of Malaysia’s key industry experts to the first edition of OpenWalls.

OBSCURA Festival of Photography 2017

What are some of the most notable exhibitions you’ve curated at OBSCURA?

I’ve had the opportunity to work with many internationally renowned artists through the festival, but the most exciting and rewarding experiences always revolve around the work I curate from the region, especially from younger and emerging artists. Young people have a very different way of seeing the world, and translating that world through the medium of photography. Their work is often fragile and unsure of itself, and yet they produce some of the most unique and powerful imagery. I really enjoyed working on We Will Have Been Young, a group exhibition by 12 emerging Southeast Asian artists, exploring the themes of youth and the future.

What excites you most about the OpenWalls award?

There is an amazing opportunity for diversity in representation of work, and I really hope that artists from lesser-represented parts of the world like Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Micronesia, the Middle East and Central America will submit for this amazing award. This is a tremendous opportunity for artists, jury and organisers alike to look forward to seeing complexly diverse submissions and final exhibition.

OBSCURA Festival of Photography

What are you expecting the response to be to the theme ‘Home & Away’? What sorts of images do you hope to see?

Home & Away is a wonderful theme for an award, as it opens up all forms of possibilities around the idea of ‘home’. Home & Away can be read as either the physicality of a home or the tracing of the trajectory away from it. It can also represent the outward and inward journey of spirit and a state of mind. There are also, naturally, contemporary issues on migration and older themes in the aspect of diaspora. The theme leaves a lot of room for different approaches of photography – from narrative form to more conceptual work.

What advice would you give to photographers submitting work to the award?

Carefully read the rules and guidelines as this helps you understand what the judging panel will be looking for. Pay close attention to what photos you select from your work for the submission, and get reliable help in the editing of the work for submission – sometimes a critical second pair of eyes makes all the difference.

What do you think the benefits are of entering photography awards?

You are able to open up your work to a diverse audience who may otherwise not see your work. This is especially important for artists who are not from the region of the competition, and is also a good opportunity to get your work in front of a jury of curators, editors, and festival directors, who may be looking for new artists and work to show, represent or propose projects to. This is also a great way to network with other artists who may make the final cut with you.

OBSCURA Festival of Photography