Today we are sitting down with second year Bachelor of Photography student Alex Mclaren to hear about his experience of the Obscura Festival of Photography and what he learned from such a unique festival.
How was Obscura?
The trip was great, it was a really good experience not only in terms of participating in the workshop and the practical side of it but also an opportunity to work with fellow students in a social environment that nurtured a certain camaraderie.
Did you learn anything about yourself/photography?
I learnt a lot just through experience. Being taught by a renowned internationally working artist helped me to learn how to look at my work in new ways, and think about visual language from someone from a different cultural background. This helped me consider how my work can be viewed outside of my Melbourne bubble.
What was your favourite moment?
It's hard to pin point any moments in particular but one highlight was jumping on a random bus in the city and riding it to the end of the line with no idea where it would take us. We ended up driving through the non tourist areas and got to see people living their daily lives outside of the backpacker region of Georgetown. The bus ended up taking us to Penang Hill, inevitably a tourist hotspot that overlooked the city and had lots of corny tourist moments but was extremely fun, all whilst in the search of photographs of course.
Who was your workshop teacher?
My workshop teacher was Wawi Navarozza, an artist/photographer from the Phillipines who was taught by one of my favourite photographers Martin Parr. She has studied and exhibited abroad and was a great mentor. She understood my approach and helped me to hone in on visual links and queues that elevated the work to a level I wouldn’t have reached on my own. It was also wonderful to have someone who didn’t always tell you what you may have wanted to hear, which is vital for growing as a photographer, as you can figure out what you need to do to improve.
Did it change your perception of Malaysia or photography?
I had little to no preconceived ideas about Malaysia so it was one big experience that has given me insight into another culture that I may perhaps never have visited on my own terms, simply because I didn’t know a lot about the place. The people in Malaysia are extremely friendly and I only had good experiences, the food is extremely cheap and delicious.
During the workshop you created a series of work, was was it about?
My series was concerned with the reality of travelling and tourism and how tourism industry compares with the expectation one develops when visiting another part of the world and the moments that occur that may be underwhelming and banal.
How did you arrive at this idea?
I am working on a series as part of our photobook assignment which is basically centred on the same feeling and mood, so I chose to shoot something that would still represent this concept but link to my book. It was a way of building on that concept in an unfamiliar environment.
What were some of the challenges you faced?
Although the workshop was fantastic and Wawi guided me in developing the series to another level, a big thing I learnt was that you have to own your work and take authorship. Take advice from other people, consider it and see how other artists and photographers respond to your work. Take note, but always trust your own instinct. Don’t let the work become someone else’s take on your photography if it doesn’t reflect your overall intent. So that was a lesson I’m very thankful to have learnt, and I feel like I made the right decision in trusting my own intuition.
To see more of Alex's work, follow him on Instagram