By: Valerie Oliveiro
Photography is an attempt to be truthful. I say this with regards to my practice which questions the use of the photographic document in contemporary art.” – Robert Zhao
At 25, full-time artist Robert Zhao is a well-known photographer who loves animals. “My practice investigates the different modes of the human zoological gaze, that is, how people view animals,” he mentions in his artist statement. ArtZine chats with Robert Zhao, who is not only an exhibiting photographer at the Singapore International Photography Festival this year but is also a volunteer at the festival.
What prompted you to volunteer for SIPF?
It is the inaugural event which I feel is important for the growth of photography in all its forms here in Singapore.
What are you helping with at the Festival?
I am proud to say that I have hanged and mounted almost all the photographs with other volunteers, Songnian and Honghui. I am part of the logistics team.
Favourite pieces of the Festival?
International photographer: Kornrit’s Worry and Love is a conceptually sound piece of work and challenges the viewer to re-interpret conventional ways of looking at the photographs.
Singaporean photographer: I like Ho Hui May’s work as well. Her exploration into urban spaces produces a contemporary aesthetic mixed with historical facts. It may also be because her work is exhibited beside mine currently at the Praxis space, Lasalle. It may also be because in one of her images in which I will remember for a long time to come, there is a bird in a cupboard. My work often deals with how animals are portrayed in our urban society and this image always feels me with a sense of loss, wonder and intrigued.
What have you learnt as a volunteer at the Festival?
A volunteer is very important for Festivals like this.
Any memorable experience you’ve had while preparing for the Festival?
I think the overall experience had been very meaningful to all of us. We are still half-way through the festival and I’m sure there are more memorable experiences coming up along the way.
What would you like to see at the future SIPF’s?
I think the future SIPF should have a stronger theme-based curatorial process to showcase emerging contemporary trends in South-east Asian photography. As other festivals in the region are very much documentary based, the SIPF has the potential to become a critical dialogue on the current and emerging trends of photography in our region and serve not only as a platform but also a pivoting point for photography.
View Robert Zhao’s collection on display at LASALLE College of the Arts, 1 McNally Street, Block F, Level 2, Room 202 from now till October 31.