A cross-cultural photography workshop experience

I just finished teaching a particularly fascinating workshop in Singapore through an organization called Objectifs. In my best workshops, and this was one, I learned as much as I taught.

Two Singaporean photographers, who are graduates of the University of Pennsylvania, founded Objectifs in 2003. As it says on their site, Objectifs “offers a space for all photography and filmmaking enthusiasts to learn and share.” Both times I have taught here (the first being in 2004) the students were incredibly hard workers who grew creatively.

They were enthusiastic about our shared journey and gave me great feedback: “This was a very interesting, productive and inspiring course. It was great to learn so much in such a short space of time. These 4 days will surely rate as one of the happiest for 2008!” Another wrote: “This was one of the best I’ve taken. I’m really encouraged by the progress I made. I’m excited to see where this project will go and you will most certainly be the first to hear about it.”

Much of their best work (like the work in better photo-essays) explores and counters stereotypes. I was reminded of this throughout my time in Singapore, a city-state stereotyped as cold, clinical, and a “nanny state.” Like last time I was here, I found the place far more interesting than the stereotypes. This is partly because the students took me places, photographing together, that I would have never gone to on my own. Also, they were remarkably willing to criticize (and complement) the government and the collective culture here.

Singapore fascinates me because of the stereotypes on one hand, and yet the whole thing “works” incredibly well, on the other hand. The students in my class acknowledge both sides, but also told me in great detail how things are done here to make both sides of the coin possible.

A similar experience is available to anyone who regularly keeps an eye on the Objectifs web site: www.objectifs.com.sg. When your interests, the teachers of Objectifs, and the dates align, sieze the opportunity to take a class. You will see the country and culture from an insider’s point of view with the encouragement of your Singaporean classmates who are smart, generous and welcoming.

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