Invisible Photographer Asia: Opening the shutters on street photography in Asia

Invisible Photographer Asia: Opening the shutters on street photography in Asia

Online photography platform Invisible Photographer Asia is giving street photography in Asia a newfound visibility and buzz

A Hindu devotee prepares for the festival of Thaipusam, marked by rituals of pain, by piercing his entire chest and abdomen with small hooks.

In the freezing Beijing winter a man stands in only his underwear by an icy pool of water.

At a Workers’ Party rally during the recent Singapore general elections, a party supporter wears a hard hat festooned with a towering arrangement of party flags and banners, while, separately, another member of the crowd holds a giant hammer, the party’s symbol, that says “500kgs.”

Capturing a historical moment in time at the Singapore General Elections. Such are the candid photos of street photographer Kevin WY Lee, who launched street photography and visual journalism online platform Invisible Photographer Asia (IPA) -- invisiblephotographer.asia -- in April 2010.

It publishes photo essays, street photography, documentary photography and videos, and pieces of visual journalism on its website, and covers Asia from end to end, from Turkmenistan to Vietnam.

Since it started IPA has grown rapidly, basically through word-of-mouth and online referrals. To give an idea of where it’s at, a street photography contest IPA is running through the end of June attracted a stunning 3,000 entries from all over the continent.

The pieces depicted on its website are real, beautiful, sometimes raw -- photo essays such as “Sequence of Drugs” by Hajime Kimura flesh out the painful life of junkies in Kolkata -- and speak volumes about a situation, a culture, people and life.

Captured, a Chinese curio dealer in Beijing. “Asia has a lot to offer, and there are more and more Asian photographers and works emerging,” says Lee. “The Philippines and Indonesia are hotbeds for great documentary photographers at the moment.”

“We feature non-Asian photographers who work in Asia too. It was difficult when we were new and unheard of, but has gotten easier as we become more established.”

For Lee, running a platform like IPA is obviously a labor of love, juggling this with his role as Creative Director of brand communication and design agency Spoon Creative.

“Our mid-term goals will be to look at ways we can grow and engage our community beyond the online platform," says Lee "and most importantly, bring more visibility to emerging Asian photographers and their work.”

A happy couple pose for some wedding shots at Beijing's Summer Palace. While IPA is no Getty Images, it is giving many street and documentary photographers exposure.

“We certainly bring any photographer we feature to a broader audience,” says Lee, “so the opportunity to be discovered is there.”

But IPA doesn’t try and sell its photographers, and clearly makes a point to not operate like a photo library.

“[All we do is] feature the photographers and their work, along with a link to their website -- anyone who wants to work with the photographers can contact and negotiate with them directly,” says Lee.

The late French photojournalist Henri Cartier-Bresson, famously wrote in his highly-praised book “The Mind’s Eye”:

“To photograph is to hold one’s breath, when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality. It’s at that precise moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy.”

He also wrote, “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”

And it’s precisely the spirit exhibited by IPA, in a most pure and spirited form.

Elaine Ee writes about Singapore, the city she lives in, covering the arts, events, personalities and social issues. Her stories have appeared in Time Out SingaporeTatler HomesFood & Travel and Jetstar Asia. She’s also an editor at publichouse.sg, a Singapore community-driven website run by socially conscious denizens. When she’s not at her laptop, she practises Bikram yoga, spends time with her three kids and makes it a point to keep trying something new. 

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