Surprise winner for richest photo award

SINGAPORE - A 23-year-old fresh graduate is the surprise winner of Singapore's richest photography award.

Sarah Choo, who graduated from the Nanyang Technological University, beat seven shortlisted photographers including some prominent names, to win the $30,000 Icon de Martell Cordon Bleu 2013. The annual prize, now in its fourth edition, recognises Singapore's outstanding photographers based on a body of work. It is launched by the world's oldest cognac house, Martell.

Choo was picked by a five-member jury led by French curator of photography, Agnes de Gouvion Saint-Cyr, who used to be with the French Ministry of Culture. The other jury members included internationally renowned Magnum photographer Gueorgui Pinkhassov as well as Mr Venka Purushothaman, provost, Lasalle College of the Arts.

The awards were given out last Thursday night at Chan Hampe Galleries at Raffles Hotel by Nominated Member of Parliament Janice Koh.

Saint-Cyr, 68, president of the jury, said the submissions "reflected a range of photographic styles and genres. It was interesting to see how diverse Singapore photography is on Friday and the submissions opened up interesting new discoveries".

Choo's series of work explored issues of identity and acceptance by portraying the act of acquiring possessions.

She was the winner of the Highly Commended Award in the 2007 UOB Painting of the Year Competition and has exhibited locally and internationally. She will be studying for a master's in fine arts at the UCL Slade School of Fine Art in London.

Mr Purushothaman, 48, said her images "signal the future of photography where the line between different media is blurred. What stood out for me was her approach to her work".

He called it "multi-disciplinary" as she fuses moving and still images, painting and performance to achieve her final artwork - the photograph".

"While her approach is multi-disciplinary, for Sarah the final artwork is the photographic image. Her strong artistic vision is clearly evident in her work and the novel photographic language she possesses expresses the theme of solitude and isolation poignantly and eloquently."

Ms Charmaine Leung, 40, a jury member and marketing director of Pernod Ricard Singapore, which distributes Martell, said Choo's work stood out as it brought together "different media and art forms".

"She weaves together elements from the classical tradition of painting and photography, and also from video and performance art. It is the manner in which she successfully brings all these elements together through her skilful execution of the photograph that has won her the top prize."

Two photographers Darren Soh, 37, and Sim Chi Yin, 34, bagged the Discernment Award, which comes with a cash prize of $8,000. Beijing-based former Straits Times correspondent Sim also bagged the People's Choice Award which comes with a cash prize of $1,000. She is known for her work on social issues in China and South-east Asia.

Independent photographer Soh is interested in architectural and landscape photography.

In one of the images, he evocatively captured the last train leaving the Tanjong Pagar Station for Malaysia on the night of June 30.

Other contenders for this year's award included photographers as well as multidisciplinary artists, Alecia Neo, 27, Dawn Ng, 31, Liana Yang, 35, Ore Huiying, 31, and Tan Ngiap Heng, 47.

The judging was done based on portfolios submitted to the jury. It was not based entirely on the video compositions which were presented in the gallery and on the Icon de Martell Cordon Bleu website.

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