Book Review: Photography in Southeast Asia: A Survey

By Leonard Goh (freelance writer/Singapore)

At 445 pages long, this book offers one of the most comprehensive look into photography and its influential photographers in the region

Few books on the market address photography and photographers in South East Asia. Photography academic Zhuang Wubin’s latest book, Photography in Southeast Asia: A Survey, presents an in depth look into this area. For researchers it’s an absolute joy to read.

There are periodicals and books and history of photography in US, Europe and Japan. But with regard to South East Asia, few know about the history and the past/current influencers. Wubin’s book first address the overall look into this area. There are some interesting facts inside. For example, there is a superstition in Singapore in the 1970s, that by photographing someone, you will take away their soul. And this superstition could be traced back to the 1920s in China.

Further on, the book’s chapters are segregated by countries: Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Philippines.

What’s amazing is the amount of research Wubin put into each country’s writeup. They’ve all been given equal treatment, and you’ll be surprised to read how different, or similar, did photography advance in some of the countries. But this shouldn’t really be a surprise, considering that he spent the last decade putting all these materials together.

Other than listing and writing about the current influential photographers, Wubin had also put in up-and-coming photographers of the respective countries. This is particularly important because some of these photographers will, one day, lead the photography scene in their home region.

For some the book is not an easy read as it is so text heavy that one may require to spend a fair amount of time to read and digest the wealth of information. But for any students who are looking for such information, Wubin’s book is a treasure trove that’s waiting to divulge its stories.

Photography in Southeast Asia: A Survey can be purchased from the publisher’s website (below) for S$48.


Leonard Goh

Leonard is an advocate of photography in Singapore and also an educator in this field. He has served as senior writer for the now-defunct CNET Asia, before moving on to working for various camera companies in the business development and marketing capacities. He is also a co-founder of Platform, a not-for-profit photography initiative in Singapore which also published Twentyfifteen, a collection of 20 books to commemorate Singapore’s Golden Jubilee (SG50).

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