Above: A windy day on Phu Quoc Island’s palm-fringed Bai Sao beach, in Vietnam.
An upcoming photo exhibition in Jakarta presents a portfolio of evocative Asian images
Since 1991, British photographer Martin Westlake, a long-standing contributor to the pages of DestinAsian, has traveled throughout Asia on magazine assignments and personal projects. To celebrate 20 years of his work in the region, Jakarta’s Dia.lo.gue Artspace is hosting a retrospective exhibition of his images entitled “Eastward: Photographs 1991â€“2011” (Oct. 20â€“Nov. 20; Jl. Kemang Selatan 99A; 62-21/719-9671; dialogue-artspace.com).
From Beijing’s Forbidden City to the volcanic terrain of Westlake’s home base of Java, the selected photographs document people and places in a part of the world that has changed rapidly over the last two decades. Rendered in muted, painterly tones, many of the pictures have a strong hint of nostalgia to themâ€”a yearning for an Asia that is fast disappearing, and a longing for a return to the photographic techniques of the past. The use of black-and-white Polaroid film and lith-printing darkroom processes is reminiscent of an earlier era of image-making, recalling the craft and aesthetic of the Victorian pioneers of travel photography.
Similar to those 19th-century lensmen, Westlake opted to carry a large-format plate camera on most of his journeys. The ungainly device, more suited to the studio than the field, calls for a slow and meticulous approach to image-making. “This style of shooting gives me more time to observe and to get to know the people I photograph; I’m not just snapping away,” Westlake says. “It also gives my subjects a chance to participate more in the photography process itself.”
Surprisingly in today’s digital era, all of the photographs on exhibition, including the most recent materials, have been shot on film, and have been unaltered in Photoshop. “Though I’ve used digital cameras more and more in recent yearsâ€”it’s an inescapable evolution of the craftâ€”I still prefer the look and feel of film,” Westlake adds. “Pixels have their place, but there’s nothing quite like an old-school print.” â€”David Tse
Originally appeared in the October/November 2011 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Eastern Promise”)