With the theme of Subculture, the Obscura Festival of Photography returns to Penang for its seventh edition this month.

Running from Aug 16–21, the main festival week will roll out at three major venues in George Town, Penang.

Works from over 30 artists will be put up at Hin Bus Depot, Cheah Kongsi and Soundmaker Studio along with several other participating spaces.

With a host of workshops and talks completed last month, and (photography) masterclasses happening now, it’s full swing ahead for Obscura.

The main festival will open on Aug 16 and include photo exhibitions, film screenings, a series of talks and workshops, nightly slideshow projections, portfolio reviews and gallery tours.

Many exhibitions and showcases will also continue to be accessible to the public until the end of the month.

With cowboys, ancestral forests and New York psychics on the cards, here is a handful of activities that visitors to the festival can look forward to.

The traditional dance kuda kepang is the subject of Alam (Tak) Nyata, a collaborative work by photographer Cheryl Hoffmann and writer Pauline Fan. Photo: Cheryl Hoffmann

Alam (Tak) Nyata
Where: Hin Bus Depot
31A, Jalan Gurdwara, George Town
When: Ends Aug 31
Surreal, strong and haunting images of the kuda kepang (dance) tradition take centre stage in this latest collaboration by Canadian-born American photographer Cheryl Hoffmann and writer Pauline Fan, who is also the creative director of Pusaka, a KL-based cultural organisation. The collection showcases snapshots of the Malay ritual performance and capture the tradition as a complex artistic expression. Having worked together for years, Malaysia-based Hoffman’s images and Fan’s haunting descriptions naturally intertwine with one another to capture the mystery and beauty of this traditional art form. Alam (Tak) Nyata will see a special live kuda kepang performance on Aug 16 at 8.45pm to mark the opening of the Obscura Festival.

Brisbane-based photographer and bookmaker Louis Lim’s workshop gives participants a chance to explore different ideas on making books.

Book Binding Workshop With Louis Lim
Where: The Nook Books & Coffee
4, Halaman Khoo Cheow Teong, George Town
When: Aug 21, 1pm – 4pm
Books. There’s so much to love about them: their content, promises of surprise and knowledge and that wonderful new book smell. So many of us love books, some of us have tried to write them but how many people have actually tried to physically bind a book? Brisbane-based photographer and bookmaker Louis Lim’s workshop gives participants a chance to explore different ideas on making books, the various possibilities in artist bookmaking and technical know-how in hand-binding techniques. It considers the complexity of design in bookmaking and gives those present the opportunity to look at books as sculptural objects that allow layers to unfold before the eye.
The workshop also contains a hands-on session where people can learn two basic book-binding techniques: pamphlet binding and kettle stitch binding. And yes, you’ll be taking home a self-made creation – a visual diary – that can serve as an inspiration for more handmade and homemade books to come. Fee: RM150.

Doyle’s project Delta Hill Riders about African American cowboys and cowgirls in the Mississippi Delta sheds light on an overlooked subculture – one that resists historical and present-day stereotypes. Photo: Rory Doyle

Delta Hill Riders
Where: Cheah Kongsi
8, Lebuh Armenian, George Town
When: Ends Aug 31
One has a certain mental image – likely akin to John Wayne on a horse – when one thinks of cowboys. However, in the mid-19th century just after the American Civil War, it is believed that up to one in four cowboys were African American. Cleveland, US-based photographer Rory Doyle is out to shed light on what he calls a “drastically underrepresented” population in popular culture with his exhibition Delta Hill Riders. This ongoing project, which won its maker the 16th Annual Smithsonian Photo Contest in April this year, started in January 2017 when Doyle attended a black heritage rodeo in Greenville, Mississippi. He has since been invited to black horse shows, trail rides, “Cowboy Nights” at black nightclubs across the Mississippi Delta, and into the homes of black cowboys across the region. “The body of work reveals how deep and diverse this community is. The project aims to press against my own old archetypes – who could and could not be a cowboy, and what it means to be black in Mississippi – while uplifting the voices of my subjects,” Doyle says about this work.

Satellite: Five Short Films From South-East Asia
Where: Hin Bus Depot
31A, Jalan Gurdwara, George Town, Pulau Pinang
When: Aug 19, 8pm
In artist and curator Lee Sydney’s latest project, five short films from the recent Satellite 2019: South-East Asian Short Films Screening have been selected for this Obscura Festival.
From Kiko – a blind, gay man in his 60s, living in the fast-urbanising City of Batangas in the Philippines – to Kai (Block 2-A-15), who’s experiencing his first day living in a sub-divided apartment in KL, the short films selected reveal everyday South-East Asian life and experiences in its diverse and unique forms. Be inspired by the film Naphu School For The Elderly, from Thailand, where learning begins at 60, and journey with Two Girls Against The Rain where love battles against adversity and the Khmer Rouge. In A Long Way Home, watch a Lao American come face-to-face with the country of his origin and people who look but not think like him.
With films ranging between 11mins and 19.5mins, this collection of shorts aims at generating interest in independent filmmaking. Reservations through Facebook.

Berlin-based photographer Wiedemann’s Grinders series zooms in the techno-anarchists who are working on  human/machine ‘experiments’ in small town America. Photo: Hannes Wiedemann

Grinders
Where: Hin Bus Depot
31A, Jalan Gurdwara, George Town, Pulau Pinang
When: Ends Aug 31
“Cyborgs” and “wearable technology” may be terms that we are increasingly coming across and we may be forgiven if we often put a shiny, futuristic glint on them. Berlin-based photographer Hannes Wiedemann, however, gives us another picture of the story by going deep into the rural towns of America where bodyhackers and techno-anarchists are working on fusing human and machine.
Developing their own devices and gadgets to implant into their bodies, Wiedemann’s work depicts images of their experiments and endeavours over a five-year period, from 2015 to 2019. His series, show these makeshift arrangements and close-up surgeries. Grinders, along with Bits And Pieces that looks at why Seoul is called the plastic surgery capital of the world, is part of Wiedemann’s The Wetware Projects series that focuses on where the ideas of enhancement are born.


For more information and the full schedule of the Obscura Festival of Photography, visit obscurafestival.com.