The Print Room in Kuala Lumpur is a photographers studio with darkroom facilities and an exhibition space. I met director and founder Paul Gadd, a British photographer in June of this year, and was excited with the prospect of an independent space close to my new residence in KL. Sadly I was to find out from Paul that the upcoming exhibition, Fin, would be the final one at The Print Room, which will still remain a private space to hire and utilise as Paul will focus more of his time in Seoul, Korea.
Fin is a retrospective of the best work from each of the 11 group exhibitions and 5 solo exhibitions from the last 8 years, along with some previously unseen work and test prints (Gadd, 2019). There is also an area dedicated to the work of Paul’s friend and protege Shareem Amry, who sadly passed away in July 2019.
Being a retrospective of multiple artists, professionals and hobbyists, the work varies from documentary, fine art, landscape, photogram, still-life and tableau with a mix of abstraction, manipulation and straight photography. Beyond the chronology of the exhibition history, the exhibition is ultimately a celebration of film photography and traditional printing. It marks a change for me to attend a more standard exhibition about the craft of the medium as opposed to a focus upon ideas. It reminds me of my own appreciation and experience with the art of printing which is closer to the East Asian landscape work I have produced outside of the OCA.
With such a wide variance of interesting curated themes, it takes a while to filter down what I was drawn to after the initial aesthetic appeal. There are a few interesting documentary prints of a Japanese metro sign and the standout image Birdman of Pudu (2012).
In Body (2014) the chroma print Red 29 (Gadd, 2014) stands out in terms of vibrance and scale. The multi exposure series is unique to Paul’s body of work. While the opaqueness of Birth #1 by Korean photographer Wong Shung Yen reminds me of the work by fellow Korean, Min Byunghun. Another of Paul’s students and frequent user of the space, Linda Chin was present when I visited. Her work tends to focus on the female form and has a sense of erotica. While her seascape Light in my Darkness/I Will Rise (Chin, 2015) is a mixture of two images meeting at the horizon. A similar approach is in works such as A Storm Coming (Chin, 2017) which has elements of surrealism.
With a background in fashion photography and such a broad portfolio of work it was fascinating to talk to Paul further. He described his more recent still-life work as a collection from fairyland. His fairyland being the gardens of The Print Room. Paul says “Fairyland is make believe so you can make anything from nothing”. The collages contain fresh fruits, insects and dead animals all found on site. Each negative is expressed upon and manipulated before the final print is processed. In some ways Paul bucks the current trend in photography, which is to be less about the image space. And his dedication to film is evident in that his cameras are the same ones he used when graduating in photography 25 years ago.
It is a great pity that an independent photography space such as this will be closing its doors, and it will be a loss for me, as Kuala Lumpur is much more commercially leaning, without a strong cultural sector presence. But having met Paul a few times I was able to take some inspiration on the multidisciplinary nature of his own work and the space, darkroom and workshops he offered. A photographer today needs to be more than a person with a camera. Other skills such as research, writing, teaching, and curating, all become potential roles that can be undertaken and can feed back into personal practice. And yet, Paul offers a reminder that the photographer can still learn by exploring craft as much as information.