ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu, Singapore’s most prestigious photography award, made its debut at the National Museum of Singapore. Into its fifth edition, ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu is inspired by the founding principles of the house of Martell – creativity, independence and the pursuit of excellence, and is a celebration of individuals who shares these same values.

Wandering through the real spaces of the National Museum of Singapore is a breather and respite from scrolling square cropped Instagrams. In an increasing age of social media and virtual reality, film and print photography have seen a backseat. Recognized as a premier photography award in Singapore, ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu returns for the fifth time, making its first appearance in the white-washed spaces of National Museum of Singapore. Exhibited in Stamford Gallery, alongside the ongoing Singapore Night Festival 2014, the winner is in the details.

This year’s exhibition is centered in the close attention to details, the nitty gritty and the intricacy behind the process of photography. Sharing the philosophy between Martell’s cognac making process, seven photographers’ body of works have been carefully and meticulously selected to vie for the top prize of $30,000. The nominees, coming from a large demographic, are Ang Song Nian, Eugene Soh, Jeannie Ho, Ken Cheong, Lavender Chang, Neo Xiaobin and Wilfred Lim.

Neo Xiaobin, 9/11 (2011)

Neo Xiaobin, 9/11 (2011)

Winner of the ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu 2014 award

One particular draw is Neo Xiaobin’s subdued body of photographs. A Strait Times photojournalist by trade, she has vacillated and moved from places to places – from Mynamar, Nepal, Timor-Leste to Indonesia and China. Maybe, the necessity of her job has exposed her to an eclectic mix of people and compelled a strong desire and insatiable curiosity to learn about the people and their lives. With a strong eye for composition, her series of ‘Shattered Dreams’ are quiet, yet convex and perfervid in its narrative and appeal. Comparatively, ‘9/11: Ten Years On’ is telling in its monochrome shades and hues. Doused in black and white, she centers her series on the people’s lives ten years after the tragic catastrophe of 9/11. Though black and white, her mastery and control of light and shadows are alike an artist’s control over their colours and brush strokes – immaculate, meticulously crafted and detailed. In conveying a potpourri of emotions, shadows and light, it is almost as if her photographs and subjects become iridescent, coloured in their personal narrative and voice. Her attention for details and the minute moments of life – it’s no wonder she is the 2014’s ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu Winner. As they say, the winner is in the details and her body of works and investigative approach parallels the house of Martell’s discernment in their cognac making.

To summarise her work, we can say that she has the gift of a photojournalist working with the vocabulary of an artist,” said Madam de Gouvion Saint-Cyr, 69. c making.

Eugene Soh, 'Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Singapore', 2014
Eugene Soh, ‘Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Singapore’, 2014

Image Credit: ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu

In contrast, Eugene Soh’s works borrow heavily from the Singaporean experience and condition through the lens of pop culture. Imbued with a lighthearted sense of humour, he parodies the daily experiences and life of a Singaporean in an existentialist, materialistic society. In his “Family” series, he focuses on the issues and problems of raising a family. Using a plethora of tools (camera, Photoshop, props), he appropriates the mundane and prosaic activities of daily life, casting them in a new consumerist light – Andy Warhol in its attempts. Drawing inspirations from the great masters of the Renassiance and Impressionists, The Last Kopitiam (2010), The Arrival of Venus (2012), Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Singapore (2014) attempts to appropriate the visual style and composition of the original masterpieces in the context of contemporary Singapore. When asked about his Renaissance and Impressionists influences, he believes that in appropriating and learning from them, he is “standing on the shoulders of giants”.

Lavender Chang, A Dissection Of (ongoing)
Lavender Chang, A Dissection Of (ongoing)

Image Credit: http://www.lavchang.com

In another vein, Lavender Chang’s photographs are an inquisition into the subtle nuances and sensitivity of her environment. “A Dissection of” is a deconstruction of local delicacies where favourite Singapore local dishes have been deconstructed into their simplest elements. Through the exploration of these objects, the favourite food of each individual comes with a personal narrative. Nostalgia and memory becomes tied to these seemingly mundane objects. In “’Block 12’ series, through the paraphernalia in their individual HDB unit, Chang explores how the placement and curation of objects are an extension of their identity and personalities. Chang says that none of the objects were changed or moved for artistic sake and that they were merely captured as they were, without the pretensions and facades that usually accompany art direction. Through her discerning eye for the prosaic objects of everyday life, she weaves and spins a narrative of the lives of the occupants of Block 12.

Perhaps, Sarah Choo, winner of ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu 2013, interactive work best encapsulates the notion of discernment in details. Choo’s interactive work draws from the local artisans’ discernment and meticulousness to their work. Through a digital photographic composite of the local artisans in their workspaces, the audience becomes both a voyeur and participant of the work. They involve themselves and by changing the placement of figures within the scenes, they too change the narrative and voice of the subjects.

The ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu’s fifth exhibition is now available for viewing from 20 August to 5 September in Stamford Gallery. For the photography enthusiasts, The Iconographer is a Facebook photography competition open for public participation, where winner will be determined by the most number of likes. Start snapping and sharing away for top-prize winner will receive a bottle of Martell Cordon Bleu and $1,000 in cash. For more information:

ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu 2014

Stamford Gallery, National Museum of Singapore

20 August – 5 September 2014

10 am to 6pm

Image Credit: ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu