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SIUE’s Wongchanglaw wins coveted award at world’s longest running photography exhibition

Natcha Wongchanglaw, a MFA student at SIUE.

Visual artist Natcha Wongchanglaw’s work exhibits a palpable sense of courage and adventure. Such a streak was accentuated further when the old-established Royal Photographic Society (RPS) presented Wongchanglaw with this year’s International Photography Exhibition (IPE) Award, which serves to recognize individuals working across both still and moving image, celebrate significant achievements and showcase new and emerging talent.

A Master of Fine Arts student (MFA) in SIUE’s College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), Wongchanglaw flew out to England last month to participate in the 164th edition of the exhibition and to present her work in the venue which once hosted some of the greatest photographers in history, Roger Fenton and Paul Strand. Leading up to the prize, she was one of 46 photographers selected to display their artwork out of 3,466 contenders around the world. Reviewed by a guest panel, over 6000 images were submitted to IPE 164, which is currently open until May 7 at the RPS Gallery in Bristol.

The selection panel awarded Wongchanglaw for her environmental portrait series Couchsurfing Hosts, which explores a group of people in New York and the surrounding area who open up their homes to travelers in exchange for the opportunity to learn and share cultures.

“Home is a very personal space for many individuals, but there is a group of people who are very courageous to invite strangers into their spaces,” said the Thailand-born, US-based visual artist. “Their stories, life perspectives and experiences fascinate me. Couchsurfing is a homestay and social network community that connects members to find a free place to stay while traveling or to share their home with travelers. It is a fascinating community that allows people to make connections, particularly those who enjoy traveling and learning about different cultures.”

The prize clearly proved overwhelming for her.

“I am deeply honored and grateful to everyone who has supported me, including the judges and the RPS team,” she said.

Currently in the second year of her three-year MFA degree, Wongchanglaw was deliberate when she chose SIUE for graduate school.

“SIUE provides an excellent opportunity for teaching experience as well as fully funded tuition support,” she said. “The program’s faculty have extensive profiles actively in both the academic and professional worlds of art. Professor Abbey Hepner was a major factor in my decision to pursue a MFA here. She has a high profile and considerable expertise as an educator and active art practitioner. Her work is fundamentally flawed in both conceptual and research areas, both of which I need to strengthen.”

After graduation, Wongchanglaw plans to continue developing her craft and giving back to her community.

“Although I am unsure of where life will take me, I intend to apply for artist residencies in order to continue creating artworks, and I hope that I will be able to share my skills and knowledge or, at the very least, inspire people in some manner,” she said. “I would also like to start an organization that helps emerging artists, who share my interests, in bringing their work to a wider audience.”

To see more of Wongchanglaw’s work, click here.

In its 164th year, the Royal Photographic Society’s International Photography Exhibition showcases powerful stories and documents important themes through the powerful medium of photography, exploring themes of identity, cultural heritage, sexuality and gender, mental health, and environmental and political issues. This year’s edition is especially strong with traditional and alternative processes being used in photography, including analogue work, cyanotypes and collage.

The IPE 164 guest selection panel were Mariama Attah (curator, Open Eye Gallery), Amak Mahmoodian (artist), Ryan Prince (portrait and documentary photographer) and Michael Pritchard, RPS director of programs

Central to SIUE’s exceptional and comprehensive education, the College of Arts and Sciences offers degree programs in the natural sciences, humanities, arts, social sciences, and communications. The College touches the lives of all SIUE students helping them explore diverse ideas and experiences, while learning to think and live as fulfilled, productive members of the global community. Study abroad, service-learning, internships, and other experiential learning opportunities better prepare SIUE students not only to succeed in our region’s workplaces, but also to become valuable leaders who make important contributions to our communities.

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