Friday, September 30, 2005

Europe 2005 - Easter Procession, Enna, Sicily, Italy

Easter Processions in Sicily are a mixture of local culture and Christianity. It is interesting how each town takes part of the Easter story and enacts it in their town churches. In this town, Enna, they take a statue of the body of christ from one church to another church where the Madonna is waiting.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Europe 2005 - London

I went on course to take the easter processions in Sicily this year. Of course I took the opportunity to visit other places in Europe. London, which is like my second home city, was the first port of call. I will be slowly putting up images from my Europe trip. Here is the first batch from London. Enjoy. :)

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The worth of Dreams

For those of you who are starting out on a journey of discovery, let me assure you that the doubt that you have and the fear that you feel is normal. There are always lots of unanswerable questions to journeys into unknown territory. Still, do you think that Columbus would have made it to the Americas without his dreams, or Van Gogh painted his sunflowers if he was a practical painter? Err... Don't think so.

I had no dreams and was uninspired when I was a student in Singapore. I knew that I wanted to be an engineer because that seemed like the most fun thing to do out of the expected careers in Singapore. Then I encountered dance while I was studying engineering in London. This became my overwhelming obsession in life and it was more important than anything else. After completing an engineering Phd., I enrolled in the London Contemporary Dance School. I wanted to be a dancer, it was the biggest dream in my life, probably will be the biggest 'dream' of all time of my life. That one year in London Contemporary Dance School was the best in my entire life. And yet I gave up the dream, because I realise that my body would never be able to support my dream. It hurt like hell but I turned away from dance.

Do I regret having the dream? Not at all. Would I have done something else that year if I knew the outcome? Not at all. It was the best year of my life and I can truly say that at least for that year I lived life.

Was that year in dance school a waste of time? Absolutely not. I learnt a few things in that year. The main lesson was that I did not have to follow the trodden path of the masses, i.e. engineering. I had learnt that if what you are doing does not make you happy, change it.

I also learnt in that year what it meant to be truly alive. Dance training gave me an awareness of my body that I had never had before, both its limitations and possibilities. There comes a point in time when what you are doing becomes in sync with all around you and an opportunity to create art arises. This is what I am doing with my whole life now even if I am not dancing. Art is not just in a dancer's dance or a photographer's photograph. Art is in living well, becoming aware of one's limits and possibilities, and creating something beautiful in spite of all the pain and death around us.

I have had quite a few dreams and few have come true completely. Yet, living each dream as best I can, I think that I have become a better person. And in the failure of each dream, a path is opened up to the next one. The lessons in each failure leads us to succeed. And even if we ultimately fail, at least we can say that we lived our lives without regrets. No use a living death, but dying at the end of a life well lived.

Sunday, September 18, 2005


My latest exhibition Tête-à-tête, opened at Objectifs on Friday. A lot of invites went out but it turned out to be a small affair. I heard that I was fighting against other events like the opening of the new Theatreworks space. I was a little dissapointed with the turn out.

However, the good part was that my friends turned up. Thanks to the people who turned up on Friday, you know who you are. :) From the people in the photographs, Parvathi, Ivan Heng, Seng Onn, Hai Ying and Isabelle came to the exhbition. That was nice. Ivan bought his own image.

The Epson print technology is really good now. The people that turned up were impressed with the results. I must give a big thank you to Chris Yap. I had printed one set of images and wanted to send them for framing. Chris, in 30 minutes, took apart quite a few of my images and made it obvious that I had to reprint the images. The second set is much stronger than the original set, even in images that he had not really commented on. That is why he is the print master. The main problem was getting out information in the highlight and shadow areas. That is what makes black and whites 'real', continuous grey tones.

This exhbition is important to me. It marks the turning point in my career from a generalist photographer to a portrait photographer. I think that I am starting to produce even stronger images as seen in this blog, but these black and whites taken on my trusty Hassleblad, shows the roots of my photography. And even if I move on in the way I take portraits, I will always revisit the square black and white portrait. Like black coffee, black and white images is part of my soul.

If you can, go take a look. This is like my graduation show, showing you my start. There will be more new things in the future.

Venue: Objectifs – Centre for Photography and Filmmaking
12A Liang Seah Street (between Beach Rd and North Bridge Rd)

Time: From September 16 to October 7
Monday to Friday, 11am to 7pm / Saturday, 1pm to 5pm

Open to public, free admission

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Sunset in Joo Chiat

The sun and clouds were great on the way back to the office. A gift from above. :)

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Reality Check

I was talking to my good friend Wesley today about staying afloat.

The continuing advances in technology is causing a major upheaval in many industries and especially in photography. It is relatively cheap to become a photographer. With a decent portfolio, almost anyone could be a photographer. But what type of photographs do you want to take? And how do you actually make it all pay? These are questions without simple answers.

What are the difficulties of becoming a photographer?
1. There are many people aspiring to be professional photogaphers today, and with the level of technology available today, it is easier to get the shot than it used to be.
2. Clients believe that there is a material cost savings and that should be passed on to them. Clients do not realize that there is heavy investment in computer equipment and time to touch up images and it is the photographer that loses out on this score in general.
3. For the commercial photographer, a lot of companies are turning to stock images instead of hiring someone to shoot.
4. In a practical society, a representative image is sufficient. The art of photography is not valued. So photographers who get the job done at a lower price will get the job.

I fear that these factors can hinder the growth of photography. In general, it is difficult to do really creative work now and get paid a decent salary for it. There are a few at the very top who can make it, and some who take the grunge work and make a living from quantity photography. The question is how does one move from grunge work to high end and still survive and still do creative work?

I do not have the answers to these questions. What I do know, is that having a good photographic eye does not guarantee you a career in photography. Photography is a business and there has to be some sort of business model, mass market or high end. A photographer must understand the business of photography, i.e. how to charge, how to write contracts, how to promote oneself. A photographer must also have a plan for growth, i.e. where is it safe to start learning photography, how to get the first few jobs and how to move on up the photographic career.

Monday, September 12, 2005

A portrait session

I was hired to shoot a young musician, Shao Wen. Eadwine was my assistant.

I am trying to add more texture to my portraits. I got Shao Wen to write about himself and added it to the background of the portrait.

I like the shape of Eadwine's head. I took this shot when I had some time.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Space and Design

I have been trying to get my assistant Betty to find her own visual voice and have asked her who inspires her. Her reply was the photographer Cig Harvey.

So Betty showed my Cig Harvey's work and I was blown away too. What immediately struck me about Cig Harvey's work is how simple the images are but how strong they are graphically. Yes, she often uses a small depth of field to add a soft, vulnerable feel to her work. She also makes use of a lot of space in her images. Areas of different texture come together in an image to form an abstract, graphical design. If you simply trace the outlines of the spaces and objects of her photographs, you will already get beautiful shapes and designs. How delightful.

So, I have been humbling myself and been looking for shapes and design in my everyday life. I must say that is very hard in Singapore. There is so many things cramped into small spaces and nobody quite cares about design in Singapore. Sometimes I think that it is a shame when picturusque shophouses are dwarfed by characterless housing block flats. Someone once asked me why I do not take wide shots of Singapore. If you have seen some of my work in Singapore, say in the series static, you will notice that I tend to focus on details. It is because I have not been able to make sense of the visual chaos in Singapore. It is much easier to isolate graphical images in detail studies.

The most graphically inspiring place for me in Singapore is Millenia Tower. The space with the Lichenstein sculptures are a breath of fresh air for me. :)

Monday, September 05, 2005

Studio shoot

Anita is a model with Phantom. She came to model for my portrait class and she came across as a nice person. I looked at her portfolio which was filled with girl-next-door shots. So I thought that I would do a test shoot some more dramatic images. :)

Thanks for Kelly for a smashing job on Hair and Make-up.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The importance of Being

So often we try to change ourselves and fit in. We live in a society where we are constantly being told how we should dress, what we should buy. We have a multitude of idols whom we can never become. Sometimes we try and give ourselves up to be with someone else. And of course our parents have expectations of what we should be and we will probably expect our children to be something.

Simply, we are. Do we do a job we hate so that we earn money? Do we stop being who we are because we want someone's love and approval? Do we marry someone because our religion dictates it? Do we cease to enjoy the sight of clouds because this fast moving society forces us to rush at a pace no sane animal would?

I know there is no free lunch. If all of us gave up our jobs to become beach bums there won't be enough beach for all of us, let alone fish and coconuts. We have to be part of this society to live, but to live, we have to keep a part of us true to ourselves.

What moves you? What is your dream? Yes, there are people who have to give up their dreams to live. Their lives are bad. But are you giving up your dreams because you do not have a choice, or are you giving up your dreams because you don't have the guts to be yourself? Or have you lost touch with yourself and are living the dream sold to you by the mass media?

Stephen Wilkes: A Relentless Explorer in the World of Alchemy

The new issue of double Exposure is out. There is an article on Stephen Wilkes, a commercial photographer who takes beautiful personal work. So many of the things that Wilkes believes in strikes a cord in me. The paragraph that really caught my eye was,

“I believe in creating a positive energy around everything that I do. There is no reason that you can’t have fun, have a good time, and make great pictures. Why do [some] people think that it has to be unbelievably stressful and tense? Nothing good comes from that; it just gives you a stomach ache. And it keeps the flow from happening,”

You can look at the page here.

Peace. :)