Friday, June 20, 2008

The now, the why, the process

I have succeeded, I have failed. I am vindicated, I am lost. In the satisfaction of international recognition and business stability, I also see the limitations of what has been done up till now. But let me be specific, I am happy that things have turned out well for The Pond and the career. The journey so far has been a bitch at times but it has all been necessary, necessary for me to grow as a photographer, necessary to give me the confidence to continue pursuing my own inner calling.

With regards to my business of corporate portraiture in Singapore, it is viable, but just so. I shoot for PR companies, families, individuals and arts groups. But even with the profile The Pond has achieved, I only move towards being able to cover the day to day running of the company, and even pay myself a salary. But I would have to at least double my income to start recouping the cost of investment in this studio. It would be great, if it even took twenty years to recoup. But to be honest, the costs of new cameras, computers and software to maintain the studio nowadays, is expensive. And the ridiculous situation is that people are paying less and less for photography. So, running a financially successful studio is not easy. In my mind, I have to grow The Pond into stable of photographers, so that the usage of resources maximised, or let it all go and become an arts based photographer and have very simple support. In my present state, I am running nowhere quickly. It is better than my days as a wedding photographer, where I worked seven days a week to keep the company going, now I have reclaimed my weekends.

So I revisit the question of why I am a photographer? One thing is for sure, it was not to run a business and make money. I have been working on how to take photographs for eight years now. The whole process from taking the image to the print and presentation. And now I am satisfied that I can take a picture, but so what? Do I want to just be a cog in the capitalist consumer machine? The machine that is poisoning the whole world and leading us deeper and deeper into crisis? Am I saying enough with portraits of affluent people who can afford to pay me? Does my work serve a greater purpose? And should I care about a greater purspose? Does it satisfy my inner needs? And just what are my inner needs?

I don't have the answers, I may never find them. But living is a process. Living is more important than taking photographs. In the greater scheme of things, making images is a non-essential activity compared to farming and health. Heck, it does not even do very well against supporting services like accounting and law. But I think that some images go beyond being entertainment, beyond the visual candy bait to make people into a consumer lemmings. (Just look at how our consumerism is literally driving out planet over a cliff into collective suicide.) Some images, confront the viewer, with the reality of various crisis in the world, with the reality of being human, with the reality of seeing beyond our own limited existence. And to create images that are more than 'pretty' or well-crafted, I have to go through a process of education, self-awareness and self-questioning. What is important to me, in the grater scheme of things? How do I use photography to convey the complexity of life? How am I going to get people to notice, to think deeper than the chic, pseudo-culture offered by advertising? Is there a way to subvert the power of advertising for more social conscious imagery? The best example for me has been the Benetton ads. It truly is good advertising for Benetton, and also socially relevant.

So I know that being able to take a photograph and make a business survive is only a Pyrrhic victory. What is the use of this success if in the long run I do not actually make money? Or even if I do make money, has little relevance to the larger community. I want to make a difference. Returning our sick earth to health needs all our attentions. I do not want to be an ostrich with my head stuck in the sand of opaque consumer media. Life is not just entertainment. If we are not willing to sacrifice to make things right, what makes us think that someone else will? It is time to do something more. I'm not going to be a war photographer, that is beyond me. But there is a lot of things that I feel can be done where I live. And yes, even in the Singaporean utopia, there are things to heal.

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