Wednesday, October 01, 2008

A fork in the road, the path ahead

Since my year in London Contemporary Dance School, I have been trying to live my life to the full. And photography has been my area of interest even though dance has been my first love. Since accidentally becoming a photographer in 1999, I have been pursuing the craft of photography. I have spent many hours shooting, experimenting and learning about photography in the studio and with lights. I was very inspired by the work of Paul Elledge when I saw his slide show at The Santa Fe workshops. I have since then taken his workshop in Tuscany and interned for him for 3 months in Chicago.

Up until last year, my photographic practise has been driven by my dance photographs. Images in which I try to capture the essence and beauty of dancers and their physique. To that end, I have experimented with lighting, materials and long exposures. And to do such work, I needed a team of people to support me. And to pay for that team of people, I set The Pond up as a corporate portrait studio. In the current Singaporean situation, having a team of people means my overheads are high, and there is not that much work at the level I want to work at. At least in corporate portraiture. There is more money in commercial photography, but I have no interest in that at all. So I have just managed to balance my photographic business with my dance photographs. And if I promote myself and chase work, I am able to keep The Pond afloat. The thing is, running the business takes a lot of time and my personal work has stagnated after the Dance Me Through The Dark project.

And then I had my epiphany in Tuscany last year, in a workshop lead by Anders Peterson. His form of photography is called personal research and to him, living his life and engaging with different communities of people was his priority. Photography became secondary, a part of the process and not the end goal. In that week, I had three extraordinary encounters with people I photographed. They shared things with me that makes the photography unimportant. The photography was simply the icing on the cake of living life. And it was there and then I realised that the next frontier of my photography was no longer technical or craft, it was to engage in living more. On another level, my studio has become superfluous.

So I have an idea of what I need to do with my life and all I need is a camera. All the lighting equipment is not necessary. But the studio has been my baby for eight years, it is difficult just to abandon it. So I tried to make the business work better, and to get my assistants to be associate photographers so that more work came into the studio and free up more days of the week for me to pursue my personal work. And then I came back from Tuscany this year, and with the avalanche of work and things to do, I realised that as long as I ran The Pond, it would consume all my time. So I came to the fork in the road, do I run a business or do I pursue a new frontier in my photography?

I have decided to keep exploring. I am sad to say that I will be letting my staff go at the end of the year and become a freelance photographer. Although the photographic team that I put together does not make the best business sense in Singapore, photographically, the work has been good. With the 'team', I have managed to get work into the Photo District News annual and the Communication Arts annual. The 'team' enabled me to work on an international level. Thank you Abby, Shin and Anvin. And Darren the intern as well. I may have had better profits with fewer staff, but I doubt that I could have had the same quality of work.

And so in the new year, a new path awaits me. I will not be able to handle higher end work, but I will still do studio portraits and simple outdoor shoots. I will also teach but I may not be able to continue teaching studio lighting without my assistants. But for the main part, I will be pursuing my personal work. I have already made some plans but I won't say anything until I have actually done some work.

I must say that the death of Paul Newman reminds me of my mortality and how precious time is. And the present financial crisis indicates to me that unfettered capitalism is not the only path and is not necessarily good for the world. I don't want to bend over back to be a service to the corporate business machinery. I don't need to make loads of money and so I rather work for arts groups, charities and individuals. It is more important now for me to be part of the community that I live in, than to be a rat in the rat race.

The path ahead is to live more, live better.


pfong said...

A courageous step in choosing the path less travelled. Enjoy the journey bro.

Anonymous said...

For quite some time I was thinking about what I should do for a living. And didn't quite reach a conclusion.

Recently I realised I was essentially trying to label myself into an area of work, an occupation.

Then I came to the conclusion that I was simply not living well. It may be an over-simplication but life is essentially living, isn't it?

All the best.