Friday, February 05, 2010
Image by Saul Leiter
I got a thank you postcard and a gift of a Saul Leiter book in the post today. This is from Joyce Ho, a photographer with a love for plants. Last year, I had talked to her about some questions she had about work.
I do not know why, but young photographers have started to look to me for advice. And quite often, it is about how to survive as a photographer in Singapore. This bothers me, because I have not figured a way to survive in Singapore as a photographer unless you like commercial work, wedding or photojournalism. Oh yes, you can be an art photographer and teach too. But photography in Singapore is not for the faint-hearted. As easy as it is to buy a camera and call oneself a photographer, living off a camera is hard. Yes, it is possible if you really are truly the top of your field and can market yourself effectively. I know a few good photographers who are sinking in Singapore because they are not willing to market themselves or have not found someone to market themselves.
I was talking to my friend Chris Yap about that. He simply told me that if people wanted to earn a living from photography, then they are in it for the wrong reason. And it struck me, that it is not for me to get people to survive in this tough circumstance. The photographers that survive do it because they love it, the live photography, they breath photography. I have very little advice for working in Singapore, beyond polishing one's photography and effectively marketing yourself. In this age of photographic democracy, one needs to work like a dog to distinguish one's self. If the practices of a photographer is uneconomic, then the photographer will not remain a photographer for long. Just so you know, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams and Diane Arbus, all legendary names in photography were relatively poor in their lifetimes. There are a handful of commercial photographers like Avedon who made a decent living from their work, and some German school art photographers that command incredible amounts of money for their images. But it is like the lottery, we idolize the winner, but there are thousands and thousands of people who did not win the lottery.
The purpose of my photography is not to make money, it is because I have images in me that need to get out. I do not take pictures, pictures take me, I am like an instrument. But to enable for the images I make to come out, I find some way to survive. And it is not glamorous, and it is not easy. And always, it is an intensely personal journey, something that cannot be taught. So at the end of the day, all I can be is like an alcoholic, sharing his story with others in Alcoholics Anonymous. All there is is to affirm that photographers before me have walked this difficult route, my own route has been difficult, and it is on par if a new photographer has a difficult route. But the rewards, the sights that a photographer is privileged to see, is beyond the wealth that money can buy. And I find that if photography is used to make human bridges, the relationships made are more comfortable than any material comfort.