Thursday, November 25, 2010

Making a stand

Those who know me or have read my bio somewhere would know that I consider myself an accidental photographer. I did not start with a burning desire to take photographs, I was just like the normal tourist photographer, taking photos on holidays for some memories. But my love of dance and that need to record my love of dance was the reason I became a better photographer. It was a pleasure, an act of love.

In my pursuit of a certain form of beauty in dance, I set up a studio, and ran a business for eight years till I finally put on my exhibition 'Dance Me Through the Dark'. I had to learn studio lighting and work on many dance projects to get to my goal. I shot for performing arts groups which is natural for what I wanted to do. But I also became a wedding photographer, a corporate photographer and even did some commercial jobs. And in running a business, I had to manage staff, promote myself, keep the office running. It was draining all round but it was a good learning experience that I do not regret doing. But the truth is that I did not enter photography to run a business. Photography, because of my love of dance, was an exploration of a personal passion. A very simple, naive ideal.

This year, I made a long term dream come through by traveling overland from Singapore to Europe. Due to various circumstances, I had to use air travel in certain parts of the journey, but this was still without a doubt a journey of a lifetime for me. And after years of putting energy into running a business and training myself, I was not just having a holiday, I was pondering what is the most important thing in life and what am I doing with the resources I have?

What the journey through so many countries taught me is that there is beauty and there is hope in the world. Even in the harsh country of Mongolia, that last winter suffered a winter so cold it wiped out one quarter of their livestock, the people persevered. And when I talked to the Mongolians, they were proud of their country, they loved it. When I told my guide that Mongolia is a harsh country, she said 'Yes, but it is beautiful'. And I met other people, other friends who through adversity still hope and still love. And the most important thing is that people stay true to themselves or what they are.

As much as I have grown in running a photography business, there is no love in it for me. I hope for nothing here. There is no love, fewer learning experiences and not enough money to tempt me into prostituting myself. It was clear that the past way of doing things was not something to return to. But knowing not to go back does not mean knowing how to go forward.

Although my goal for many years of capturing the beauty of dance had  led me to produce work that I am proud of, I also learned new things in craft and had a deepening understanding of photography. I grew up. It was apparent after Dance Me Through the Dark, that there can be more depth in my personal work. The beauty of Dance is an ivory tower, worth ascending to, but cut off from the rest of the human experience. And damn it, what was once an adrenalin rush, had become an exercise. After achieving my goal, I was empty and lost in the wilderness. There is no other way to describe it.

And then one year in Tuscany, I took a workshop with Anders Peterson. He forced me to stop hiding behind my camera. He forced me to accept my own feelings of happiness, sadness, love, the animal instincts. Photography is secondary to living. It is like the ability to walk, useless unless there is a place one needs to walk to. And this meeting inspired me to try a revolution. To explore the fringes of society looking for a more raw, visceral experience. But after two years of searching for a way into this other world, I realised that this was unnatural for me. I simply do not belong in that world coming from a comfortable family background. And I simply do not have what it takes to become part of an alternative society. I got a wonderful hint from Anders about the possibilities of life and photography, but I still had to find my own path.

I think that I understood deep inside me what I needed to do. Actually Anders did say to me that my path could be a fusion of dance and raw experience. Before my long overland journey, I had already started a project called Night Song. I was trying to express the longings, moments of happiness and periods of sad loneliness while working with dancers. On this long journey I did a detour back to Tuscany and took a workshop with Arno Minkkinen and I did a series of images about the importance of dance and freedom to my life. And it worked. The slowly welling conviction in me became clear. I would use dance and photography to explore my own personal life. And I can also use dance and photography to explore other people's lives and experiences.

Which brings me to now. Now I am refreshed and I am once again excited to make images. And I believe that my new direction will not just help me grow as an image maker, but also as a human being. I am making a stand now, I am going to concentrate on personal work. I will not go back to corporate, wedding or family portraiture. It hinders me. I will still shoot for arts groups and artists though. They are like my family and they are also my collaborators in my personal work. But time is becoming precious to me and the most important thing in my life is to live my life fully.

Carpe Diem!

1 comment:

nat* said...

Really nice blog! Have been following it for quite some time. I was at the Dance Me Through the Dark, and I was fascinated by all the images. The energy you captured was amazing! I saw your works at the Esplanade tunnel as well, and they were inspiring. Keep doing what you do yea?

Forgive me for not introducing myself earlier, I'm just a simple musician who has a love for photography and art (: