Just Me and My Camera
A journey on how I learnt to discover more about myself through the lens.
I've always been a creative/arty kid since high school, but I just wasn't able to find a medium that really resonated with me in terms of how I wanted to express myself as a creator/artist. Throughout the years, my practice ranged from pencil, charcoal, and pastel drawings to acrylic, water-colour, and oil paintings, none of which seemed to work as well as I hoped. Sure they were beautiful in their own ways, however there was a personal connection with the media that was lacking.
Photography was also amongst my interests, but I felt hesitant to pursue it further due to its accessibility and competitiveness. I was stuck. Not to mention born in a conservative Asian family, my creative pursuits were not especially supported.
Come July of 2017, two years into my undergraduate degree of design and saving money for half a year, an interesting jolt of creative energy and a new wave of thinking led me to purchase my first DSLR; a Canon 80D, something that does the job and doesn't break the bank. By then, I have somewhat overcome the fear and hesitation of external sources and decided to just go for it, give it a shot. (This is probably the only valuable thing I learnt from art school)
I began by contacting my friends, who have no modelling experience and were willing to be my subjects, for a photoshoot, but to also hang out and have a good time. This was the beginning of my journey and I was able to produce 19 projects within the second half of that year alone, along with working and studying. Any free time that I had was spent researching, reading, and understanding not just how cameras work, but also industry experienced photographers and photo artists.
Very first series
The initial series of photos focused more on my understanding of natural lighting, composition, and how to edit in post, which was my favourite part. Looking back now, my initial approaches to photography were elementary at best, although at the time I thought they were beautiful. But we all have to start somewhere, right? For these shoots, I had no real agenda, no story, no concept to capture, because my focus was only to get 'pretty' pictures of my friends and pose them nicely.
Framing and Establishing a Connection
Further down the path, I explored more with colours and how the talents' outfits could either complement or contrast against the surrounding environment. This was also the time when I started to experiment with distorting the image by placing objects close to the lens to create visual effects that looked... 'interesting.' Not sure what I was trying to achieve here, but hey, at least the colours look semi-ok.
An Entry into Fashion
As I became more proficient with my camera, I started to hone in on a few categories of photography that I thought would suit me and my personal aesthetic; one of these being fashion photography. I have always been inspired by magazines and editorials, and how the models look, are posed, styled, and captured.
Once again, I reached out to friends who were willing to be a part of my creative pursuits and I am to this day, so grateful and thankful that I have met these beautiful individuals along the way.
Single Hue Dominance
I have always loved to keep things simple and straight-forward.
This is Caroline. We went to high school together and I contacted her a few years later to see if she would like to shoot.
This was one of the final power shots that I loved from the whole series.
This project was a collaboration between two of my good friends, Craig and Marisa. It was also the first time I shot in a large studio with studio lights and a cyclorama.
Marisa was able to play with experimental styling while I tried my best to photograph in a completely new setting.
I asked my friend Rachel if she would like to shoot in the a high wind, high altitude location. She agreed without hesitation. We hiked 30 minutes uphill and continued to walk towards the cliff edge where the winds were so strong that we both had to shout to be able to hear each other. The shoot consisted of me firing my shutter speed at ridiculous speeds to capture the motion while avoiding any blur. This is still one of my favourite series to this day.
The instant that this image appeared on my screen during post production, something ticked. I stared at my computer for a solid five minutes before I did anything else. There was a moment of disbelief that I was able to capture a candid split second where all elements within the frame were composed in such a beautiful manner. Not to mention, the innocent hues and smooth tones created by the overcast lighting that day reveals a sense of purity and serenity.
The tipping point for me personally was how the hair covered most of the face, forcing a sense of disconnection with the subject, but then simultaneously brings upon a new method of viewing an image as an entire frame in terms of how the subject interacts with its environment. The focus then, is not on the subject within the image, but how the figure in the frame interacts with its surroundings to evoke certain emotions.
With the overarching theme of obscuring facial features in mind, I began to explore more ways to push the idea of blurring the boundaries between subject and surroundings.
Instead of having hair cover the face, often I would ask the talents to try and position their heads in a way that hides facial features to place more focus on body posture and positioning.
Diverse Talents - A Small Segway
Me and a few other creatives don't like to use the term 'model' when describing the individuals that we photograph or work with. The modelling industry itself is chaotic with its unfair treatment towards models and the physical limitations as to what is considered a 'model.'
Thus, we are attempting to eliminate the restrictions placed on individuals by incorporating diverse casts within our projects. We believe an individual's physical characteristics do not affect their ability to make an image come together, whether it be height, size, colour and any other physical attributes. Instead, we focus on attitude, ability, and unique features that suit the particular story we are telling.
Honours Project - Solitude
2018, final year of University.
By this point, I have lessened my interest in design and wanted to pursue photography instead. However, as I am still enrolled as a design student, it was hard for me to utilise photography as my main medium in a project that was heavily design-based. The year was probably one of the most challenging experiences as a creator, but at the same time it was also the most rewarding and I will explain why after I briefly explore my project honours project.
'How can conceptual photography be used to explore the essence of solitude and thus infer the importance of introspection and individuality?'
This was the research question that led me to a greater understanding of myself and others around me. I have included my honours thesis abstract below for those who are interested.
Research relating to psychology and the individual have grown significantly within the last decade. During this time, the interest in solitude theory and solitude related studies have experienced steady growth, however, its application to society is still insignificant due to its questionable position in the field of psychoanalysis. The aims of this study are to provide greater insight into the essence of solitude and explore how alone time can be used as a tool to benefit our mental wellbeing. More importantly, the study seeks to promote the positive aspects of solitude whilst addressing the understanding and importance of individuality and introspection.
Theoretical research on solitude has shown significant positive aspects that many have overlooked and it is a discussion that needs to be brought to greater attention. Daniel Perlman and Letitia Peplau’s exploration of solitude has shown its potential ability to provide and facilitate heightened concentration, lower self-consciousness and an improved overall emotional state. Additionally, Anthony Storr’s theory on solitude highlights the ability for individuals to suspend the expectations of the cultural milieu and to reintegrate and re-evaluate values and beliefs based upon a more meaningful personalized strategy.
Instead of a text-based approach, the body of work is realized through photographic media not only as an alternative method of delivery but also, as John Suler suggests, a more effective means of communication. Through the analysis of past and present theories in conjunction with self-portraiture experimentation, the resulting series of images delve into symbolic and figurative gestures of core ideologies within solitude theory that otherwise would be difficult to visualize.
As a whole, the body of work is an attempt at blurring the boundaries between fine art and design practices whilst also facilitating the potential for the medium of photography to be utilized as a method of concept visualization within the field of psychology.
Dream State // Sensory Deprivation
Controlled // Control
Mindfulness // Self-renewal
Enforcement // Proactive Serendipity
Facilitation // Positivity
2018 - A Year in Review
Spending an entire year reading up on solitude and introspection has provided me with a different outlook on life. Yes it may seem cliché, but it is as true as it gets. Not only has the year taught me to be more aware of my physical and mental health, it has also given me more confidence in using my own body as a vessel for storytelling.
The image above was a part of the first series I created in 2019 in collaboration with a good friend of mine who does 3D animation. A moving still of this image can be viewed on my website.
From this moment on, I began delving deeper into personal stories /memories/aspirations that I wanted to visualise through photography. For me, this is a constant cycle of evaluation and development and to this day, my practice is still carried out via the same process.
Currently, I am working as a digital image retoucher while pursuing my passion for photography on the side. But there is not a moment where I am not planning my next project or have interesting ideas brewing in my mind. I am both scared and excited for what's to come, but who isn't?
The future as a creative is a rough road, but my end goal isn't to be rich or famous, but to live and stay true to myself and my craft.