TwentyFifteen Interview 11/20: Ernest Goh speaks to Leonard Goh


What kind of animal are you?

It really depends on where I am and who I’m with. A good one would be a lion — chilling with my pride of mates under a tree on a hot day and occasionally annoying the heckling hyenas in my life.

You have a master’s degree in creative and cultural entrepreneurship. You mean you can actually learn to be creative and entrepreneurial?

Yes, you can. You can learn to be good at anything, for that matter. Being creative is just like any other skill we pick up over time, such as riding a bicycle. The more you practise it, the better you’ll become.

You published your first book even before you were in National Service. How did that happen?

I was in the right place at the right time. The publisher was looking for a designer and a photographer for a book about disability sports. He chanced upon my work through my friend during our course graduation show and hired us immediately. It helped that we were fresh graduates hungry for any kind of work.

You started with a traditional black and white documentary approach in your photography and humans were central to your work, but now you photograph mostly animals. Have you given up on people?

On the contrary, I see it as a deeper study into human beings and our practices. To begin with, it would be a huge mistake to assume that humans and animals are vastly disconnected. As human beings are the alpha species on the planet, our actions affect the ecosystem in more ways than one, sometimes in ways we do not know. So looking at animal species further down the food chain might give us some clues.

What have you learned from looking more closely at animals?

Every time I photograph a particular species of animal, I inevitably come to learn about its state in the ecosystem. More often than not, I find that the rise or fall in the population of that species is always connected to some form of human activity in the area. This could range from the destruction of orang utan habitats by palm oil companies, or the decrease in the snake population because of the increased use of pesticides. Looking closely at animals always tells us how we are impacting the environment and that’s crucial to our own well-being. What affects our environment will ultimately affect us.

The Gift Book consists mostly of images of insects. How did studying and photographing these small species compare with your previous work on fish and chickens?

You could say the main difference with The Gift Book is that this time the animals came to me, instead of me going out to search for them. They include the beetles that flew into my home, caterpillars from my garden and grasshoppers from a vegetable farm in Yishun.

In my previous work, the fishes and chickens were bred to be attractive ornamental animals, whereas with the insects, they do not necessary look appealing. In fact most people avoid creepy-crawlies. So I sought to find the beauty in whatever creatures I came across.

What about plants?

Plants are also another fascinating aspect of our natural environment that I hope to explore through photography. The process of growth and transformation in a plant fascinates me. The image of the Adenium flower bud in this project is one example – we tend to appreciate a flower when it’s in full bloom, but I feel there is more to see in the transformation of beauty than beauty itself.

Describe an ideal assignment.

One that involves wild encounters in far-flung places.

We understand that you are also a very good designer. Is that an advantage or disadvantage, to have more than one creative skill?

I can ride a motorcycle as well as drive a car. So to me, it is not about an advantage or disadvantage, but about the best way to get there.

What is the best and worst professional advice you have received and given?

The best I received: My first photo mentor Tan Lai Hock taught me never to bring cow gum to a shoot, so I won’t get ‘stuck’ in one place, and that I should always explore as much as I can.

The worst: None.

The best I gave: Follow your heart.
The worst I gave: Follow your heart.

What are some of the common financial mistakes you’ve observed among photographers?

I reckon the most common and likely the most costly one is the mistake of giving up and not trying again. If you try again and succeed on the next try, you’ve turned the mistakes into lessons instead.

You have worked with many assistants over the years. What’s one thing most of them will say about you?

That I always make sure the team eats on time. What’s more important than lunch?!

You’re a co-founder of Platform. Where do you see the group heading in the immediate future?

The casual, impromptu nature of Platform is probably one of its strengths, so I would say Platform should just continue to be spontaneous and have great fun doing it.

Are you talented or hardworking?

Neither, I reckon. I always have my head in the clouds.


The portrait of Ernest Goh was drawn by Flee Circus; and Leonard Goh, who will anchor all the interviews in this series, is a co-founder of Platform.

To purchase a copy of The Gift Book by Ernest Goh, please visit: