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For a change, the introduction to Two People by Sean Lee, TwentyFifteen 04/20, is not written by the photographer, but by his younger sister. Talk about keeping it in the family.

by Pearl Lee

“What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”

These were the words my brother chose as a caption for one of the first few photos he took of my parents. Although the photo is not included in this collection, it remains a personal favourite of all the images my brother has shot of them. I remember asking him once why he had chosen that caption and what it meant to him. I thought it was a strange way to describe our parents. I thought that he, like me, must have been fully aware of the marital problems our folks had gone through in our younger years.

My brother replied that he had chosen that caption as it was what he wished for them. I think we both know that the relationship between our parents was far from ideal. It is a flawed love that, over the years, has made its fair share of mistakes. My brother said then that his intention was not to describe my parents’ relationship, but that he hoped that they would continue to stay together, come what may.

Growing up, my mother was always the more involved parent, and my father, often absent. While all of us shared a good relationship with my mum, it was not the same with my dad. I hardly spoke to him, and when I did, I always sounded either detached or rude. Things only got better when I was midway through university. It was also around this time that my brother started making images of my parents.

When he first got them to pose for his photography projects, it was probably one of the rare few things my folks had done together in their lives. They had to hold awkward positions – mostly touching and being intimate with each other – while my sister and I watched and laughed as they tried to look as solemn as possible for the camera.

Sometimes, we got to be part of the image as well. I remember my parents, my brother and I huddling under a piece of cardboard on which my brother had dumped soil. He balanced the cardboard on the four legs of an upturned table, and all of us huddled into the small space below it and stuck our fingers into the holes that my brother had made in the cardboard. It was a warm day and I could hear my parents breathing right next to me. It was probably the first time I had been so physically close to them since I was a child in primary school.

Today, a few years on, such events are the norm in our household. My folks now pose readily when my brother wants them to do a shoot. They even support his crazy ideas of painting the floor tiles in his room grey or doodling on the walls of our flat. It is no longer uncommon for the three of them to share a conversation in the living room about my brother’s art.

Perhaps this was what he meant, when he chose that biblical phrase years ago for that photo of my parents, which he now has stuck on the wall of his room. To me, it is also the greatest gift my brother has given to the family. We may not understand the meaning behind every black-and-white image he has made, or be able to articulate the larger meaning of his art. But we are changed by his work, bit by bit, every day.

Pearl Lee is Sean’s younger sister and a newspaper journalist.

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To purchase a copy of Two People by Sean Lee, please visit:
http://twentyfifteen.myshopify.com/collections/photographers-folios/products/two-people-by-sean-lee

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Platform and TwentyFifteen.sg co-founder Darren Soh was tweeting ‘live’ from Grenadier Press, our printing partner.

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SeanLee_portrait
How did winning the ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu award in 2011 affect your work as a photographer?

Initially, I felt a little pressure to do well and make better works. I also felt that if I were to experiment and do different things, others might think that they are stupid or frivolous, and that I’ve lost it.

Ultimately, there was also the pressure to live up to other people’s expectations.

But after some time, the pressure and excitement subsided, and I realised that my work has to go on, with or without the award. I told myself that the award should not have any bearing on how I work.

Fifty years down the road, no one will look back and say, “That’s Sean, who won the award in 2011.” Don’t get me wrong, I am not slighting the award, but I don’t want to be remembered by it. I want my work to be remembered, and to be remembered because it is good.

Previously you had a project, Method, where you cross-dressed as a woman, complete with a persona named Shauna. How did you conceive this project and what lesser-known details can you tell us about it?

I started to work on Method in 2007 in Cambodia, when I was there for a workshop. For the first three days, I had no idea what to shoot. On the third night, I went to pray at the balcony and I woke up the next day with the idea of immersing myself in a role. First, I tried to be a tuk-tuk driver. Then, I tried to be a construction worker. Lastly, I settled on Shauna. Shauna was different because it was an actual person, not an occupation. This means that I had to make physical, emotional and mental adjustments. This is a type of risk that I like to take. When I was dressed up as Shauna, I didn’t talk or make any noise. Standing in the red-light district in Siem Reap, Cambodia, I had people who tried to pick me up but most of them left when I did not respond to them. I also had an assistant nearby to make sure that I was safe, and to ensure that nothing got out of hand.

I continued Method in Singapore. My dad felt awkward and conflicted about the whole experience since I would dress up at home and head out. There was one occasion when some people didn’t want to get into the lift with me. I didn’t expect their reaction to be so extreme, to the extent of not even wanting to look at me.

Coming back to Homework, how did your parents react when you first asked them to pose for you?

They were not as natural as they are today. At the start, they were asking a lot of questions and were very self-conscious about being in front of the camera. They were also not comfortable with touching each other. It took about one year before they were at ease with the process.

Are there any gender stereotypes that you imply with Homework?

I don’t think about that, actually. If it comes across that way, I am definitely not thinking about it consciously. When I’m shooting, I just try to recognise what I have in my mind. I am looking for a feeling, and I can recognise it in the viewfinder when I see it.

In fact, when I shoot, it is a race against time because I don’t want to tire my parents out. My heart is always pounding and I try not to be conscious about shooting.

How has your relationship with your parents changed, looking at before and after you starting shooting them?

Before I started Homework, my relationship with the family was relatively close, and it was definitely not a fractured relationship.

After embarking on Homework, the relationship that I have with my family is definitely different, although there is no major shift or change in the way we interact. They know more about my work now and we are able to talk more about it. They are also more involved than before.

I also share with them more openly about my work, and they will give me suggestions. For example, they have been telling me to send my prints to New York, and take some risks.

Most recently at the Singapore Biennale, someone who was installing my work said they don’t understand what I was trying to say. I felt a little upset by that, but my dad said, “What do they know about your works?”

I’m curious about what your parents think of your work. Do they understand it, in a way that, say, the person at the Biennale did not? Or are they comfortable with not understanding it, thus your father’s comment?

I have never really tried to test if they understand my work. Honestly I think that maybe they do not. But that’s okay for me. If anything, I think my dad gets it more. But I’m not sure. Having said that, I talk to my mum a lot about my work, and I go into deep detail, and she listens and responds. So I think I just explain it to them as best I can, not so much because I want them to understand but more because I want someone to talk to.

My father was probably saying, “Who is this guy? What does he know about art?” I believe he was trying to tell me to ignore the guy. I think the guy was just giving an honest opinion, but my dad was being protective of me.

How did you come up with the concept for Homework?

I was in Arles, France to participate in a photo festival. Unfortunately, I didn’t win. But my dad messaged me, which was something he seldom does. He said not to give up. Right at that instance, I thought to myself that I should photograph my family and make it part of my life.

Typically, Asian parents are not comfortable showing their bare bodies in front of the camera. How did you convince your dad to do that?

My dad is usually shirtless at home, so that’s his ‘natural’ state. He’s generally comfortable not wearing clothes in front of the camera.

Have you ever considered shooting your parents nude?

I have thought about it and decided not to because I find it too intrusive, and I know they would not be comfortable. I have raised this idea to my mom before and she said she wouldn’t be comfortable. If my parents don’t feel comfortable with what I have in mind, I won’t shoot it.

Do you plan your shots ahead or are they spontaneous?

Ninety percent of the time I plan my shots, and the remaining ten percent I might try something new on the spot. The most spontaneous thing I ever tried was to make them wear a pig’s mask, which I had at home but I didn’t know what to do with it.

You seem to be fascinated with hands, as a lot of them are shown in your works. Why?

I’m fascinated with the idea of my parents touching each other, so the hands play a big role. To me, hands can comfort you, but they can also inflict pain. That is interesting to me. Also, using one’s hands is the most direct way to touch someone.

In Homework, the subjects most depicted often are your parents. But once in a while, your sister plays a cameo role too. Do you plan to showcase your sister’s profile in future projects?

Actually, I’m slowly removing the shots of my sister from the series. She was involved in some shots, but she wasn’t that into it. I want Homework to appear consistent, that’s why I’m removing those shots.

Why do you think that your sister does not belong in this series? She is a member of the family too.

My sister is very important to me. She is responsible for me having like a social life. And she is very much a part of the family. Perhaps I don’t want her to be part of the series at this stage.

One reason is that my parents care less about how they look.

So when I shoot them, I can concentrate on purely how the images feel to me. My sister is still young. I know that she will be a lot more concerned about she will look in my pictures. So if I photograph her I have to make sure that she thinks she looks beautiful. This can be distracting.

Do your parents hang any photos from Homework at home?

Yes, but only one. It is a collage of photos where we engaged in a staring contest. In the instant that someone laughed, I took the photo. This collage is the only one that my parents like to be displayed at home.

Will Homework be a running series, or do you have a timeframe in mind, when you will stop working on it?

I plan to keep shooting Homework as long as I can. I may take some time off, but if a picture comes to me, I will shoot it.

Complete this sentence: “In ten years, I hope Singapore will be …”

A place where more people will realise the benefits of silliness and find ways to help themselves to confront their own realities with passion and love.

 

To purchase a copy of Two People by Sean Lee, please visit:
http://twentyfifteen.myshopify.com/collections/photographers-folios/products/two-people-by-sean-lee
 

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

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HW025Chinese version of Sean Lee’s one-on-one interview with Platform co-founder, Leonard Goh.

问: 作为一名摄影师,在2011年赢得ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu奖项,对你的工作有什么影响?

答: 刚开始时,自然会有压力要去创作更好的作品。我也觉得,如果我去尝试做不同的东西,别人会以异样地眼光来看待我。

当然,做出达到别人要求的作品的愿望也给了我一定的压力。

过了一段时间,起初的压力和兴奋都消失了。我意识到无论有没有这个奖,我都会继续创作。我也告诉自己,这奖不能影响我的创作方式。

五十年后,没有人见到我时会说:“哦,你是在 2011 年得奖的培炀”。我不是在轻视这个奖,而是想要大家因为我的作品出色而记得我,并非因为得了奖才记得我。

问: 你先前的一套作品《Method》里面,你乔装成了一名叫 Shauna 的女人。你是在什么情况下想出这个点子?还有什么不为人知的小故事可以告诉大家吗?

答: 《Method 》是我2007 年开始创作的。当时,我在柬埔寨参与一个摄影课程。前三天,我一直不知道该拍什么好。直到第三天晚上,我去阳台祈祷,隔天起床后便想出了扮演角色的点子。

刚开始,我试图扮演一位嘟嘟车司机, 随后也尝试了做一名建筑工人。最后,我决定做 Shauna。

Shauna 和嘟嘟车司机与建筑工人的不同之处就是,Shauna 是一个人,而其他两个代表一种职业。这意味着我必须在肢体,情绪与心理上做出调整。我喜欢这种挑战。

当我打扮成 Shauna 的时候,我不说话也不出声。站在柬埔寨暹粒市的红灯区,有一些人跟我搭讪。但由于我没对他们做出任何回应,他们也就走开了。我也有一名助手在一旁确保我的安全,以防突发情况。

回到新加坡,我继续拍摄 《Method》。每次看到我乔装打扮出门,爸爸都对这整个过程感到别扭,甚至反感。有一次,我在电梯里,外面的人一看到我都不敢进来。我没想到别人的反应会如此极端,有些人甚至连看都不想看我一眼。

问: 当你第一次要求你的父母配合拍摄《 Homework 》时,他们的反应是怎么样?

答: 刚开始时,他们问很多问题,而且在镜头前的自我意识也很强。他们在触摸对方时也有点尴尬。不过,拍摄一年后,他们的对拍摄的过程也感到比较自在了。

问: 《Homework》 里是否有任何性别模式化的东西?

我在拍摄时其实没想到要模式化性别。即使照片里表现出这个意识,也并非我在拍摄时刻意去表达的。

拍照时,我尽可能演示我头脑里的画面。我寻找的是一种感觉,一种透过取影器可以看到并意识到的感觉。

其实,每一个拍摄过程都是和时间赛跑,因为我不想让父母感觉疲累。我的心总是跳得很快,而我则尽量不去关注拍摄过程本身。

问: 你和父母的关系在拍摄《 Homework 》前后有何不同?

答: 在拍摄 《Homework 》之前,我和家人的还算比较亲近,绝不是一种有缺陷的家庭关系。

虽然和父母的关系在拍摄 《Homework 》 期间有所改变,但我们互动的方式没有太大的变化。可是,他们对我的作品有了更深的了解,交谈的多了,拍摄起来也比以前更投入了。

我也时常和他们分享我的作品,而他们也给我提些意见。比如,父母一直让我试着冒冒险,把作品寄到纽约参展。

最近,我也参与了新加坡双年展。在布置我的作品时,有一个工人说他不太了解我的作品的涵义。我听了感到有点懊恼,但我的爸爸对我说,“他们对你的作品有什么了解?”

问: 我很好奇,你父母怎么看你的作品。展会上那个人看不懂,那他们能看懂吗?或者是否在你父亲看来,即使看不懂也是一种享受?

答: 我从未尝试测试他们是否理解我的作品。老实说,我想也许他们并不懂,但那也没关系。要说懂点的话,我父亲要懂得多点。不过我也不能肯定。如我所说,关于作品,我跟母亲说的多点,也更细致点,她会边听边回应。

所以,我只是尽我所能解释给他们听,并不期望他们真懂,只要有人听我说就好。

我父亲可能会说,“他是谁?他懂艺术吗?”我知道他是让我别把那个人的话放在心上。那个人说的是实话,不过父亲是想保护我。

问: 你是怎样想出《Homework 》的概念的?

答: 那时,我在法国,阿尔勒,参与一个摄影展与比赛。很遗憾的,我没赢到任何奖。我的爸爸很少给我发短讯,但那次他却发了条短讯,叫我不要气馁。就在那个时刻,我对自己说我应该拍摄我的家人, 并且把那做为我生活的一部分。

问: 通常亚洲父母在镜头前裸露上身会感到不自在。你是如何说服你爸爸的呢?

答: 爸爸在家经常都不穿上衣的,所以可以说那是他的 ”自然“ 状态。他在镜头前光着上身也不会感到不自在。

问: 你可否有想过叫你的父母全裸让你拍摄?

答: 有, 不过后来打消了这个念头,因为我觉得那样太过冒犯了,而且我也知道他们会感到非常不自在。我曾经跟妈妈提过这个想法,她也说会感觉不自在。如果我的父母对我的拍摄想法有一丝的不自在,那我就不会拍。

问: 你在拍摄前会策划过程,还是会当场自由发挥?

答: 90% 的时候我都会先策划好要拍什么,而其余的 10% 我可能会当场尝试一些新的点子。最突发奇想的就是有一次,我要求父母戴上猪的面具。那面具搁在家里我也不知道该派什么用场。

问: 你似乎对手很着迷,它们在你的作品里随处可见,为什么?

答: 我着迷于让父母触摸对方的点子。因而,手扮演着非常重要的角色。对我来说,手能给予人安抚,但也能打痛别人。这对我来说非常有趣。而且,用手是触摸一个人是最直接的方法。

问: 在《 Homework 》里, 最常表现的对象是你的父母。但你的妹妹也时不时客串小部分的。你有打算要展示更多妹妹的照片吗?

答: 其实,我正在慢慢地把妹妹的照片从系列里挑出。虽然她有出现在几张照片中,但也没有那么投入。我想要让《 Homework 》更有种连贯性地感觉,所以我在把那些照片给挑出来了。

问: 为什么你觉得妹妹的照片不属于这个系列呢? 她也是家里的一分子啊。

答: 我的妹妹对我很重要。她其实是负责我的社交活动,所以她可以说是家里非常重要的一个人。或许我现在还不想让她成为系列的一部分。

另外一个原因是我的父母不太注重自己的形象。所以当我在拍摄他们时,我可以专注照片的感觉。但是,妹妹还年轻。 我知道她会比较在意她在照片里的样子。所以当我在拍摄她时,我必须注意把她拍得漂亮些。这样来拍摄会让我非常分心。

问: 你家里有挂《Homework》 的照片吗?

答: 有,但只有一张。那是我们一家人瞪眼比赛的拼贴。只要有人一笑,我便会按下快门拍下那一刹那。这拼贴是唯一一张我父母喜欢展示在家里的。

问: 《Homework》 会是一个连续系列吗, 还是已经想好了停止拍摄的时间?

答: 只要我有能力,我会将《 Homework》的拍摄一直进行下去。之间,我可能会抽空做其他的事。但如果我有一张照片的概念,我便会拍。

问: 完成这句子:“在十年后,我希望新加坡成为…”

答: 一个能让更多人意识到傻的好处,面对的现实,能用热情和爱心去寻求解决途径的地方。

To purchase a copy of Two People by Sean Lee, please visit:
http://twentyfifteen.myshopify.com/collections/photographers-folios/products/two-people-by-sean-lee

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During the editing of this book, Sean Lee asked if we could do a Chinese translation for the text so that his parents can read. It is a request we found hard to refuse. For a change, the introduction to Two People by Sean Lee, TwentyFifteen 04/20, is not written by the photographer, but by his younger sister. Talk about keeping it in the family.

李珮滢

“所以神配合的,人不可分开”
– 马可福音10:9

这是哥哥开始给父母拍照时, 为其中一张照片取的标题。虽然这张照片没有收在这本书里,但它依然是这个系列里我最喜欢的一张。我记得曾经问过哥哥为什么要选择这个标题,是什么意思,因为我觉得以此来形容父母的关系有点怪怪的。我以为他和我一样,从小就了解老一辈婚姻存在的问题。

哥哥说,那标题不过是他寄予父母的一种愿望。我想我们两个都知道父母的关系并不完美,那是多年来双方互相包容彼此的过错得以保留的一份有瑕疵的爱而已。哥哥说,这个标题的用意不形容他们的关系,而是希望无论发生什么事情,他俩都能一起度过。

在我们成长的过程中,妈妈总是扮演更为投入的角色,而爸爸却常常缺席。我们三个孩子跟妈妈关系一向很好,跟爸爸却没那么融洽。我很少和爸爸说话,即使说话, 语气也疏离甚至无礼。直到我准备上大学的时候,情况才有所改观,也是在这个时候,哥哥开始给父母拍照。

起初,哥哥让他俩摆各种姿势来配合拍摄,这可能是老两口一辈子中一起做的为数不多的事情之一。他们摆着别扭的姿势——免不了亲密接触,还要做出庄重的表情看着镜头,让旁观的妹妹和我忍俊不禁。

有时,需要全家合影。一次,爸爸、妈妈、哥哥和我挤在一块板子下,板子上涂了泥巴,哥哥把板子放在倒扣的桌子四条腿上,让我们挤在底下狭小的空间里,手指插进板子上挖好的洞里。那天,天气很热,我能听得见父母的呼吸声,那可能是自上小学以来自己第一次这样近距离地和他们接触。

如今,许多年过去了,这类事情在家里已经司空见惯。只要是哥哥拍照的需要,老俩都随时摆好姿势配合,连他把自己的房间地板刷成灰色,在我们家的墙上涂鸦这样荒谬的点子父母也都赞成了。他们三个在客厅里一起谈论哥哥的作品也变得再寻常不过了。

也许,这正是多年前哥哥选择圣经的这句话做照片标题的用意所在。那张照片现在被哥哥贴在他房间的墙上。对我而言,这也是哥哥给我们全家最好的礼物。我们或许无法参透每个黑白影像背后的含义,无法理解他艺术作品的深层寓意。但随着日子一天天过去,我们都在他作品的影响下慢慢地改变着。

李珮滢是李培炀的妹妹。

To purchase a copy of Two People by Sean Lee, please visit:
http://twentyfifteen.myshopify.com/collections/photographers-folios/products/two-people-by-sean-lee

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HW007

For a change, the introduction to Two People by Sean Lee, TwentyFifteen 04/20, is not written by the photographer, but by his younger sister. Talk about keeping it in the family.

by Pearl Lee

“What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”

These were the words my brother chose as a caption for one of the first few photos he took of my parents. Although the photo is not included in this collection, it remains a personal favourite
of all the images my brother has shot of them. I remember asking him once why he had chosen that caption and what it meant to him. I thought it was a strange way to describe our parents. I thought that he, like me, must have been fully aware of the marital problems our folks had gone through in our younger years.

My brother replied that he had chosen that caption as it was what he wished for them. I think we both know that the relationship between our parents was far from ideal. It is a flawed love that, over the years, has made its fair share of mistakes. My brother said then that his intention was not to describe my parents’ relationship, but that he hoped that they would continue to stay together, come what may.

Growing up, my mother was always the more involved parent, and my father, often absent. While all of us shared a good relationship with my mum, it was not the same with my dad. I hardly spoke to him, and when I did, I always sounded either detached or rude. Things only got better when I was midway through university. It was also around this time that my brother started making images of my parents.

When he first got them to pose for his photography projects, it was probably one of the rare few things my folks had done together in their lives. They had to hold awkward positions – mostly touching and being intimate with each other – while my sister and I watched and laughed as they tried to look as solemn as possible for the camera.

Sometimes, we got to be part of the image as well. I remember my parents, my brother and I huddling under a piece of cardboard on which my brother had dumped soil. He balanced the cardboard on the four legs of an upturned table, and all of us huddled into the small space below it and stuck our fingers into the holes that my brother had made in the cardboard. It was a warm day and I could hear my parents breathing right next to me. It was probably the first time I had been so physically close to them since I was a child in primary school.

Today, a few years on, such events are the norm in our household. My folks now pose readily when my brother wants them to do a shoot. They even support his crazy ideas of painting the floor tiles in his room grey or doodling on the walls of our flat. It is no longer uncommon for the three of them to share a conversation in the living room about my brother’s art.

Perhaps this was what he meant, when he chose that biblical phrase years ago for that photo of my parents, which he now has stuck on the wall of his room. To me, it is also the greatest gift my brother has given to the family. We may not understand the meaning behind every black-and-white image he has made, or be able to articulate the larger meaning of his art. But we are changed by his work, bit by bit, every day.

Pearl Lee is Sean’s younger sister and a newspaper journalist.

To purchase a copy of Two People by Sean Lee, please visit:
http://twentyfifteen.myshopify.com/collections/photographers-folios/products/two-people-by-sean-lee

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Kevin_Lee.jpgYou are known fondly for being an advocate of street photography and you’re well-versed in it. However, in Bay of Dreams, your images are a stark contrast to what we are familiar with seeing from you. Are we seeing another side to you that we haven’t seen before?

People who really know me know that I don’t really talk much or express myself all that well in words. My father is the same – quiet. I don’t like confrontations too. So making pictures is great. To me, street photography is simply putting on your shoes and going out with a camera to collect haikus – short poems and reflections about daily life.

For me, form follows function. There are some who believe they should have a strong visual signature. I hope my signature is in my interests and my point of view, not the style. I don’t know if people will connect with these images, but for this series, the images and how they look and feel are important to me and appropriate.

Most of us know you as the founder of Invisible Photographer Asia, but few of us know when and how you got into photography. Tell us a little bit about your journey.

I was born in Fiji and grew up there. I didn’t have any visual education when I was young, to be honest. We didn’t have TVs, there wasn’t much mass media as such, and my friends and I were more interested in running around barefoot, playing soccer under the sun.

I came late to photography. I graduated from the College of Fine Arts at the University of New South Wales in Australia, and I’ve been working in the creative industry for over 15 years now. As an art director, I had always worked with photographers, but I never thought of picking up a camera myself till much later.

Before I did, I even tried making a feature film, and failed miserably. The process drained me mentally and physically, it became more of a commercial pursuit rather than a creative one. I wasted a few years but learnt a lot.

I took a rest, then picked up a camera one day and felt liberated that I could express myself creatively, without the burdens I had previously experienced.


In your introduction, you mentioned that your parents “spend their days now waiting for me to come home from work with good news.” What types of good news do you think they are expecting?

My parents come from a humble village of rice farmers, so a good harvest is good news.


A good harvest? I am sure you are not farming in Singapore. So what kind of harvest are you cultivating in Singapore?

A good harvest means you are rewarded for your toil and labour. For some, it is as simple as having a good supply of bread on the table and a permanent roof over your head.

Coincidently, Aung San Suu Kyi made her first-ever visit to Singapore the other day. During her press conference, she posed some questions that I found inspiring: “What are human beings for? What are human lives about? What is the purpose of work, of material wealth? Is that the ultimate aim of human beings, is that what we all want?”

FYI, my mother is still waiting for that big house I promised her when I was just a young, barefoot kid in Fiji.

Your parents are from China, they relocated to Fiji and you were born there. What made you choose Singapore to be your home? What is it about this country that has made you feel deeply?

My elder sister migrated here first and started her family. She told me the grass was green here. So I came, and I’ve been here ever since. Home and country are about people. I’ve met some great people in Singapore and they’ve become part of my life. Moreover, my parents are now here with me and they are Singaporeans too.

A lot of young, aspiring photographers look up to you as a voice for photography in Asia. What is your message to them?

I don’t know if I am but … Life is short, really. Chase your dreams. Don’t worry if they get broken, because they might. But life is short.

I’m pretty sure you have been asked this a lot of times, but for the benefit of those who are new to your works, why did you name yourself Ox?

Ox is a nickname. I was born in the year of the ox (according to the Chinese zodiac) and I’m damn stubborn. A fortune teller once told my mum that while others choose to ride a horse to their destination, I choose to walk. Damn stubborn.
 

 

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

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COE

Going out soon to all the good patrons who believe in us – a ‘certificate/voucher’ that will allow them to select an A3 print from any of the works published in the TwentyFifteen.sg initiative.

Thank you once again.

For information on how to purchase the complete set, please visit
https://twentyfifteen.myshopify.com/collections/pre-order

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How did you get interested in photography?

When I was a student, my friend had free tickets for a documentary about Magnum co-founder Robert Capa. The film really left a significant impression on me, but film and development costs then were too expensive for me to pursue photography actively.

When I graduated from the National University of Singapore in 2007, I bought my first digital camera – a Nikon D40 – and that was when I became more serious about photography. Making photos became an excuse for me to indulge my innate curiosity. I think we all want an outlet to express ourselves. Photography happens to be my medium of choice.

How and when did you get interested in documenting the coastline of Singapore?

It happened by accident. I was at Punggol Beach with my then-girlfriend to see if we could find some sort of resolution and while we were there, I made a picture of her and her dog, Coco, looking out wistfully to sea.

When the roll of film was developed, I thought I might have something there, so I continued going out to the coastline to shoot. I found the process interesting and, to a certain extent, cathartic.

From the way you describe the your ex-girlfriend, right down to the details of the dog, it sounds like if you weren’t there with her then, you wouldn’t have started on OUR COASTLINE.

Would you say that love is the primary driver for this project?

Yes, it began in some ways as a ‘break-up’ project. We could have gotten married, but I froze and I couldn’t understand why.

So around December 2011, I started going out to the coastline, hoping for answers, and the photos initially, I would say, reflected that: people or landscapes which looked lost.

While it started off as an emotional exercise, it slowly evolved over the last year and a half, to include my feelings about living in Singapore, like the state of our education system or our ageing population – other kinds of ‘searching’.

Tell us a little something about some of the people in the photos.

I hope it’s not me projecting. But the people in the photos, they all seem to be either looking for something or waiting for something, which I guess resonated with me as I was going through a hard time emotionally when I began.

When I made the photos, I was looking for photos that had resonance with how I felt. It was a bag of feelings, of longing for the past, for simpler times. I was questioning my own decisions and wondering what the future would hold. Photography was an outlet for those emotions.

What are some challenges you faced in creating OUR COASTLINE?

In a way, the photos are random encounters along Singapore’s coastline. To bring cogency to the images, I tried to get a similar look to the photos and one important aspect was how the images were lit. I had to wait for the right kind of weather, which would give the right kind of light, before I could head out to the coastline to make photos.

Also, because the photos are based on a certain feeling (as I mentioned earlier), there were many occasions when I would spend hours at a certain part of the coastline searching and waiting for the shot that would encapsulate how I felt, but ended up with no photos to show because the scenes just didn’t look or feel right.

How did you decide on which subjects to capture or focus on for this project?

I chose my scenes based on how they made me feel. It was an intuitive process. If the scene didn’t feel right, I wouldn’t capture it. I found that I knew instinctively, even before I made the shot, if it was going to be a keeper.

When I switched to the digital medium later, I could afford to take more risks and made more frames – which meant the project evolved to become more than an emotional process. It became more of a documentary and I began to capture the quirky side of life along the coastline.

You started OUR COASTLINE shooting in medium format but abandoned it in the end. Can you tell us more about this choice or process?

Initially I used a medium-format camera, the Mamiya C330, because I wanted to try a different format, and also have the option of being able to make big prints.

I found that shooting with a TLR slowed down the picture-making process. There are only 12 frames in each roll of film and that forced me to be more selective. It was good training.

Using the TLR was also stealthier. Most people nowadays don’t recognise the TLR as a camera anymore, so I could make pictures without people realising it or becoming self-conscious.

Later, I switched to the Nikon D800 because its 36 megapixels allowed me to make a square crop while having enough pixels to still make large prints. In fact it gave me better files because it cut out the scanning process. All the photos in this book were made with the D800.

The trade-off from switching to digital was that I lost stealth. But by then, I knew what what I was looking for, and I worked out how to be less conspicuous as a photographer, by pre-focusing and shooting from the hip.

Can you share with us your process for going out to document the coastline?

Firstly the weather or light has to be right. Then to get into the right mood, I would listen to some music. One of the songs I listened a lot to was “Sovereign Light Cafe” by Keane. I made it a point to visit a different part of the island each time. I started at Punggol and went around in a clockwise manner, so after that Lorong Halus, Pasir Ris, Changi, etc. But there are only 194 km and a lot of it is out of bounds, so over the two years, I made many repeat visits to certain sites.

So how much have you covered so far?

I don’t keep track of the exact distance I have covered. But I would say I have visited most of the accessible parts of the coastline. Google Maps is a very good tool I rely on when I plan where to visit. It helped me to discover some of the more obscure parts of the coastline, such as Sungei Kadut or Coney Island.

Why are the photographs in OUR COASTLINE important to you?

The 15 photos are like a microcosm of Singapore today. While I did not intend for them to be so when I made the pictures, a lot of them can be seen as metaphors reflecting the growing pains of contemporary Singapore. On a more personal level, photographing the coastline was a way for me to sort out my feelings. When I look back at some of the more memorable photos, I can still remember how I felt when I made them.

Which part of the coastline for you was the most memorable to document?

They are all memorable, but the Marina Bay area is significant because at this moment, the area is in transition. So much construction is going on and in a year or two, it will look completely different. I will always remember the four weekends spent at the Marina Barrage, around Marina South Pier and memorising the fly-by times of the Chinook flag-carrying convoy and the fighter jets for National Day.

Has OUR COASTLINE ended, or are you going to continue shooting it? Do you have a plan to complete the full circle?

I think I will carry on until the end of the year before moving on to something else. It may sound arbitrary, but I just have a feeling that the project is near its end. Perhaps a few years from now, I can return to photographing the coastline and we will be able to compare and see how much has changed.

You have spent close to two years photographing the coastline. What do you want to say to people who feel there is nothing much to photograph in Singapore?

If you care about Singapore, and have something you really want to say about Singapore, and you spend time thinking and refining your message, your work will be unique. So really, it’s not about the size of the island.

 

 

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

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Dear Friends,

I would like to thank everyone for your overwhelming support for TwentyFifteen.sg. We have only just begun our journey, yet the outpouring of love and offers of help have been truly, truly heart-warming.

Here we are at the second of twenty books, even though it seems like it was only yesterday that For My Son was published. Our Coastline offers yet another take on Singapore, this time through the eyes of Lim Weixiang, who for the last two years has been photographing along the 194 km of Singapore’s water’s edge.

For TwentyFifteen.sg, we asked Weixiang to continue this vein of investigation and perhaps surprise us a little with his images. What we got are 15 photographs that will make you want to run to the sea, if only to try and ascertain for yourself that what appears in his photographs actually exists.

On another level, Weixiang’s images provide a quirky glimpse into the lives and habits of those who spend time at the coastline. Interestingly, many of these denizens’ actions reflect life at large in Singapore as a society.

We would also like to take this opportunity to welcome some of our new partners – the National Youth Achievement Award Young Photographers Network (NYAA YPN) and Caffeine Creative. They are convinced by what we are doing and have stepped forward to be a part of our initiative. Thank you for believing in our cause.

We also want to announce a few more really exciting initiatives.

Come 19 and 20 October, we will join our valued partner, Invisible Photographer Asia, at the Singapore Photo Books Day. TwentyFifteen.sg is really happy to be part of this and we will be conducting a DIY photobook-making workshop that weekend. Watch out for more details on our website.

We are also going to make available some TwentyFifteen.sg merchandise. Most will be available through twentyfifteen.myshopify.com.

Lastly, as we go to press, we have a very limited number of Weixiang’s prints left for sale – if you haven’t considered them previously, perhaps you will now after seeing his work in Our Coastline. Let us know if you would like to purchase a print and support TwentyFifteen.sg. We will also be announcing, in due course, the other 18 TwentyFifteen.sg photographers’ limited-edition, signed and numbered A2 prints, along with their books.

Thank you everyone once again, and we hope to see you next month!

 

Darren.

On behalf of Ernest, Kay Chin and Leonard

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