On life, photography and self-publishing

An old note from last year:
Why did I self-publish a photo book? Or rather, why and when did I start photographing? I was probably 8 years old when I first held a camera, my father’s Olympus XA to be exact, and I only knew it was one hell of a good camera 20 years later. That first photography experience was at Haw Par Villa (once a popular attraction in Singapore), I was photographing strangers unknowingly but I was told off by my dad not to do that. Looking back, I could have amassed 26 years worth of street photographs, and probably another 30-40 years more if I had discovered this genre then.

But no, it was expected of me, a typical 8 year old to be influenced and followed ‘the footsteps’ of his father who was a serious hobbyist; photographing landscapes, buildings, macros, birds, but just not street photography. My father even had Angénieux lenses which were out-of-bounds to me for a few years (and probably out of his budget then), we had more cable releases than my iPhone cables now, I probably used more SR44, LR44 and 4LR44 batteries than the standard double or triple As, and I even had a photography vest when I turned 14. We were such avid hobbyists.

A little fast-forward to my days (a rather short one) at Singapore Polytechnic where I handed in blank sheets without my name during the final assessment. I quitted school the next day, broke my parent’s hearts and applied for NAFA (Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts) instead. Did I mention I was good at arts apart from being interested in photography? For some reasons, I enquired about the courses from London School of Photography while waiting for my entrance test results at NAFA (damn you kids with 5 O’levels who doesn’t need to do that now). I secretly wanted to ‘study’ photography, but the hefty tuition fees put me off and I never mentioned a word about it to anyone. I went to NAFA instead.

3 years at NAFA didn’t turn my photography passion into something more than a hobby, even though I did well for photography in school, and I could even took an ‘A+’ from a lecturer who never gave grades higher than a ‘B’. I was more obsessed in topping the class and getting higher GPAs. I went on to graduate in Visual Communications with distinction but struggled with different jobs; interactive, DTP, publishing, FA, design and finally advertising where I worked in for the last 10 years. I took lesser photographs, stopped buying cameras, and it seemed that my photography passion just vanished without me knowing.

More fast-forward to three years ago, where I somehow discovered Flickr, then works by Elliot Erwitt, Garry Winogrand, Alex Webb and Bruce Davidson, I wanted to do photography again but a photography rut came just when I rekindled with my passion; I had too little time and money. But somehow it was meant for me to nearly lose my phone through the MRT door gaps in 2010 and the idea for my ‘Please Mind The Gap’ photo series was conceived as a result. I was excited at the thought of it because I could shoot during my daily commute to work, and I was always near my wife who was expecting our first child during the first year of this project.

Advertising had made me believe that every idea had been done, just when I thought I had a great idea, someone would beat me to that or did something similar. And because of that, I was determined to make ‘Please Mind The Gap’ into a book; it sounded unbelievable, but I wanted to do it when I landed the first shot of the series after a few months of trying and finding out that no one had done it yet. I wanted to ‘own’ this idea, more so after 3 years and a thousand over shots later.

Experiences from working in advertising and design helped a lot in my photo book-making process, including understanding how expensive it could be. But the decision was emotional, on impulse and I rather regret doing it than not. With some helps from friends and almost no help at all financially, where I sold some gears and wiped out my personal savings, I had finally got it printed.

I apologised that this little note on my relationship with photography and self-publishing had turned into somewhat a long life story. I couldn’t write to save my life, I should probably stick to my day job as an art director or my little photography hobby, but I just thought of sharing why I did photography and what went behind this little photo book I’m holding in my hands now, titled PLEASE MIND THE GAP | SINGAPORE.

*Call me crazy, but I’m planning to work on a Hong Kong version of this series. Yes, with a photo book in the plans.
**And many thanks to my colleague RJ Teo for helping to photograph the book.

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