Work

Confession Of A Serial Killer

Some time ago, a mother emailed to inquire my photography service. I could tell she was very keen to have a family portrait made but she was hesitant and was held back by what I believed was "new mother (or parent) syndrome". I was sure I suffered from that too a decade ago: the constant anxiety a new parent feels whenever a routine is upset, something new is being explored, or when the whole family, especially the little one, is nudged out of a comfort zone.

She told me her toddler was very shy in front of strangers; she was worried their pictures would not look like the ones I displayed on my website (warm, happy, candid, natural types). She wanted to come visit my studio with her daughter to remove her inhibitions and basically to "check" if her daughter was comfortable with me. She wanted it on a weekend. Politely, I declined.

First, I don't charge a lot in this family portrait business ($250 basic fee), and I bank on a high turnover to make it work. I don't mind a short meeting during weekday office hours, but to have it on a weekend is a no-no for me because of (1) weddings and (2) my own family time. If I set a precedent, then the amount of time spent on subsequent meetings with interested parents would be overwhelming and unproductive.

Second (and arguably a more critical reason), the natural and candid moments and the happy and excited expressions I capture on kids' faces stem from the fact that they are meeting me and seeing the studio for the first time. The props, the colours, the cosiness they feel upon setting foot in there immediately set them at ease. It is with this first-time novelty that some of the more expressive pictures may be made.

Thirdly, I might not have much luck with ladies, and neither am I adept at small talk or intellectual discussion beyond the confines of club and international football, but I must confess I am slowly gaining a reputation as an aunty-killer (good with mature mothers and grandmothers) and am definitely a child-killer. Kids from the age 12 and below seem to find me disarmingly friendly, due to the fact that I am more than happy to "stoop down" to their level to communicate with them. To smell the flowers, you need to squat down after all, right? Of course, having parents who can interact well with their own kids (other than the standard 'look at uncle; look at the camera;  smile, laugh, don't move) helps tremendously in picture-making.

So back to the new mother and her child. Well, the little one smiled at me within 5 minutes of introduction and started dancing in front of the camera after 7 minutes. And dare I say it? I think I "killed the whole family" at that shoot. In the end, they ended up buying the whole batch of images.

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Pretty Aunty Betty Turns Healthy Seventy

The daughters planned a surprise party for their mother, Betty, to celebrate her 70th birthday. Friends, family members and restaurant staff were in cahoots and kept the birthday girl in the dark. Not sure if she had suspected something all along, or the occasion overwhelmed her, she seemed taken aback at first. After a while, as her friends each took turns to congratulate her, she warmed up immediately and became visibly happier and talkative as the evening progressed. I was privileged to be part of this joyous celebration, as the family was super nice to the photographer and I wish Aunty Betty good health and happiness!

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We Need To Talk About Mabel

There are curious friends and clients who asked me how I managed to make my subjects, both old and young, to laugh so heartily at the camera at a photo-shoot. I have not thought about it because I did not set out to become a family photographer, but it came as a natural progression after having shot weddings for more than 10 years and seeing my wedding clients bring up their own kids.

After some thought, I believe it is all in the mind. As long as the photographer has a love of a subject and the love for the subjects, my camera disappears in the eyes of the children. What they are looking at is another child having fun, albeit an oversized one. Just like a young romanticized upstart who has beautiful notion of what romantic love and weddings should look like in pictures, old birds and parents like me learn how to tolerate the noise and mess created by kids and subsequently appreciate their innocence in front of the camera.

I talk to them, cajole them, "scare" them, joke with them, do silly things together with them, make a fool of myself in front of them.....all the while snapping their reactions and transformations before this stranger they meet for the first time. There are no secret recipes or formulae. It is a state of mind. It takes one to know another. KC is like a child. Be like KC.

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Mabel was very suspicious of me when we first met on a warm Saturday morning. She eyed me from top to bottom, trying to suss out what this fat uncle is up to.

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She, being an obedient girl, still managed to give me a patronising smile on the behest of her parents. You can tell the smile was very fake.

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To break the ice, I would indulge the kids (with parents' blessings) in whatever they feel like doing. In this case, Mabel has this penchant for tasting the leaves of plants. It could be an extension of her masak-masak kitchen play at home, or a strong sense of curiosity. I asked her if she liked the taste, and at the same time shared with her the fact that some plants might be poisonous. At an instant, I "earned" her respect because I was so "knowledgeable".

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Mabel's parents are very good with their kids. I can tell they have a really good rapport with the kids (you can be surprised some parents do not really how to interact and play with their own kids). That helped in making Mabel more relaxed.

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By letting her tease me in a game of "now you see it, now you don't", Mabel had totally forgotten this was a photo shoot. To her, it was another fun time, with an additional playmate.

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Mission accomplished. I hope she had as good memories as I had of this fun-filled outdoor photo session. Never do I need to instruct her "to smile" for the camera. Keeping it real, all the way.

Fatherhood #1

A while ago, in conjunction with Father's Day, I had a special promotion package that caters to fathers. In our Asian society, fathers are traditionally the breadwinners and due to work, they do not spend enough time with their children. I just wanted to create an occasion for fathers and child(ren) to spend some quality time together for this photo shoot. I must say I enjoyed it very much myself.

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The Big Hatter

Young, successive and productive: that's pretty much what came across my mind when I got to know Yinglan for his family shoot. A man who wears many hats (venture capitalist at Sequoia Capital, writer and businessman), his impressive CV makes for long reading, but what impresses me most is his dedication to his family. He might be a jetsetter, has all the right connections in the high places, and a speaker on the global stage, but that day, at a neighbourhood park in Ang Mo Kio, he's just a loving a husband and a doting father.

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The Goh Family

This is really one of the rare opportunities when everyone is in Singapore and spending some time together as a family because Evelyn and Jochen live in Australia. I am extremely glad we had this family portrait session, not only because of its preciousness, but also because it served as a sequel to their wedding which seemed to happen only not too long ago.

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Three's A Merry Crowd

I know Daryl since the age of 17, and Wee Nee when we were residents at Temasek Hall. In fact, we were all residents there except that I did not know Daryl was pursuing more than just a degree back then. I had the fortune to shoot their wedding, their family photos when number 3 was still inside mummy's tummy, and then this latest one when all the three monkeys are well capable of flashing their cheeky smiles at me. Having three kids seems like a good idea, barring the incessant noise and shrieks, because parents are guaranteed constant entertainment and they actually make a nett positive contribution to Singapore's population. I would always ask myself if I would relish having a third child. I guess it would have been fun, but it is something I will never get to find out.

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They Love SG

The similarity between these three families(not along racial lines) is that they all fell in love with this tropical island we call home. Before departing Singapore and heading back to their respective original homes, they have requested me to capture an important slice of their life in Singapore.

In my profession, I have to use my eyes, visualization and imagination all the time. Instead of looking at balance sheets, stock market indices, inside patients' mouths or chests,  or mountains of documents, I have to look at the light, observe the surroundings, how the two interplay and walk a lot to discover new spots for photography. Inadvertently, the opportunity to get to see Singapore much more often than people who work indoors and at their desks led me to appreciate our country's beauty and nuances. Because I am a family photographer, I would tend to focus more on the beautiful and positive side of things, which in itself is not a bad thing, if not unbalanced. I'll leave the unbiased documentary of Singapore life to the real photojournalists. :)

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Hope To See You Again

From the firstborn, to the second pregnancy, and now the second-born, it feels like I am shooting an adapted version of the movie Boyhood.

It is heartwarming to witness the growing up and the little milestones of the Kuek family. Hope I'll have many more opportunities to document more milestones, and possibly even number 3 and 4!

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Twenty-one Under Sixty

I am getting the hang of this: shooting a large group of people who is family, break it up into smaller nucleus groups, and mix it in with lots of candid pictures, and all under 60 minutes. It's important to keep family sessions short because of little ones' short attention span as well as not keeping the subjects under the hot sun for too long. Short and sweet has always been my mantra because "wayang" (putting on a show/charade) to justify a high fee is totally unnecessary and not my style.

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A Walk In The Park

There are parents who insist their children are prim and proper in front of the camera, and there are parents who adopt a more laissez faire attitude when it comes to "posing". Vivienne and Albert are the latter who basically let their kids express themselves freely. The family photographer has to work around the antics of the kids and try to anticipate their every move. This is what outdoor family photoshoot should be, in my opinion. We want to document the precious moments when the kids act themselves, and not doing things for the pleasure of others, even their parents.

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Bailey's British Dream

We have come a long way. From when I shot their wedding (a beautiful day at Suburbia), to making pictures of their first born Bailey when she was just days old, to the cheeky little monkey she has now become, Jason and Tessalin have always been two of my most supportive and nicest clients. Now that the whole family is based in London, I doubt I can see them anytime soon. Luckily for Facebook, I can still keep track of Bailey's many adventures in London. 

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Third Time Lucky

This is the third time I made pictures of Wendy and KS' (second picture from top) families. A few years ago, it was just them plus their daughter Ezane. Last year it was Wendy's big family who came visiting from Malaysia and the shoot took place at Botanical Gardens. This year, KS roped in his side of the family and finally, the picture is complete.

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A New Season

Tomorrow marks the start of the new 2016/2017 English Premiere League football season. Many clubs have spent eye-popping amount of money on new players-----most notably the two Manchester clubs. In the case of the red half of Manchester, they have just bought the French midfield dynamo Paul Pogba. However, another player that is under the radar and less high-profile is Schuyler, seen here with his parents. He hopes to eventually make it into the first team but before that, he has to cut down his cuteness level because there is no room for soft and cute-looking boys on the pitches of the EPL stadiums.

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This Is A Big One

Yet another big family shoot, this time set against the majestic backdrop of Singapore's central business district and marina bay skyline. Because of the number of subjects involved, I proposed to the client a two-photographer session that last an hour. I am never a fan of a family shoot that exceeds one hour because kids' attention span in front of the camera is limited. It is up to the photographer to capture the spontaneity and expressions when the going is good. The moment when parents and photographer have to keep coaxing some smiles out of the kids, then the family photo session becomes meaningless. 

For this session, I enlisted the help of my friend Gabriel Mendes who took care of some of the individual smaller families while my time was spent solely on the big group shots as well as all pictures involving the family matriarch. Thankfully, the shoot went really well, was over in just under an hour, and before the rising temperature overwhelm both young and old.

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Laura's First Month Party

Thanks to my friend Winson Ho , I got to document his latest and youngest niece, Laura's first month party, held at SAFRA Toa Payoh. Her parents, Lincoln and Josephine, already have a 12-year-old daughter, so the near decade-long wait for a second child must have been exhilarating for them. In my mind, to dust off the stroller, re-assemble the cot, and unpack the old baby clothes must have brought back very fond memories of the times when they had the first born. However, not many are as cheapskate as I am. Baby Laura should be receiving better and newer stuff. And having me as her first photographer is a good start. (kekeke...)

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No Fake Library Backdrop

My friend Yu Hsin from Tinydot Photography was the wedding photographer for Adriel and Priscilla Kuek (blue jacket and black dress respectively). I had the privilege to make some family portraits for them when Gideon (the boy) turned one. I was so glad when Adriel called me up to say that this time his whole family wanted to be involved, in conjunction with his younger brother's graduation from university. I rarely do graduation photos, because majority of the customers are still looking for fake library backdrops. No one will see you seriously as a graduate if you have not taken a photo next to the photo of collection of Brittanica Encyclopedia.

If I shoot graduation photo, then I will shoot it like a family photo session, on location. You see, I charge by the hour, not by number of people. Therefore I was able to make separate portraits for individuals as well as various groups of members within the family. We get to kill many birds with one stone at an affordable hourly rate after averaging out. I also enjoy shooting large groups because of the dynamics and energy, despite the odd moments when kids behave like old people or old folks throwing tantrums like kids.

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Gentle Souls

When two gentle souls get together, they create little gentle souls of their mould. Victor and Theng Theng are yet another wedding clients of mine. The most vivid thing I remember about their wedding (eons ago) was the fact that Theng Theng's family is in Johore Bahru, where my parents were living then too. In order to steal the extra hour of sleep, I entered JB the night before and spent the night at my parents'. The other thing I remember is Theng Theng's wam family, which surrounded her with lots of love. 

I am really happy to see them again, this time with their two kids, Xenia and Isaac, in tow. Unlike the stereotypical warring siblings, these two love each other and really take after their parents. Even though the younger one can be a little boisterous and cheeky, the sister would be patient enough to accommodate, and when necessary, discipline him like how an elder sister would. And the boy would accept his place without much fuss. Any parents who would like to get in touch with them to consult them on parenting, feel free to email me. :)

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Pretty Little Things

Ever since the camera was invented, we have used it to preserve images of our families. From wet plates to present-day digital images, we have come to expect family photos to look like this:

Or this:

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One reason is because wet plates, larger format negatives are expensive to develop. The minimum we expect in a family photo is to see everyone's faces and eyes on the camera. Even today, the pricing models adopted by most family photography studios is one that emphasizes the sale of prints or individual digital image. If I am going to pay more for additional images/prints, it makes sense for me to choose those that look like the above.

Unfortunately by doing so, many other fun, crazy and candid images often do not get to see the light of day. Kids are not genetically programmed to sit still and look at the camera. They are free spirits housed in a growing shell of a body, and to jump and laugh and sulk and cry are what make them so special and different from adults. The real gem of a family photo is not to make them look and behave like adults, but to portray them as who they are. Then, adults are free to join them but in a juvenile form.

Rather than printing one large "prim and proper" family portrait to be hung on the wall, try printing several smaller ones of the less formal types. They will not only brighten up the walls, but give them life as well.

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