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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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A Bundle Of Joy

Bingkun and Chee Wei are my friends from the eighties and nineties respectively. He and I were in the same secondary school, and she and I were in the same class in junior college. After some twists and turns, the two of them fell in love in London and I had the honour to shoot half of their wedding (because I wasn't available on the other half). I also shot their first family portrait with their firstborn Chloe. As happened to most families, the second-born was skipped (haha) but they got together in front of my camera again when no.3 Bundle the whippet joined the family.

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See how happy and beautiful the three girls are in the above image....but when the daddy joined in, something changed. Just joking. Bingkun is a caring and doting dad and all the girls love him to bits.

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Probably The Most Famous Photographer-Family In Singapore

I had the privilege of documenting some tender moments between famous art and documentary photographer Bob Lee, his wife Hui Hui and their equally famous son, Lele. They have been widely interviewed in print and on T.V., in part because Bob is a fierce advocate of public awareness of raising a special-needs child (Lele is autistic). Their story strikes a chord with many people, both local and foreign, touches many lives and provides much inspiration to parents who face similar challenges on a day-to-day basis. (I have two cousins who have special needs and I have first-hand experience on the difficulties faced by my uncles and aunts.)

I have known Bob since our photojournalism days, when he was with Zaobao, and I with The New Paper/Today. Both of us hailed from Johore Bahru too. Hui Hui was a familiar face I saw on the job as well at that time.

The intensity of parenting an autistic child can be energy-sapping to the point that it swallows your lives. During the one hour they were with me, it was minute-to-minute stuff on the word go. As a parent of two, I can only imagine and extrapolate what they go through every day. It helps that Bob provides regular and light-hearted updates on their daily lives on social media, which makes light of their challenges. You can never do that without courage, optimism, and lots of love and patience.

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At the end of the session, the role was reversed and I got to keep a photo that Lele took of me.

At the end of the session, the role was reversed and I got to keep a photo that Lele took of me.