Features & Interviews
Interview with Photographer Tay Kay Chin
“I like honest work. It is a vague concept to many people but honesty isn’t that vague.”
- Tay Kay Chin
Our focus on photography continues from our participation in last weekend’s Fair to this week’s featured artist, the respected Hasselblad master from Singapore, Tay Kay Chin. The accomplished photographer, writer, curator is one of the festival curators at this year’s Singapore International Photography Festival. He is also the man behind Platform.sg, a community dedicated to giving photographers an avenue to tell their stories through their photos.
The Artling interviews Tay Kay Chin to get an insight into his practice and to get his thoughts about the future of photography in Singapore. As expected his answers are stripped off any sugar coating.
Please share with us about how you got started as a photographer?
I became a photographer via a childhood dream to become a fighter pilot. Fascinated with aircrafts, I wanted to be able to make good pictures of them. But soon after, I discovered the powerful works of Don McCullin, a famous British war photographer. He inspired me to want to use photography to make the world a better place, and that was how I began a long journey to become a photojournalist and documentary photographer.
What are some of the biggest challenges that you’ve had to face as a photographer?
The biggest challenge for me has to be the ability to sustain a high level of interest in whatever I choose to document. It is easy to embark on new projects but staying the course and seeing things to the very end is always more difficult.
I hear about how starting photographers would say that Singapore is challenge to photograph, what makes a city, a space “photographable” or “unphotographable” for you?
I see you have visited my website and picked up on the unphotographable/photographable debacle. This is a complicated question that can take forever to explain but to put it simply: I believe many photographers look at what others have done ‘successfully’ in a particular place and tell themselves that they must take more or less the same images to get the attention. That means fewer people will attempt new things. Many people travel to cities in faraway places and immediately get stuck in the postcard mode. Eg, if you go to Paris, you must have the Eiffel Tower, in New York, it has to be the Statue of Liberty. Not just the place, but also how they ought to be portrayed. So what happened when you point your lens at something less common? I also think that because we are too accustomed to our own surrounding, we stop thinking of what is around us as photo-worthy. If you live in Ang Mo Kio and make pictures of the Ang Mo Kio Hub area, you have to really work very hard to explain to others why you even bothered making those images. I think a lot has to do with our willingness to say, “I don’t care if you like my ‘ordinary’ images. I make them because they mean something to me.” Everything should be photographable, so unphotographable is really me being sarcastic and rebellious.
What has been the most thrilling project that you’ve worked on?
Without a doubt – Panoramic Singapore – a body of personal works I shot around 2001. It is the most emotional, unpolished but 100% honest. It is when my life and my art merged and became confusing and I had to work hard to untangle the twists. I think it has also inspired others to just use photographs to express their inner feelings.
As one of the curators for the on-going SIPF, what for you stood out among all the submissions? Any particular submission that surprised you and made a lasting impression?
Seriously, I was mostly bored by the repetition and a lot of the half-baked ideas. It has been a while since I saw the entries so I don’t really remember anything in particular.
You’re also a teacher so you get a first-hand look into how young photographers are developing. Are you hopeful for the future of Photography in Singapore?
Absolutely. Young photographers in Singapore have fewer excuses these days not to aspire to be world class. Many obstacles have been removed for them already so what is in their way must be their own desire to aim very high. But still, only a handful will succeed, because not everyone has the stomach for the big stage.
A lot has been said about the position of Photography in contemporary art. But what do you think is one of the biggest contributions of photography to Asian Contemporary Art?
What about the position of photography in contemporary art? I am not sure there is a need for a debate in today’s context to dispute that. I am least interested in how it ranks against other forms. Such discussions really bore me.
Would you say that because of the ubiquity of cameras, photography has now become arguably ubiquitous itself? Why or why not?
Never confuse tools and craft and passion. Good cameras don’t make good photographs or good pictures. Many image makers these days don’t even use a camera. It has always been about one’s expression.
What do you look for in recognizing outstanding images in an increasingly visually documented time?
I like honest work. It is a vague concept to many people but honesty isn’t that vague. I dislike photographers who complicate their works to make themselves look intelligent and I think the art world has too many fraudsters.
And lastly, what is your dream project?
Seriously, I try to make every project a dream. It is hard to do something that doesn’t excite me. I might as well stay home and watch bad movies. But a dream project should be one that challenges me, and perhaps even scare me. Being too certain of success is really bad if I want to exceed my own expectations.
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