Photography Lenne Chai

Bedroom portraits of Singapore's young photographers

As the country comes to a standstill due to COVID-19, image-makers grapple with a new reality and bedrooms become studios.

by Aravin Sandran
|
22 April 2020, 3:24am

Photography Lenne Chai

A month ago, Singapore was hailed as a successful model for handling the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, the situation on the ground can’t be more different; local authorities are struggling to contain multiple clusters of infections that continue to rise, while Singaporeans live with strict social distancing measures including a two month-long lockdown, described as a “circuit breaker”.

Self-isolation hasn’t stopped the country’s young photographers from creating work, though. Partly inspired by Adrienne Salinger’s iconic 1995 book In My Room: Teenagers in Their Bedrooms and Ryan McGinley’s Mirror series, we asked five of Singapore’s young image-makers to take a self-portrait in their current residence and tell us a little about their experience as photographers under lockdown.

Finding comfort in their bedrooms and temporary home studios, they’ve come to terms with uncomfortable realities and even experienced some newfound revelations. “I’m in a transitional space currently as I was planning to relocate, but the virus has delayed my plans”, explained Charmaine Poh. “In presenting a self-portrait in this space, I want to acknowledge that not everyone is sheltered in safe spaces, and for some of us, our minds have to be the safest places we can retreat to.”

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Faiyaz , photographer and creative director

What does home mean to you?
Home has never been a place for me; it’s something I feel when I’m around the people I hold dear.

Is there anything significant that you’ve been thinking about during this period?
I’ve been digging within and learning how to sit in silence and be with myself. I've found that structure works for me, so I've also developed routines and schedules to follow daily. I've also been maintaining a gratitude journal. I will not be taking the luxury of time and freedom for granted anymore.

How have you found a way to continue taking photographs during this time?
I’ve taken a couple of self-portraits, but I miss the collaborative energy that's usually on set. I'm currently reaching out to friends living abroad to experiment with photoshoots via FaceTime.

What’s the first thing you want to photograph when this is over?
I’d like to explore ideas of intimacy and human touch. Even though physical contact is a physiological human need, it’s something many have overlooked until now.

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Lenne Chai, photographer

What does home mean to you?
Besides being my safe space, I've learnt that home is a place where I feel a sense of ownership. It's not about how long I've lived in a space; it’s also how I’ve made it my own.

Is there anything significant that you’ve been thinking about during this period?
If this pandemic doesn't change our way of life, what will? How can I contribute or work in a way that is relevant and meaningful, both now and post-COVID-19?

Have you found a way to continue taking photographs during this time?
Thankfully, I have all my equipment with me. I’ve successfully cobbled a tripod out of rice sacks and boxes. I usually hate taking photos of myself, so it's interesting to point the lens towards myself or my mom.

What’s the first thing you want to photograph when this is over?
I'll let you know when I think of something good. For now, I’m eager to return to my apartment in New York.

Is there an unrealised project you wish to complete after this circuit breaker ends?
It might sound ambitious, but I've been talking to other Singaporean photographers about creating an educational resource for young photographers, so we can collectively improve the infrastructure of our creative industry. There's no better time for reform.

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Charmaine Poh , photographer, artist, writer

What does home mean to you?
Freedom.

Is there anything significant that you’ve been thinking about during this period?
I'm definitely evaluating what growth means to me. I'm interested in living at a more sustainable pace. In the context of our hyper-distracted and capitalist world, this might mean looking at intentionality, expansiveness, and the collective.

Have you found a way to continue taking photographs during this time?
I have a couple of commissions and I'm exploring ways to make images virtually. I have to recognise that the camera is only one tool and I could find ways to make images without it.

What’s the first thing you want to photograph when this is over?
People.

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Elsa Wong , photographer, member of Youths In Balaclava and Pure Ever

What does home mean to you?
Home is a place where I can reflect, rest, and feel refreshed.

Is there anything significant that you’re learning or thinking about during this period? The world has paused and being at home seems to make time endless. I’ve learned that I depend a lot on collaboration and interaction, which made my first week at home feel out of place. Participating in this self-portrait exercise reminded me that I am able to create an image anywhere.

Have you found a way to continue taking photographs during this time? I am constantly taking and editing photographs. I’ve found new ways of photographing by focusing on objects and set design without a human presence.

What’s the first thing you want to photograph when this is over? I wish to take portraits of my family. My family lives around the world and it has been awhile since all of us were in the same room. I miss them very much.

Is there an unrealised project you wish to complete after this circuit breaker ends? I have planned a movement-based video shoot with my friend. It would be my first time shooting video, but now, all we can do is continue planning and make sure that our spirits are up.

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Mohammad Izzadely , co-founder of Island Boys

What does home mean to you?
It’s a place where I can reflect, learn, blast music through the speakers, and nobody is going to judge me.

Is there anything significant that you’ve been thinking about during this period?
I actually love working out. Well, you can’t see the progress yet, but I do! I also realised that the environment I’m in really affects how I work. Wearing nice clothes makes me feel good about myself too. Sometimes I even turn on the air-conditioning, so I can rock a pullover in my room.

Have you found a way to continue taking photographs during this time?
I’ve been making full use of the time practicing different edits on past photos and videos. I’ve watched a lot of YouTube videos on film and photography to find new perspectives. I might want to shoot something around the house soon.

What’s the first thing you want to photograph when this is over?
I want to shoot one of my good friends, Keyana. We’ve been talking about doing shoots, but I don’t have much free time as I’m still in the army.

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