I fell in love with film in 2010. Those who know me might have already heard the story countless of times; of how I picked up a film camera (a Cosina CT1-Super) for all of $20; of how my heart pounded as I clutched the little disc containing my scans of the first roll of film; of how I impatiently peered at the tiny contact sheet that photo labs provided with the disc, slotted inside the jewel case.
I try to take photographs to try to pay my dues. Sometimes I try to make videos to try to make my ends meet. I touch my DSLR so much that it feels like going to work. Don’t get me wrong, I love it but shooting for others and shooting for myself are two entirely different entities. Film offers an escape route for me. It lets me feel more. It lets me soak in the feeling and the experience, rather than be concerned of getting that perfect photograph (as if such a thing even exists). I become acutely sensitive and hyperaware of the surroundings; of little pockets of light making a rare guest appearance for all but 5 seconds, of the disappearing silhouettes as the heavy cotton wool in the sky takes a private moment with the orange orb.
Liu Yuhong would understand. After all, he has amassed over the years hundreds of cameras. He has a deep knowledge of the technical know-how and has an undying passion in sharing his love for film. I was fortunate to meet him when I was an unofficial, unregistered ‘member’ of the SMUSAIC (a photography society). He has not only the gear but also the thirst to make beautiful photographs. I stumbled upon his tribute to Old Places in Singapore some time back and have been wanting to do a feature on it.
Tell everyone a bit about yourself.
I’m pretty much a quarter-photographer, one-eighth collector, one-eighth chronic wanderer and half a student (that includes running the photography society – SMUSAIC, hunting down good food and running to lose fats). Yes, too many hats to wear while trying to catch up on sleep!
Everyone has their own unique reasons to shoot in film. What’s yours?
Letting the cat out of the bag… I started shooting on digital when I got hooked onto photography 9 years back. During those days, having a DSLR slung over your neck was a cool thing. One fine day, I picked up a set of manual-focus Nikkor glass, and that was my turning point – Analogue became my new love. I remembered my first roll being a Velvia 50. Till today, I blame it for throwing me off the chair and spending more money of film each day.
To slow things down a little, I shoot mainly on film these days. Off the record – My digital cameras are now ‘lens testers’. Of course, they are great technological wonders, but nothing can quite replace clockwork-like mechanical perfection on analogue cameras. Films are also more challenging to shoot with, but the excitement seeing images crystallize in front of my eyes and the sheer satisfaction of a good print keeps me going.
On books and good reads…
If you have spare change after buying film, save them up and buy photography books. You can hardly go wrong with them — this day and age of digital media, good prints are hard to come by, and the closest you can probably get is either buying a book or visit the galleries (again, there aren’t many galleries devoted to photography locally!) Nothing beats looking at photographs that are not made up of pixels; you just have to try to know what I mean. In case you’re wondering I’m flipping very slowly through the pages of Sam Abel’s and Bruce Davidson’s books lately.
On formal photography school…
I would very much agree with the common belief that photography comes with practice, practice and more practice. The first hundred rolls are crap; if you keep changing lenses; you’re probably not good enough; if the photos aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough… the list goes on. I think if you try believing each of the famous quotes by the many teachers, dead and alive, it will be more effective than pursuing a formal education in photography. On the other hand, learning art fundamentals, history and the environment for you to do nothing but everything related to photography could very well be a life-changer – something I’d definitely not mind trying!
What I like to shoot…
I love shooting people and places (read street and land/cityscapes). The voyeur (less the sexual-sadism) in me makes me want to explore and follow the footsteps of strangers, go to places and of course, eventually documenting them on emulsion!
How many cameras have you been in possession of?
If I say I don’t count, most wouldn’t believe. I should say I chose not to count – the awareness will let the pragmatic thoughts take over, and that will be the end of any collection. And who says collectors are rational? I’m crazily irrational. LOL. (note from derek: do check out his facebook album “crate of apples”)
Tell us more about the album you entitled Old Places.
They say collectors are ‘packaged’ hoarders – I’m no different. If I could, I would very much want all the iconic buildings / playgrounds / coffee shops etc. to stay forever. Singapore’s fast changing cityscape has got to be documented for the next generation, for our reminiscence in the future. That’s how the album Old Places came about.
Things come and go, but film is forever (RIGHT?!) So shooting these places on film will at least ensure some permanence in them!
Which iconic structure/building did you have the most connection with?
The old playgrounds filled with sand pits and Peranakan houses are some of my favourites. I’ve always dreamt of staying in one of them, with a retro swing in the front-yard and a lily pad at the airwell!
Do you think film is here to stay?
If only it was up to me to decide… let’s just keep our fingers crossed that “FILM IS FOREVER” stays true FOREVER.
Yuhong is currently working on his website to showcase his body of work. You can see his other work on Facebook and Instagram.