Ask any purist, the belated viewing of images from the analogue camera contributes to the appeal of film photography. Some send their film to the labs to develop and anxiously wait for its return. Others, like Melissa Kwan, take matters into their own hands and become chemists, mixing chemicals, coaxing images to appear on the emulsion.
My first encounter with Melissa was off a local photography forum, when I asked her for advice on film photography. Friendly and forthcoming, Melissa dished out invaluable advice. Melissa captures her interpretation of Singapore, and tells us that fear is what drives her to do so. Shooting primarily on film, Melissa shares with RediscoverSG her style and passion for the medium.
First and foremost, please tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m Melissa Kwan. A 24-year-old Singaporean.
How long have you been taking photographs
I’ve been taking photographs for close to 4 years now. I think I’ve always had an interest in it but only got serious during university amongst a group of like minded friends. I am currently working in a bank. For now, I only photograph on weekends and holidays.
What kind of photos do you prefer to capture?
My work is a reaction to any situation or place that I’m in — the light, lines, geometry, fore- and background, movement, things and people that happen to interplay for a fraction of a second. Street photography and landscape photography are my main interests at the moment.
What is your style in photography?
I am particularly drawn to photographs that are visually poetic. It could be an emotion, expression or a fleeting moment that tells a story. The exchanges between people, the finer details of our daily lives that go unnoticed. Things that define our humanity. I hope to capture the world around me, with the purpose of retaining the elusive, decisive moments that make life charming and exciting.
Why do you prefer to capture these subjects? / What do you wish to portray to your audience?
To capture Singaporeans leading their lives in an unobtrusive manner. It basically reveals the reality, struggles and details of living in Singapore at this moment in our history.
What inspires you?
I would say fear. Fear that one day the world (and more specifically Singapore) would no longer look like how I remember it to be growing up. Fast paced urbanization bothers me to a certain extent so I take photos as a way to preserve what we still have now.
The works of many masters such as Vivian Maier, Henri Cartier Bresson, Robert Capa, Garry Winogrand, Elliot Erwitt have also had a great impact on me. Looking through their work never fails to give me fresh new perspectives.
Finally, what kind of equipment do you use?
I use film cameras such as a Leica M6 and a Rolleiflex 2.8F.
Could you also tell us a bit of why you choose to shoot in film and to develop photographs yourself? (What about the color photos?)
I like shooting with film. The texture of the photograph is more human and the quality of colour is more true to life. I also like the creative process that comes with waiting. Film photography taught me to slow down and smell the roses amidst the advancements of technology and the Internet.
I send my colour photos for lab processing and develop the black and white ones at home for convenience. By developing my own photos, I’m able to control the tone, contrast and texture of my photographs to achieve the look that I want. It’s kind of like a chemistry lab session. The temperature, timing and concentration of the chemicals have to be right before the magic can happen. There is a sense of satisfaction when the photos come out the way I imagined them to be.
Do you have any tips for budding photographers? Is there a difference photographing overseas versus in Singapore — people often say “there’s nothing to photograph in Singapore” — do you agree?
Take photos regularly. Take time to compose your pictures, avoid cropping and most importantly learn how to use light. Also, take advantage of the internet to get inspiration from other people’s works.
I don’t think there’s a difference. The grass on the other side is always greener. Say for example the Marina Bay Sands, Thaipusam, Getai or a traditional chinese opera performance — events or things that seem ordinary to us actually intrigues many foreigners visiting Singapore.
Check out more of Melissa’s gorgeous work on her flickr page.