Melissa Kwan — Driven by Fear

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.

Our Annual Standard Chartered Marathon

Playing Chinese Chess at the Void Deck

Resting Trishaw Uncle

Ticketing Machine at the MRT

Scene in the MRT

Street Artist in Chinatown

Old Chang Kee

News Vendor at Potong Pasir

KTM Ticketing Counter

Chinatown on a New Year's Eve

Scene at Ghim Moh Market


Juxtaposition at Buddha Relic Temple

Check out more of Melissa’s gor­geous work on her flickr page.


  • theanalogdork

    May 4, 2011

    from an ana­logue pho­tog­ra­phy enthu­si­ast to anoth­er, I think Melissa’s work is amaz­ing. Black and white pho­tos have a cer­tain allure and mys­tery about them. Devel­op­ing my own film is a skill I’d like to learn one day. Makes the whole process more intimate…more per­son­al. 🙂

  • C

    May 5, 2011

    Love the pho­tos! The one in the train and the last one are great!
    Great cap­ture by Melis­sa.

    Hope to see more spot­lights on the young and pas­sion­ate ones here! Keep up the good work!

  • Steph

    May 11, 2011

    I love black and white pic­tures … there’s just so much more emo­tions in the pic­tures. Any­way, it’s inspir­ing to hear about how fear is the one fac­tor that inspires her. On the con­trary, many of us feel held back by this fac­tor of fear … the fear of try­ing out new things, fear of ven­tur­ing out of our com­fort zone. i wish i could, one day, have the courage to break out and not live life by soci­etal norms. love this blog so much 🙂

  • bear

    June 28, 2011

    yup she is real­ly good! love her pho­tos!


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