My interest in animals.
My interest in animals was nurtured while growing up in my grandmother’s kampung in 1980’s Singapore—a very different time and place from today’s concrete jungle. As my boyhood ended, I left that life behind, but rediscovered my passion for animals when I worked on The Fish Book. Photographing fish was a real eye-opener. I found each of them to be different, and not just in terms of shape, size and species. My encounter with each was different, and I came to know them as individuals. Some were livelier than others, some were more camera-shy, but all had facial expressions of some form–elated, grumpy, excited or confused. From behind the camera, they seemed to be showing a gamut of emotions.
Since the publication of The Fish Book, I’ve photographed orang-utans in the forests of Sumatra and come face-to-face with snakes in under tunnels. The experience made me realise how our perception of animals could be changed simply by getting to know them as individuals.
Pet owners tend to anthropomorphise their pets and even treat them as members of the family. This is true of many cat and dog owners. In fact, this experience of closeness is prevalent across all human-animal relationships, whether the animals are domesticated or not.
British broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough once said: “People are not going to care about animal conservation unless they think that animals are worthwhile.” I have met farmers who name and pat their pigs, and conservationists who hug and talk to their research subjects. They form long-term relationships with the animals that see both human and animal benefit from an exchange of affection. Perhaps to the human, these benefits are emotional, academic or economic. Whatever the reason, they all think their animals are worthy of care and protection and that they are not just merely animals or in my case, not just a fish or a fowl.
Our relationship with the natural world is now more intertwined than ever before. I believe if we get our relationship with animals and the natural enviroment right, our human-to-human interactions will benefit tremendously. Animals are able to bring out the compassion and empathy in us, especially in children. That is why I choose to work with animals.
Visitors to my art show tell me I bring out the best in animals in my photography but the truth is that it is the animal that brings out the best in all of us as human beings. Being in the presence of majestic mammals such as an orang utan or an elephant humbles our sense of strength and power while holding a delicate butterfly or a bright-eyed kitten in our hands gives us a feeling of wonder and awe that this planet possesses.