The hidden gems in Singapore
I did not expect to start photography the way I did. At 12, I was heading to the office for a simple part-time job interview when I noticed a beautiful building in Kembangan. I thought to myself, “Hey, I love buildings and I can actually build something more beautiful.” As I grew older, I realized how much I was into architecture. It was not just about capturing the moment and the beauty it holds at that time. It was the fact that I was already very much into photography when I was 12 years old and I loved capturing something beautiful.
As I started to capture photos of the architectures I saw, I started posting these photos on Instagram. People started to comment on my photos and then after a while, it started to gain traction from people, who are not just my friends, (but are now my friends). My work was getting noticed bit by bit and somehow it led to a photography community in Singapore.
Back in 2012 most people would think it was not possible to take captivating photos with the mobile phone and they did not take it seriously. Actually, they did not have to take it seriously. I used the iPhone 4 for 4 years and I still very much treasure it. It is all about showcasing the beauty of what I captured with my mobile phone. It does not mean you had to have a good quality phone to be able to beautifully capture pictures with good quality. Just stick to what you have and showcase your skills and quality through it.
My twin brother, Yais would comment that my photo is grainy or ‘beras’ in Malay. However, around the time of 2011-2012 when I just started, it was more for fun and I never thought it could turn out as a career later. In 2015, I had my first big encounter with a big brand when Qatar Airways messaged me on Instagram and invited me to the launch of a new aircraft. It was something I truly did not expect as a newbie and it took me a while to believe it was real. After that, I started to meet friends all over the world and it was amazing. When I visit different countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia or Thailand, I meet locals there who are technically my friends because we have followed each other for so long and being like-minded, we have the same mindset and direction, so it is similar to meeting an old friend. It is an incredible feeling and Yais always comes along with me.
They also act as tour guides and take me around beautiful photography spots in their countries. When they come over, I do the same for them. I love doing so and do miss it actually. A lot of people see Singapore as a modern country, with all the city scapes. They are all beautiful, but I love to showcase the people and the beauty of what’s outside Marina Bay. I like bringing them to places like Chinese garden or Yung Kuang flats- the diamond shaped building. Those are the kind of places people would not expect- kind of like the hidden gems in Singapore.
There are also purple HDB flats in Lavender near NTU. It felt like paradise to me because I did not think Singapore had these kinds of colours. I feel like a kid when I see the buildings and it is like a playground for me as I can shoot a lot of things there, despite it being a neighbourhood area. I always tell people to focus on their surroundings. It is definitely amazing that I am rediscovering my own country despite it being tiny.
I am lucky to have Yais as we do mobile photography together and we are known by our non-conventional photography. We focus on finding unique perspectives and continue shooting with mobile phones despite others getting cameras back in 2016. It was a blessing to not have the financial budget to get a camera indeed.
As a photographer, I edit my photos according to how I feel at a particular point of time. My photos reflect my emotions and how I feel brings about very personalised photos with different edit tones or saturation. I take time to respect that feeling I have even if people make comments on my edits. To me, photography is like a mysterious friend you tell your emotions or your stories about, and where I put in my hidden emotions. I don’t expect anyone to understand, but that is how I channel my emotions.
I do have a camera now because sometimes clients need higher quality photos for them to print. It was something out of my comfort zone and I am still getting the hang of, but I will continue to post photos with my phone as that is my style. Now I have to segregate my hobby and my job because it is different shooting for myself and my clients. I’m glad though that a lot of my clients like to incorporate creative stuff in their products as it encourages me to keep shooting creatively.
I am an introvert and I get stage frights. However, photography has helped me grow into a confident person who delivers lessons to others through mobile photography workshops. As I had always wanted to be a teacher since young, little did I know that I would not be teaching as a teacher in primary school but something that I was very passionate about, which was photography.
I do miss giving workshops and it is something I look forward to when COVID-19 is over. I like teaching because I get to see how people grow from strength to strength. When I share tips and people tag me on Instagram, it gives me a sense of satisfaction.
I also get to encourage the older generation to shoot in the show on Channel News Asia that Yais and I did which was very meaningful to us. It is my journey to continue this as a big part of my life even if Instagram shuts down one day.
Photography does come with its own set of challenges. However, I love challenges and I always remember what my father reminded me - there are always challenges and obstacles along the way in life. I feel they are a part and parcel of growing as a photographer.
I also always try to remain calm and not react to my frustrations or emotions even when I get ‘hate’ messages from people online who do not even know me. There are also people who copy my work without giving me credit. Again, I stay calm because I do remember my responsibility towards my wide Instagram following so I am careful about what I say online.
The lowest point for me was when my parents did not understand what I was doing in the beginning, especially my mother - Yais and I are very close to our mother. There was a period during National Service where we had to book in and out frequently so we did not have much time for her. As a result, my mother felt we did not care much about her. I was at a loss at that time as family has always been my number one priority. It also happened that I was leaving for a military training to Thailand for 23 days and I wanted to make amends because anything could happen when I was there. It was an emotional incident and I started to reflect on planning my day properly so that I could spend time with her. I was also alone at that time as Yais was not around so I was rather sad. I was definitely glad to get it off my chest before I left for training.
Despite the challenges, photography also brought me many memorable moments. One such moment was getting invited to an exclusive meet and greet for Manchester United when they were in Singapore last year. I had asked if I could bring along my father and brother as they were huge fans of Manchester United. I remembered how happy my father was and I felt that I would not have been able to give him such happiness if not for what I’m doing now. It makes me smile when I relook the Instagram story of my father and see him being as happy as a child during the meet and greet. The smile on his face was priceless.
My family members whom I try hard to bring happiness to through my success as a photographer remain my key pillar of support. My parents, especially my mother, would comment a lot on my photos while my siblings support me as talents in my photos.
Not forgetting my Instagram followers who genuinely support and encourage me. As an introvert, I remind myself to acknowledge and thank my followers when I do meet them. The fact is I am shy and serious but friendly, and I do not want to come across as arrogant. Over time, I got used to interacting with my followers who I deeply appreciate as my second pillar of support. I have definitely grown over the past 5-6 years and also outgrown my shyness.
I feel that everyone should give a try to do the things that they like to do - yourself can inspire people.
Yais is the one who brings out the best in me. In our photography journey, we always try to find our own unique angles and we challenge each other in coming up with new ideas. Because of him, I have learnt to see things in different perspectives and attempted varied photography styles such as shooting with new angles and using human elements. I think without Yais, my photography would be boring.
We also are very straightforward with each other and I do let him know when I do not like some of his editing styles like, “Are you colour blind? Why is your editing like this?” He would also openly tell me when he did not like mine. The main idea is not trying to impress anyone but yourself. Once you are comfortable with what you are, you hurt less when people say things to you because you know what you are doing.
I feel that working with someone who lives together with you is really something as you do mix your personal emotions with your working ones. We do have ups and downs in our photography journey together and despite knowing him for 27 years, there is always something new to learn about each other in terms of work. I have recently learnt that communication is very important, especially when approaching a project. What is important is the drive to move on together from mistakes and move forward as life has taught me.
When things get tough in my work or family matters, I talk to my close friends who are willing to listen and that means a lot to me. I do not usually talk to Yais as he goes through the same thing as me. I have also started exercising recently and going for jogs. Nothing beats being physically and mentally healthy and taking good care of yourself because you have to be there for yourself.
If I could reimagine our society, I think people should be true to their emotions and appreciate the people around us more. People sometimes get too caught up with things happening on social media that they forget social media is not real life. For me I personally went through this in 2018 when I spent too much time on social media and did not appreciate life offline.
As a Singaporean, I am honestly proud because of the multiracial society we are in. It is uncommon elsewhere and tourists do get a culture shock when they come to Singapore and see different races living together harmoniously. I appreciate the uniqueness of Singapore, its food and Singlish, especially when I travel and see the differences elsewhere.
My message for National Day is very simple. I think everyone is struggling somehow and you have no idea what others are going through. Hence just be kind, as it is also as important as taking care of one another.
In collaboration with creatives Yafiq and Yais Yusman, the Pillars of Support Series presents stories of everyday Singaporeans who demonstrate the strength and impact of individuals when we act, and boldly reimagine and recreate the Singapore we wish to see beyond our individual backgrounds. It speaks of the the relationships we have, the celebration of our shared strength, adaptability and our never-say-die attitudes, and what it truly means to be a Singaporean.
To see more of Yafiq Yusman's work, visit https://www.instagram.com/yafiqyusman/