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Life from different angles
IN 2015, Amrita Chandradas made a trip to Sri Lanka for a month-and-a-half-long personal project inspired by the aftermath of the country's 26-year-long civil war. Her fixer at the time couldn't believe that she was a professional female photographer. "He kept telling me you need to take the photo from this angle, or that angle. I was like, 'Dude, I know what I'm doing'," she recalls with a chuckle.
It's a common situation that she has faced too, even while doing commercial assignments in Singapore ("Are you the assistant?"), and the occasional wedding shoot ("Make sure you photograph the bride and groom").
"It's not a surprise anymore when someone doesn't take me seriously, but I want to be taken seriously. So I just own it, be professional, and don't let people talk me down," adds the 29-year-old Ms Chandradas.
There's no reason why they shouldn't, though. After all, she holds an MA in photojournalism and documentary photography from the London College of Communications, and has had her work featured in international media channels.
In August this year, she will also be completing a project titled All Is Not Lost, about a girl with alopecia areata - a condition that caused her to lose most of the hair on her head, her eyelashes and even her eyebrows.
This project will be launched along with 11 other photo stories in a book as part of the Southeast Asian Photography Masterclass Scholarship by Obscura Festival and the Ostkreuz-Photographers Agency in Germany. "It's about social constraints, a simple story about what she's going through and questioning femininity," describes Ms Chandradas, who is also concurrently working on another long-term personal project called 6.9 - about the Singapore government's aim to increase our population by the year 2030.
These are all topics that are close to her heart, just as photography is. "My dad put a camera in my face when I was a kid. I think it subconsciously led me to photography," says Ms Chandradas, who initially started her career working in an art gallery before going into photography. Now, she can't imagine doing anything else. "The moment I touched photography and got into it, I knew. The picture became very clear - I'll be a photographer until I die."
Documenting everyday moments
WHEN nine-year-old Juliana Tan got home from school one day in 1998, her mother told her to "pack your bags, we're moving to Singapore".
This was during the Asian Financial Crisis, when Indonesia was getting increasingly dangerous for Chinese people due to looting and riots.
"That was pre-Facebook, so when I left, I had no way to contact my friends anymore. I had nothing to show for that first decade in my life," says the now 28-year-old, who has been living in Singapore ever since.
So when her Dad bought her a camera when she was about 13 years old, she started taking photos of people around her as a way to collect her experiences more tangibly.
"I think even before going to university and taking photojournalism classes, the idea of using the camera to preserve a memory was already there, very subconsciously. That's why the camera was invented in the first place, before Snapchat or art photography - it was to record or document moments," she describes.
Ms Tan went on to study communications at the Nanyang Technological University, and eventually found her path through classes in photojournalism.
Her work has since been printed in publications like The New York Times, Financial Times and Conde Nast Traveler.
Ms Tan's love for documentation is the main reason why she's publishing a zine (a self-published, small-circulation book) next month. It will feature over 60 photos taken during a year she spent away from Singapore - doing internships in New York and Los Angeles - as well as travelling to places like Cuba, Mexico and Haiti.
Titled Waking Up In Strange Places, the zine is currently being sold on the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo at US$25.
"It was from a time when I was feeling restless in my career and wanted to grow faster. So I travelled overseas, learned what I needed to learn, and came back. Now I want to be able to share that experience," notes Ms Tan, who is now based here.
Ultimately, her goal is to be a world-class portrait photographer - driven by a fascination for "the human face".
She adds: "Humans are the most complex organisms in the world, so I don't believe what some people say, that a camera can capture a person's soul. A person is too unstable and inconsistent, all I can do is pick a side or quirk of someone I find most interesting, and try to present that visually in 2D."
Speaking a visual language
IT was on her winter break in December 2012 that Charmaine Poh realised photography was not just a hobby, but an essential part of her life. She came home one day and discovered that her father, who had previously did not believe in the existence of God, had suddenly become a devout Buddhist.
"He seemed to pursue it fervently, and yet he also seemed sad. And I wanted to understand what was going on, so I turned to the camera as a means of coping," says the 27-year-old, who at that time was doing a degree in international relations at Tufts University in the United States but already had a developing interest in photography after taking a class in it.
"The camera is a tool. Through this tool you can use light, composition, and moments frozen in time to say what you're thinking or feeling. It's just another language. A visual one, one that I find comes in handy when words fail me," she adds.
Since graduation, she spent some time working in arts management before switching career paths as a full-time freelance photographer.
Her work was most recently exhibited at the Pop-Up Noise: Soul Searching event in Chinatown last October.
As a commissioned artist by Noise Singapore, Ms Poh photographed the ma jie (unmarried nannies who served households in Singapore before foreign domestic workers came into the picture in the 1980s) who lived in Chinatown's rental flats.
Right now, Ms Poh is working on two of her own projects, one of which is about the transition from female adolescence to adulthood, titled Room.
It features a series of portraits and letters that questions "how we end up as women, without really knowing what got us here, and how society affects the way people treat us and the way we treat ourselves", Ms Poh explains.
Though her photography started out as a way of dealing with her own personal life, she hopes to be able to tackle wider societal issues as well.
"As this country progresses, we need space to question and think critically. I believe photography can open up that space," Ms Poh says.
Making a social impact
WHILE most people would spend their time hanging out at the latest shopping mall or restaurant, Grace Baey would often find herself exploring the Little India neighbourhood, and sometimes volunteering at a soup kitchen for migrant workers.
"As I spent more time there I got to know the ladies working at the licensed brothels and I discovered there were a number of transgender women in the area at night. It made me realise that all these years I had been ignorant of the community that called this place home," says the 32-year-old.
So, as one thing led to another, she left her job as a researcher at the National University of Singapore to become a full-time photographer.
She started taking photos of the community in Little India and slowly, her subjects also became her friends.
"I've always been interested in social issues,which nobody talks about in Singapore. So I do photography to learn and engage with issues," Ms Baey explains.
"I could see the power of the visual language. Like when I speak to people about migrant worker issues, for example, they are more drawn to short films or images as opposed to facts and figures, as it gave them something to relate to."
Just last December, she completed a photography project titled This Is My Last Life, which documented people recovering from alcohol or drug addiction, or living with HIV, in a shelter located in a rural town in Malaysia called Batu Arang.
It was commissioned and published by the non-profit organisation Our Better World, in conjunction with World Aids Day.
"I captured everyday scenes, and because I didn't want it to look too sad, I looked out for moments of people living together and carving out a new life for themselves. For many of them it's not a permanent space, it's a place of transition where they take stock of their lives and plan their next move," Ms Baey describes.
Ultimately, she hopes to effect social change with her photography, and believes this will be best achieved through collaboration.
"There are so many photographers these days and the Internet is awash with images. You have to collaborate in order to be noticed and have the right platforms. I believe when people see the images and realise how these people are just like them, that's where conversations can start," she adds.