Jason Quah | flickr.com/photos/etherealversesA disclaimer of sorts: I first met Jason a long time ago when we were both (still) teenagers, but we lost contact with each other when I transferred to a different school. We recently met up again for the first time in six years, this time in London where I currently live, and what first struck me was how not much about him had changed: he was just as reticent as ever, and his hair no less messy. There was one thing that wasn’t there before though: the camera perpetually slung across his shoulder.
(I lie. There were three cameras perpetually slung across his shoulder.)
One of my favourites of Jason’s work has to be his ‘single serving friends’ project, a series of striking portraits taken of strangers he met and talked to whilst travelling solo in Europe in 2011.
When asked what inspired the photo project, Jason says, “I was feeling restless having missed out on photographing the watershed election here, and wanted to do something with my photography beyond taking the usual travel pictures. For me, travelling has always been as much about the people as the place, so I thought I should document my journey through the people I met. I figured I’d remember the places better by associating them with people I’d actually interacted with and gotten to known (albeit on a rather superficial level), rather than simply accumulating a collection of pictures of bridges, churches, and the like.
“I also wanted to force myself out of my comfort zone, and actually get to know the locals and fellow travellers, even if only for a couple of minutes. Previously, I’d relied too heavily on the safety net of my Singaporean friends for the entire duration of my exchange programme, and now that I was travelling solo, I decided to change that. Being in a foreign land helped too — even if my socially-awkward self did anything embarrassing, I wouldn’t be in town much longer than several days anyway.”
“For me, travelling has always been as much about the people as the place, so I thought I should document my journey through the people I met.”
For those of you who recognise the title as being a quote from the film Fight Club: “Fight Club is one of my favourite fims, and I felt the phrase summed up the series perfectly.”
Jason is currently a photojournalist intern at a local daily newspaper, but his first foray into photography was quite by accident.
“I was midway through my National Service stint when a good friend introduced me to Lomography. It seemed like an interesting way to bright up my dull NS life, so I started playing around with a Holga ‘toy’ camera on weekends, and I haven’t looked back since.”
“I got more 'serious' in my first year of university (at NTU’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communications and Information) where I learnt about the more technical aspects of photography. That was also when I first seriously considered pursuing photojournalism as a career.”
Since I’d had the opportunity of catching Jason in action, I’d seen how comfortably he moved back and forth between film and digital. With the advent of the digital, and the proliferation of DSLRs and increasingly high-quality camera phones, I was curious to find out what he thought of different mediums.
I’ve always been a hoarder, so the idea of being able to capture a singular moment in time and compressing it within a frame fascinates me to no end.
On his favourite type of photography:
“This is a very difficult question to answer but to a very good one. Difficult because I’m still in the midst of discovering what I really want to do with my photography, and discovering my personal style. And it’s a good question because I believe having a consistent style can elevate a body of work from good to great.
I also find it difficult to pinpoint my favourite genres of photography (which happens to be something both photographers and non-photographers love to use as a conversation-starter); at the risk of sounding clichéd and/or cheesy, photography to me is more about the feeling of the image... and this cuts across genres.
I enjoy photography that provokes me, be it through more straightforward means such as photojournalism or on a more conceptual level through what many term ‘fine art photography’. I use the word ‘provoke’ in its broadest sense because I don’t necessarily mean pictures of violence of nudity. It’s difficult to verbalise because it’s not as simple as getting the ‘correct’ exposure or the ‘correct’ lighting.
Technically-speaking, I started photography using film rather than digital, so I have a soft spot for film photography. I appreciate the ‘film look’ that digital — in spite of all its fancy features and post-processing options — still can’t fully replicate. And it’s more than just the final product; film photography brings with it many intangibles that film-lovers can’t bear to part with: the feel of mechanical film cameras, the methodical and measured style of shooting, etc.
That said, I’ve fully embraced the digital side of photography, and it’s been infinitely useful in my current role as a newspaper photographer. The convenience and economy of digital is truly a boon especially with tight time constraints and tricky lighting conditions.
At the end of the day, however, film and digital are simply mediums and no one is superior to the other. I really don’t understand people who put down others simply based on their choice of medium and/or equipment.