As we come to the end of 2014, we thought it would be quite apt to sum up the year with photos which have inspired us. Not through our eyes, but through the eyes of our good friend and award-winning photographer, Edwin Koo. Accolades under his belt include a runner-up for the Unicef Photo of the Year, as well as the ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu, one of Singapore's most prestigious awards which recognises an individual for an outstanding body of work in his career.
Edwin became a professional photographer quite by accident in 2003. Trained in journalism, he always thought he would become a writer, but fate landed him his first job as a photojournalist in local newspapers Streats, and then The Straits Times. Life as a news photographer was exciting - he could be photographing a celebrity now, then the next, grieving relatives of a murder. He liked his job but felt a growing desire to tell his own stories. Five years on, he decided to take a sabbatical, and left for Nepal with his newly-wedded wife.
His two-year stint in Nepal was an eye-opener, and it was where he learnt a great deal about himself and his personal voice in photography. He started photographing anything and everything, in his own ways and style, and packaged the photos as serious documentary stories for media outlets.
Today, Edwin has a commercial portfolio but continues to pursue his documentary projects, especially long term ones that demonstrate an artistic vision on the world. Early this year, he published his first monograph - Paradise - a story on the Swat Valley of Pakistan, and a project which took him five years to complete.
We ask Edwin for the five images which sum up 2014 for him:
Photo #1: Although this photo was taken in Aug 2013, it also summarizes my project and book 'Paradise'. Based on true events that happened in Swat Valley, Pakistan since 2009, this book asks a universal question: “What is paradise?”
Photo #2: I started teaching documentary photography at Objectifs. Previously, I resisted teaching because it is extremely exhausting, since I normally spend a lot of time preparing and looking through students’ work. I don’t think I know how to do shortcuts and compromises - once I set my mind to do something, its all or nothing. This image was taken at Tiong Bahru market, as I was waiting for students to come back with their assignment. The way this boy peered at the goldfish teleports me back to my own childhood.
Photo #3: This image shows photography lecturer Mr Chow Chee Yong shooting the Church of the Nativity using a 4x5 large format camera. For a group project called Island Nation, I decided to learn how to shoot large format because it calls to mind that every image is precious. Every time you load film cartridge into the field camera, it’s really “one shot one kill”. To make things worse, 4x5 film is very expensive. So it really slows me down and makes me more careful with composition and shooting. It really runs against my style of candidness and spontaneity, but that challenge of not being able to be my normal self is exciting by itself!
Photo #4: This image shows my second son, Daniel, who was born this March. Becoming a father changes my way of being, and hence my way of seeing. Still, it doesn’t alter the spontaneity of my photography. We were on a family holiday to Melaka when suddenly my wife remarked “how white everything is” in the hotel room. We decided to wrap the little one in a towel and started making portraits of him.
Photo #5: This image shows a boy getting a haircut from a street barber in Kathmandu. It reminds me of my own haircut encounters, and more recently, encounters between barbers and my son, Luke. Boys seem to have this love-hate relationship with barbers, so evident on their expressions. Also, this marked the third year of Kathmandu INSIDE:OUT masterclass, an annual workshop that takes place in the Himalayan capital with the objective of sharing my learning journey as a photographer with others. The team usually arrives a few days in advance to prepare for the course proper, and I was trawling the streets when this image called at me to be taken.
If you have enjoyed his photography, do send Edwin some love on his Instagram account 'SingaporeSon'. The moniker is a throwback to his project on the General Elections in 2011. He likes to think of his Instagram photos as memory markers, like trailers from movies, or excerpts from books.
Do you know of any other photographers who have inspired you, or do you have an amazing photo of your own to share with us? Tell us your story at email@example.com. We look forward to hearing from you and hope that you are ending the year on a great note. Here's to a new year of fresh resolutions!
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