Open Category, First Place
The Frontline Story.
To many of us, COVID19 pandemic is merely a period of inconvience, restriction and disruption. But for the medical frontliners, the coronavirus pandemic is a time of anxiety, stress, worry, concern and separation. While medical professionals have not shun their responsibility and stoically face the challenge head-on, they have to contend with the inconvience of donning the Personal Protective Equipment day in and day out as they go about their duty testing, swapping and treating people infected by the virus. However uncomfortable the PPE is, they understand the need to protect not only themselves, but also the patients, fellow medical colleagues and all frontline staff. According to staff who have experience with PPE, it takes time to put on the PPE securely. Because of this, many staff stay on their shift work for as long as they can, putting off meal and toilet breaks wherever possible to avoid the hassle of removing and putting on the PPE again. This has taken a toll on their health, not to mention the stress of their jobs. Because of the potential exposure to the virus, many of the doctors and nurses who are directly involved with Covid patients voluntarily stay away from the family members to protect them. Unable to be with and see their families have also put them under more emotional stress. Unless we step into their shoes, we will never know what they went through in their gruelling daily schedule.
Kudos to all medical personnel as they fought to keep Singapore safe. Your collective effort will one day see Singapore COVID-free.
Together, A Stronger Singapore.
- Tell us more about what inspired your entry?
Telling a story with picture or pictures is always a challenge. What kind of compelling story to tell. Putting on the mask one day, I thought, how about a COVID19 story since it is a pandemic period. I decided to capture the frontline people who are doing a massive job. From food delivery to transport workers, from hawkers to cleaners, I was about to do a picture for each, documenting their struggle until one day I brought mum to hospital for her regular appointments. Seeing the hospital staff in their personal protective equipment, I can see their uneasiness, stress and how uncomfortable they are. Hence I decided to capture a COVID story.
- How does your entry connect to you personally to the theme This Is My Story?
Realising my son is a Medic in the army, I thought I have the best resources to capture a compelling story. I learnt more about his work and tasks in the medical centre, and more importantly he agreed to dress up and show me what he looks like at work. With that in mind, I plan to capture him in action. Watching him putting on the PPE is really a challenge. It is really not easy to put on the PPE in a proper manner. Watching him allow me to fully understand our frontline staff who has to endure the uncomfortable protective wear and yet have to perform their stressful job of conducting swap, tests and treatments.
- Was there any external inspiration behind your shot that you have used as reference?
I have always wanted to capture a hospital setting. Unfortunately, hospital compound is out-of-bound for photography. I, therefore, have to make do trying to set up a covid testing scene in mum’s house. I am inspired to capture the scene as close to a hospital setup as possible. Because of the clutters at home, I decided to shoot against the window with sunlit backlighting. Backlighting brings out the subject even more and puts the surrounding in shadows.
- Obviously you are a photographer whose creative vision is not limited by your gear. Any advice for those starting out?
Smartphone camera technology has greatly improved over the years. As a casual shooter, smartphones are equipped with default settings to give one a reasonably well exposed picture to post on social media immediately. That makes everyone a photographer. However, try experimenting with the bolts and nuts of the camera functions on the handphone. Functions like macro, long exposure and panorama give you some capabilities of a DSLR. Beside you may like to include people, movement, light trails or even stray animals to add lives and perspectives to your shots.
- Why did you think that a series of photos would work better than a single photo?
A picture speaks a thousand words, or so they say. But multi photo-series tell a complete story or sometimes, and open-ended story leaving viewers to make their own conclusion.
- From one photo to the next, perhaps can you explain the link between them?
Like movies, there need not be an explicit link from one to the next. A conclusive picture may front the series, compelling viewers to build the story as they view the next. My story simulates a COVID19 testing environment where medical staff getting ready for the day and the swabbing process.
- How did the use of post-processing enhance the storytelling ability of your entries?
While cameras today do capture a reasonable good photo with the default settings, every photographer has a specific preference to editing their photos. My entries mainly utilise the natural window lightings to capture the embience mood. Minimal post-processing was done, mostly involving playing with the light and shadows of the image. Bring out part of the shadows and dodging the bright part enhance the overall exposure.
- If you had the chance to retake your shot(s), what would you do differently?
A real doctor-at-work in a clinical environment would be ideal.
About the Photographer
- When, how, and why did you get into photography?
During secondary school days, my dad surprised me with a camera. Though is a simple point-and-shoot camera, it was still an expensive one considering my family financial background. I am always grateful to dad for that camera, for it changes my life, literally. While I did not pursue a professional career in photography, the hobby has been part of my life ever since. Shooting is a way for me to destress after a hard day at work.
- Do you define yourself by any particular style(s) of photography? If so, what are they and why?
During the early days, I thought photography is about landscapes, macro or nature. Soon I realized people makes a more interesting subject. A Natgeo photographer once said she wanted all people out of her frame when she started. Now she waits for people to walk into her frame. Indeed, human touch adds life and perspective to the picture. For a period, I tried my hands at event photography, wedding and portrait photography. These experiences help me put people at ease during a shoot.
- How has your photographic journey been affected by COVID-19? Are you more inspired to take more photos? Have the restrictions hindered, or conversely enhanced your creativity?
Like many photographers, unable to go out and shoot during the Circuit Breaker was frustrating. However, photographers by nature will exercise their creativity in such constrained environment or situation just to squeeze the shutter. So my washing machine, refrigerator and even the oven have been turned into a ‘studio’. From water droplets to eggs, from paper cuttings to stationery, I shoot whatever I can lay my hands on.
- What are your photographic goals after Montage 2020?
Montage story this year is like an open-ended examination question. It literary forces one to put on their thinking cap instead of focusing on a specific theme. That broadens my scope and forces me out of my comfort zone to shoot something different. While I am happy with my makeshift medical setup, I certainly hope to do a medical photography challenge one day portraying hope, relief, despair, anguish, fear, pain, joy, rehabilitation and even death, of course, anonymously.
- Geoff Ang: Well done on the approach to shooting this and how you position yourself in relation to the light, contributing to a beautifully lit image! loving the detail shots too!
- Alexander Ow: It is an excellent example of a photo essay depicting the current global pandemic in such a trying situation. The photographer has demonstrated a good sense of understanding and narrative style to illustrate the importance of our frontline heros and told a compelling story.
- Elliot Lee: Photo essays are not easy; it requires creativity to tell a story from several angles, consistency in its visuals, and discipline in picking and dropping the right photos. So this short photo essay on our current times did rather well and is pretty spot on. I like that this feels very exclusive; not many would have access to such a process. There's real production value in that alone. The look is consistent and there's a good mix of different angles. Personally, I am not a fan of the glass ball being there, since I don't feel it gels with the context - plus the photographer has already three other frames of the same moment. However, overall this was one of the better photo essays this year, drawing and sustaining interests over a few frames while telling a story that is relevant to our times.