Your Stories

Youth Category, First Place

Joel Mathews

American photographer Aaron Siskind said that “photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… It remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.”

This, in a nutshell, captures the soul of photography for me.

My journey with photography started 2 years ago. What started as an interest, blossomed into a full blown love affair. This passion opened a whole new world view for me. The world suddenly had all sorts of interesting angles, lighting, objects and people that were worth observing and capturing for posterity. For one, photography made me more observant and more thankful to be alive. Apart from that, I started to pick up many "soft skills" like perseverance, patience, creativity and the art of thinking out of the box as this passion grew. Little did I realise how these skills had the added advantage of being applied in my workplace and it helped me greatly. For one, if it weren't for photography, I didn't think I would have also had a desire to learn video production and editing and putting together from scratch advertising material, in my ongoing internship programme. Photography has also birthed in me a desire to want to travel (definitely post COVID lockdown), meet new people and connect with like-minded hobbyists on social media. You will be surprised how much you learn, studying the work of other photo enthusiasts.

The photo that you see above was taken during the COVID lockdown. The second photo shows the small room at home where it was taken. These photos are particularly significant to me for two reasons. First, while staying at home in a confined space was painful to some sibling relationships around Singapore, my older sister and I had a time of our lives bonding while putting the shot together. Second, it taught me that there are no real restrictions or obstacles to taking pictures, even at home. It simply hinges on one's imagination and creativity.

I hope this has inspired you to step out of your comfort zones. Photography is your interpretation of the world around you so be creative & make memories!


  • Tell us more about what inspired your entry?
    First, with COVID19 raging the globe and the subsequent lockdown, it was easy to get despondent reading the news, while the preoccupation of everyone was to take refuge behind a mask. The photo was meant to convey hope in hopelessness. Though circled by negatives, sometimes taking a break from newspapers and publications (portrayed by the imagery of the subject in a dark spot), can be a blessing.

    Second, I was hoping to inspire fellow photographers to not let their creative juices stop flowing even if they were stuck at home during the pandemic. The props used in the photo are commonly found in most homes and a sparked imagination can bring out surprising outcomes if we don’t allow the negative situation to cloud our creativity.

  • How does your entry connect to you personally to the theme This Is My Story?
    Montage 2020 gave me the opportunity to pause and reflect on my personal journey as a photographer. I wanted to capture something that will be remembered long after other things are forgotten. I don’t think I would forget the year 2020 and COVID19 and the way this journey and the experience has made me feel. I want to remember that life is bigger than what the news media shows things to be. I want to capture the soul of the moment. Some blog and others vlog. But to me, photography is like writing a journal. Pictures do paint a thousand words.

  • Was there any external inspiration behind your shot that you have used as reference?
    I was inspired to take this shot when I saw a similar post while scrolling through my Instagram feed. I noticed that the photographer had composed his theme and shot it at home. Knowing that we learn best when we observe the work of others, I challenged myself to change my perception that one cannot take good photos in the restrictions of one’s home. For my entry, I focused a lot on framing as I needed to cut out the right sizes in each sheet of paper and then attach it in the right order, spacing and sequence so that everything looked aligned in the final photo. I also used the Rule of Thirds when composing my shot so it looked more visually appealing. While taking the picture, I realised that there wasn’t sufficient lighting on the subject’s face so I found a study lamp and used it to draw the viewer’s attention to the subject’s face. The idea was to use what you have.

  • Obviously you are a photographer whose creative vision is not limited by your gear. Any advice for those starting out?
    Even though I own professional photography equipment, I decided to use my smartphone to take the picture as I wanted to once again challenge my own negative perception. One’s creativity should not be stifled by one’s means or financial resources or the equipment used. Here are 5 tips for people interested in getting into photography:

    1. If you're really passionate about photography, invest in a reasonable camera. I would recommend a full frame camera and a few good lenses such as the 24-70mm f2.8, 85mm f1.4 or equivalent. But once again, if you don’t have the resources, fuel your passion by taking many pictures with what you have.

    2. You don't need to go to a designated school to learn a craft or hobby. Google and Youtube are your best friends when it comes to photography - that's what I did! Once again, fuel your passion by reading up and learning.

    3. Try new things! Don't be afraid to copy other photographers/Youtubers. The best of us learn by mimicking. Remember, photography is all about trial & error and practice is the key to improving oneself.

    4. Never forget the basics of photography such as leading lines, composition, rule of thirds, and lighting.

    5. Try and find other like-minded individuals to go out and take pictures with! If you can't find anyone, hit me up @shotnsimple! I would love to go out and take some pictures with you once COVID-19 ends :)

  • Why did you think that a series of photos would work better than a single photo?
    The reason why I included a behind-the-scenes photo is because I wanted to show how I took the photo and also to inspire fellow photographers to not let the space or constraints they’re working under, limit their creativity.

  • How did the use of post-processing enhance the storytelling ability of your entries?
    I applied simple post processing techniques, just to tweak the few limitations that I had been working under. I cropped the shot, removed the words from the used A3 white paper that I borrowed from my younger sister, changed the tone slightly to give more warmth, and further added more light to the subject’s face so as to bring more attention to it.

    Cropping the shot removed some of the excessive background clutter of the newspaper article and allowed the viewer to easily pinpoint the frame as words on a newspaper. The pinkish tone gave more definition to the overall composition and the added light on the face of the subject helped better contrast facial definition. I felt that the post processing techniques helped highlight in the composition, the sense of hope in the midst of despondency and hopelessness.

  • If you had the chance to retake your shot(s), what would you do differently?
    If I had the chance to retake my shot, I would not cut such a big hole in the newspaper that is furthest away from the model, I would cut it smaller so that the concentric circles would appear a little more evenly spaced out. It would also have the effect of showing up more of the words on the newspaper. In addition, to make the composition even more impactful, I would specifically choose newspaper clippings that perhaps would show the word ‘COVID’ on it. This would further give definition to the photo.

About the Photographer

  • When, how, and why did you get into photography?
    Photography started as an interest and grew to be a passion for me. It all started when I started using my smartphone to take pictures, and from there I invested in professional camera gear to further my passion in photography. I also had the support and encouragement of my parents.

    Photography is all about capturing the “now” moments and turning it into lasting memories. I started this journey 2 years back, in 2018, and have been freelancing part-time for over a year. I was also blessed to have had a couple of friends who were into photography so I managed to glean as much as I could from them when I was starting out.

  • Do you define yourself by any particular style(s) of photography? If so, what are they and why?
    I personally don’t define myself by any particular style of photography but my favourite style to shoot would be portraiture. Portrait photography is amazing as every picture of the model tells a different compelling story.

  • 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?
    Yes, to a certain extent, my photographic journey has been affected by COVID19. During Singapore’s lockdown and Stage 1, I did not have a single freelance shoot due to the strict restrictions put in place. Although it was a challenging time, it gave me the opportunity to think out of the box and to dive deeper into the softer skills of photography. I don’t think I would have done this if I was not forced to stay at home. Now, since we’re in Stage 2, I’ve been having quite a number of freelance assignments. Each assignment gives me practice and helps me to hone my craft. Being restricted in the past few months has also given me the desire to go out and take more pictures now. There is no shortage of subjects, especially if your friends know that you love to take pictures.

  • What are your photographic goals after Montage 2020?
    Winning the first prize in the Youth Category in Montage 2020 has built my confidence as a photographer and has spurred me on to try new things. I would like to try my hand in other photography competitions. This was something I was somewhat hesitant to do before, perhaps because I didn’t quite think I could cut it. Winning competitions builds one’s self esteem also. Moreover, since the best way to improve and evolve is to share ideas with other like minded hobbyists, I look forward to more interactions through these platforms that I’ve been given with privilege.

Judges' Comments

  • Geoff Ang: Lovely idea... Nicely executed photograph with what you had lying around!

  • Alexander Ow: Strong, effective use of in camera techniques to create such a strong narrative.

  • Elliot Lee: This was one of the few entries that stopped me and made me go, "oh that's interesting". It's a very striking photo; it's very creative, tells a full story and is visually interesting. I like to think that the words "when within" on the innermost newspaper was done intentionally to complement the photographer's story in the caption. I think I might even try this one out one day!