I first started doing photography just over two years ago when I moved to Australia. At the time I wanted to find a new hobby that is more spontaneous and independent so I can balance it with the intense course load of veterinary medicine. My brother sent me his old Canon 550D and that’s how I started. I have no previous experience with arts at all and I have always been a hyper-rational scientifically oriented nerd and photography opened the door for me into the amazing world of arts. I learned everything on the internet and the great thing about the internet is that the knowledge on it will always be able to match your curiosity.
Photography is only a hobby and I don’t know if I will ever pursue it as a career. At the moment I just want to graduate from veterinary medicine and continue to develop my photography on the side. I definitely daydream about being a full time photographer but I think it takes a lot of courage to take that step and at the same time I am not sure if I will enjoy photography as much if it becomes a job. I think autonomy is integral to any creative endeavours. I am extremely interested to explore how I can incorporate photography with being a veterinarian in the future but I just won’t know until I graduate next year. At the moment, my ideal job would be being a veterinarian for 6 to 9 months of the year and spend the rest doing projects that I am curious about.
With your series, Winjallok, what was the most incredible thing about shooting such a rural part of Australia?
The most incredible thing with Winjallok is seeing and experiencing a living Australian heritage with my own eyes. Being a foreigner and someone who has mostly lived in extremely urbanised cities like Hong Kong and London, my experience with Winjallok has played an important role in shaping Australia’s identity for me. I also think since I didn’t grow up here it allowed me to appreciate the significance of this unique culture more than many Australians. It’s interesting how people tend to think what they grew up with is normal and they forget to assess their own culture and history, I do the same thing with Hong Kong as well.
At the same time, the younger generations are moving away from farming and rural areas while many family owned farms are slowly getting bought up by foreign and local investment firms, I am afraid this unique slice of Australian culture is slowly disappearing. The people in rural areas are incredibly friendly and their way of life makes an interesting contrast to my urban upbringing which attracts me even more.
We love the composition of the essence and the idea of reducing a street scene to exactly that. What was your creative process like for coming up with such an idea?
I used to play squash competitively and I think I spent 80% of the time doing drills instead of playing actual games and as someone with a strong science background, I believe that rigor is critical even in something as subjective as arts. Doing drills allow you remove the paralysing effect of having too many options and not knowing what photos to take when you are walking around in the streets. Anything you can do to make it easier to click that shutter is crucial at the beginning. Most of my series are just “drills” with very little emotional involvement in them unlike Winjallok.
I believe doing “drills” like the Essence is extremely important for developing your eyes especially for a young photographer like me. The biggest hurdle is to find a theme for yourself to do a “drill” in and I was actually inspired by my own photo, The Essence I, to start this series. Before I started processing the photo, I didn’t really think that much of it and I had no expectations at all. At the time I was going through a phase of looking at high contrast black and white photos so I thought I will try to turn it into just that. It just blew my mind and something clicked in my head. It was like I had no role in making that photo and I only discovered it. Serendipitous discovery like this is why I love photography so much. As cliche as it sounds, I suddenly understood a new way of looking at the world and ever since I have continued to practice this way of looking at the world. Aesthetically, having strong black and white contrast helps to enhance the lines that are everywhere in a city so the CBD is perfect for a series like this one.
What is your go to gear?
I use an A7 and a 35mm f/2.8 lens 95% of the time. I also have a 55mm f/1.8 and these are my only two lenses. I am literally the opposite of a gear-head and I know very little about gear, I just trust whatever the online consensuses is generally. I want to think as little as possible about gear and I only read up about it if there are things that I physically can’t do without new gear.
The A7 feels slightly too big and obstructive for me even though I know it’s pretty small compared to other full frames already. My ideal camera would be the ability to take photos with my own eyes without any physical movements and then upload them to a computer!
Can you talk us through some of the mini-stories with the images from Story Street in Parkville?
Story Street is inspired partly by the name of the street and partly by a minimalistic photo I took of it 6-7 months prior to taking the first photo for the series. Ever since I took the original photo I have always imagined the reason why it’s called Story Street is because this is where all the stories happen. Along with the original minimalistic photo I thought it would be fun to think of stories that “happened” and tell them visually as minimalistically as possible. It was difficult to think of stories that can be done minimalistically so it took 3 or 4 months to think of 5 stories in the end. The stories are not related, this is just a magical wall where stories always happen right in front of it.
If you could choose any location in the world to shoot, where would it be?
There are two main areas I want to shoot right now. The first one is I would like to document the gem industry in Sri Lanka, following the gems all the way from the mines to the retail shops. Sri Lanka is currently going through a dramatic development in the country after the unrest from their civil war has finally settled down in the last decade. The gem industry plays a major role by being a primary export and also a main attraction for tourists to visit the country. It will be very interesting to explore this development through the gem industry.
The other would be central Asia from Mongolia and west of China to all the stans countries. I find it weird how little attention they get in the world (with the exception of Pakistan and Afghanistan of course) despite their long history and the importantly role they played in the Silk Road and I also find it bizarre how ignorant I am of these countries so I would love to see them with my own eyes.
And lastly, what projects are you currently working on?
I will continue to document the Winjallok community and explore it much deeper. I am also doing another drill at the moment called Colours and Things where I focus on colour relationships and inanimate objects.