21 Creatives for #SGABF2018 — Lee Chang Ming
SGABF: You mentioned that your website, Nope Fun, was created to give context to the amazing images that saturate the Internet. In other words, you want to get know the people behind the photographs. So what does photography mean to you?
Lee Chang Ming (LCM): I think it means different things on different levels. Personally, I take photos spontaneously and on impulse. I take my camera with me and if I see something that strikes me, I just take it. I may or may not do anything with the photos, or I may post-rationalize it, but most of the time I just point and shoot.
On a personal level, it is also like a coping mechanism; it is how I deal with my surroundings. Even if it’s just taking photos spontaneously, it is still about finding moments that resonate with or speak to me — I just enjoy that.
SGABF: Your photos seem to have a consistent style — dreamy, moody, pensive, and exploratory. Is there something you are searching for through the medium of photography?
LCM: Maybe, but not consciously. I feel it is more like an intuitive way of looking at things. Most of the scenes in my photos are found, rather than staged. Except maybe for portraits. I don’t go out thinking about a particular situation I want to capture. If it fits at the moment, I’ll just take it.
Taking the picture and looking at the captured image are two separate experiences. Taking the picture is like I am looking for something, and looking back at it when it’s been printed or screened out brings you back to the moment. It makes one introspective, thinking, “Oh, maybe this was what I was thinking back then.”
SGABF: So you always ask your interviewees on your website about music recommendations. How much does music influence your work? And are any of your images or projects inspired by a piece of music?
LCM: I don’t know if it influences my works directly, but I do listen to a lot of music, yes. In a sense, the kind of music that I tend to like is also a reflection of my thoughts. I can listen to sad and moody music or trashy pop, and that could say something about my mood at the time, so I guess you can say it influences my work indirectly.
My all-time favourite band is Radiohead, I have never had any other music influence me the way Radiohead does. I was just listening to this Taiwanese band called Sunset Rollercoaster. They’re like the Taiwanese Mac DeMarco.
SGABF: Your project Until Then is an exploration of what it means to be young and queer in Singapore, a considerably conservative society. You managed to capture moments that depict a search to belong, a search that is not easy but nevertheless holds hope. In that sense, do you think that a conservative culture fuels or limits art?
LCM: I think that these existing boundaries, whether explicit or not — in terms of laws and social norms — set a kind of backdrop. But it does not really matter to me, I’ll still be doing something similar if society is more liberal.
For example in Until Then, some of the people I photographed did not want their faces shown, so I had to find ways to work around that because talking about these things publicly is not comfortable for them, yet. However, I don't see it as a limitation, more like perimeters to work within. I see it as a negotiation of boundaries, sidestepping and finding another path. It is all part of the process of putting work out.
I do see what you mean, especially when we talk about self-censoring. These things are very real, but right now, it doesn’t obstruct me.
SGABF: What role do you think the Singapore Art Book Fair should play in improving the social standing of the arts, and how should it be for people, whether they are in the creative arena or not?
LCM: In Singapore, we do not have many avenues for printed matter and art books, or fairs that feature such things at the scale of the Singapore Art Book Fair. So in that sense, it does play a huge role in promoting art books. It provides a place to display works that can create awareness for and raise the appreciation of printed matter.
I always feel inspired when I attend the fair and see people doing different things, and I hope other people feel that too. If they do, I think it will really help to improve the social standing of the arts in Singapore.
This ecosystem is important, as opposed to having art and books only in its “designated” venues. The Singapore Art Book Fair becomes a place of community for people to inspire and be inspired.
Lee Chang Ming is a Singaporean photographer interested in themes of intimacy, gender identity, youth and the everyday. Personal encounters and an unguarded approach inform his photography, which ranges from portraits to still-lifes and landscapes. He is also the founding editor of Nope Fun, a platform that features photographers and artists from all over the world.