I was Facebook-chatting with a junior who happened to be a photographer as well and started asking him some questions out of sheer curiousity. He provided some answers which were interesting, so I thought I’d record them down here.
How do you shoot people and make them feel at ease? Is it a trade secret?
I have a lot of exercises, but generally I just keep trying to make them relaxed. Nothing special really… depending on how touchy feely the person is. For example, I say stuff like – close your eyes, and every time you feel the wind on your hands, give your fiance’s hand a hard squeeze.
LOL? Then what happens
Then they laugh, and I get my shot.
I’ve seen people who seem to think that the amount of equipment they have is related to how skilled they are as photographers. I mean some of them have all the photog stuff in the world but come up with crap photos…
Yeah, there are camera lovers… and there are photography lovers. It’s a guy’s thing. They’re like toys. Sometimes I do that too, but now my rule is that if I buy something new, I have to sell something. I believe you shoot better with 1 lens and 1 camera… there’s a zen saying – when I eat, I eat. When I sleep, I sleep.
When you take photos, you use 1 lens?
Use 1 camera. Yeah. Just focus on 1 thing!
Do you only shoot with film?
Nope, but I like my photos made with film more. There’s a risk involved. And suspense. It’s also more precious because you can hold it in your hands – the tangibility is so important.
Do you see a bit of yourself in every photo?
I do, I think it’s inevitable.
What do you think about when you’re shooting? Or is it all zen – you empty your mind…
I don’t think about anything, actually. I’m an instinctive worker. Oh… usually I’m laying out the album in my head.
See this pic? I knew I wanted it side by side, so the colours had to compliment each other.
I just keep their juxtaposition in mind. It’s very important to me, because if I just changed one picture to any other random detail shot, it just doesn’t work.
That’s cool – I would imagine most would just think about framing that moment.
Yup – but that said, not everything can be planned. Most of the time I’m just living the moment. I treat photography like my first encounter with a novel or a movie. What I first feel when I’m encountering a person, or entering a bride’s house is very important to me. You can plan all you want, but if there’s no soul in your photos, there is no soul.
That’s what I like about your photos – there’s always soul. How do you manage to capture such depth if you’re usually meeting your subjects for the first time?
I don’t know, really. I’m not sure if I disarm people… I can’t tell. But most good photographers are very good at disarming people unwittingly. Some of the best photographers I know stammer, or have weird looking eyes, or are very short. People aren’t afraid of them. It’s like they’re harmless and have no agenda.
Which do you prefer, photography or videography?
I dabble into film sometimes, but photography will always be my original Coke.
Wait, like, the drink or the drug?
The drink. You know there’s Coke Original, Coke Light, Coke Zero.
Photography will always be my original coke. My first love. Filmmaking and visual arts are stuff I just dabble in.
Who the hell compares his first love to original coke lah??
It’s like the best lor. I drink a lot of Coke in school.
That said, how’s juggling photography with school?
I actually wanted to quit school. I’ve been an undergrad for 3 years already but I think I’ve learnt more in the 2 years I’ve spent in the darkroom. But I made good friends, got attached, don’t exactly regret anything. In fact, I’ve made it a point to take all the toughest mods in school.
One of the series that really caught my eye was “Waiting”.
Did you just decide that you wanted to know more about people at the bus stop and just, on a whim, take your first shot and get going from there? Was it weird shooting strangers? (i imagine it will take shitloads of guts…) How did they react?
It was difficult man. It was actually the first exercise in photojournalism at Mizzou (University of Missouri, where he did his exchange programme) that they made everyone do. It’s part of what they call the “Mizzou method” where you’re thrown into the deep end of the ocean and you’re supposed to come back and talk about your experience.
They gave us 1 assignment, to photograph 10 strangers within our neighbourhood and get their names and occupations. I had the inkling to do something related to black people, and the bus stop. It was scary. I was rejected 4 times by 4 different people before I managed to get my first shot.
So it was more like an…. Assignment push? I guess it’s a little more acceptable to other people when you explain that it’s for a school assignment.
Not really, I just go like, “Hello, I’m from a place outside of here and I’m working on this set of photos of people waiting at the bus stop….” etc.
So when they reject you, does a part of you die?? Rejection is tough. I guess you need some hardiness as a photographer.
I was damn depressed!! Lol. I’m like that. I get depressed very easily. After I got rejected once, my face was flushed. Like paiseh.
I can imagine. I would’ve cried.
I felt super lousy about myself lah. I felt like crying at times. I spent hours sitting at the bus stop. It’s very depressing, really, especially since it was winter. All cold and all. I sat at the bus stop for like, 4 hours. No joke. Just wallowing in self pity. I kept seeing someone, and I would tell myself to go, but I wouldn’t move. It was scary.
Did something click? After 4 hours?
Yeah after a while I was like, OMG IVAN. You are just going to be a failure and not get anything done. So buck up your Singaporean ass and do something.
I figured I needed to look like I belonged there, ‘cause once I start looking uncomfortable, people wouldn’t agree to getting their photos taken. So I came up with this idea, to try to meet people while they were coming in, but it didn’t work. So I just stood outside, listening to a bunch of old folks talking. I think that helped calm me down, and I managed to get my first shot.
In return, I had to smoke a cigarette with him. (Ivan doesn’t usually smoke.) Eventually the guy told me he was homosexual, and a whole lot of stuff. I was like, wow shit, people have stories to tell. And they want you to be listening to them.
So you just, act like a friend?
Yeah. Once I figured that I was intruding into someone else’s life by providing a listening ear, it became a lot simpler. Also I kept telling myself that this was America, nobody would remember me. I shouldn’t take it too hard when people say no.
Do you have some favourite shots?
I love the Europe ones.
‘Cause they’re sentimental man. I lost all my money in Europe. Someone stole my bag. I was left with only my camera. And I was alone.
Wth, and you just took photos? I would be flipping out all over.
I was damn calm. In fact, I was secretly happy because I knew that I’d have a nice story to tell my friends and children in the long run. I felt very free.
I like this set too – I started shooting it when my grandpa was diagnosed with cancer. I guess you can call it an extension of what I was feeling.
…and it’s Steph here once again. Because the “interview” ended rather abruptly – it was getting late and I needed a shower, badly.
Anyway I really enjoyed learning more about what goes on in Ivan’s brain. Take the time to browse through his blog – I like that you get to see how multi-faceted he is. It’s not just a pretty blog with pretty photos of pretty people. It’s a blog filled with moments – of love, life, laughter, discovery of people and places, and even himself as a person. Of course, he takes wedding shots that tell stories, and capture very well the emotions of anticipation, a special bond between two people, friendships, family, and happiness.
If you are as impressed as I am and would like to engage Ivan as a photographer, he is based in Singapore, available internationally, and exclusive to 12 clients a year.
You can reach him at helloATivantanphotographyDOTcom.
As for me, I think I might be prying into more brains in the near future.