New Gen #3: Witness the unbridled beauty of atypical faces and dreamy places in Wanjie's photography
When did you fall in love with photography?
My dad taught me to use a camera — programme mode on a Canon 70D — when I was 14, though it remained a hobby until I got my first medium format TLR in 2016. It was some Yashica with a horrible viewfinder but just holding it made me feel legit. The end product didn't matter as much as the magic of seeing the world from that perspective. I would say 2016 was the year I got into the process of making pictures, the year I decided that I wanted to get good, and the year I fell in love.
Beauty seems to be a key theme and concern of yours. What idea of beauty would you like to communicate through your photographs?
I just want to make beautiful things! Photographs don't have to "mean" or say something about anything. Art doesn't have to mean something. Beauty to me is the most accessible and visceral part of the experience of art, and making a beautiful picture is a fantastic feeling in itself. If anything, I guess I want to communicate the idea that beauty is plural, and it is everywhere.
You've described yourself and your aesthetic as 'lover boy' and 'casual heartbreak'. What do these terms mean and how important is 'love' in your work?
I hope anyone who looks at my work can see my love for the craft, my love for light, my love for the present moment and my love for my subjects. 'Casual heartbreak' is a term a friend of mine coined ages ago, but it's still relevant to some extent. I find that it describes the mood of a lot of my pictures. My subjects are often obscured or looking into the distance and away from the camera. You can feel a sort of detachment. This is a result of directions that I instinctively give on set. It might be an inclination for mystery or romance. Either way, the mood I unintentionally create with these directions is a certain sense of quietness and understated melancholy.
Who and where do you draw your influences from?
Some of my favourite photographers of all time are Leslie Zhang, Min Hyunwoo, Harley Weir, Annie Lai, Ryan McGinley and Liu Shuwei. In their practice, you can see the influence of their background and the creative and photographic tradition they belong to, and yet their work remains distinct and unique in style. Lately, I've also been inspired by documentary photographers like Duane Michals and Matthew Morrocco. Besides photographers, I'm inspired by the water, the ocean, the trees, Frank Ocean, my friends, my partner Nicholas, Singapore and the moon.
Singapore is a pretty small place. What is your process of finding new and exciting locations, people, subjects and concepts to shoot?
Since starting my small talent agency BLU, Instagram has been great for finding new faces to shoot. I don't location scout very much because I have school and I'm quite lazy, so Google Maps and word of mouth have helped a lot. My concepts usually start from a face that looks interesting and tells a story. I bring those stories to life.
Do you have any close collaborators you work with?
I work with Kellie Tan (@bykellie) quite a bit; I love her makeup and she's just a super cool person in general. Darrell (@yungmurtabak) is a close friend from school who styles basically all my shoots. When Mei (@dmeiyue) wasn't flying around the world, we hung out and shot quite a bit too.
What do you hope to achieve through your photography?
I just want to have fun and inspire other people to have fun doing creative things. In the future, I see myself creating stuff in Singapore and helping other photographers grow here.
Do you have any tips for other aspiring photographers?
Don't take yourself too seriously, capture emotion, look for good light, keep shooting, keep yourself inspired, read about art and make the most out of Instagram.
What would be your most memorable photograph?
All the photographs I couldn't capture probably.
Who are the young and local artists, designers and creatives that you admire?
There are so many; I wish I could dedicate a response to each of them. Chris Sim who was just featured on Buro a while back. Benita Leong, Samuel Xun, Amanda Lee Koe, feedbeng, Ysa Yaneza, Hidhir, Nicole Ngai, Sam Rui, Rachael Cheong and Sobs plus my friends from school who study and make art — not many people have had to suffer through the terror that is A Level Art. They are so many times more talented than I am and I can't wait to see the amazing things they will create in the future.
One subject/location/object that you wish to photograph.
Shanghai in the 1920s.
One change you wish to see in Singapore.
I see it happening already — I'd like Singaporeans to be more proud of their own art and artists.
How do you see your photographic work developing in the future?
I hope to see it become more personal.