New Gen #4: Broy Lim explores the coming-of-age struggle of gay youth in Singapore's heteronormative society
Finding a way out
When did you realise that you were gay?
I guess I always knew. Perhaps since kindergarten, I always felt a certain attraction to people of my own gender. I didn't think too much about it until adults, classmates and the media started making a mockery of men who liked men that I became aware that my experiences were "abnormal".
How would you describe the role and impact of Singapore — the physical, social and legal environment — on your relationship with your long-term partner?
While the legal environment is less than ideal (377A being a huge issue, along with other social issues such as housing and marriage), I find that the physical and social environment is not as bad as I would have imagined. Since my project and now they know, we are pretty much out and open. The people around us have been nothing short of loving and supportive of our relationship. Having said that, we are still cautious about being too "out there" as we want to maintain a certain subtlety and professionalism, especially in our work environments. While our identities are important and we are proud of it, it's only a part of us. There's so much more to us that we can offer other than our gayness. Compared to the past, we do have it easier because we can start conversations on these topics without being burned on the stake. I do hope that these conversations can be more open and accessible, especially to the young people of Singapore.
Why was it important for you to distil this experience into a photo book, and now they know?
and now they know is a coming out story that I made with my father and family in mind. My family members could only speculate on my sexuality because it was something that a typical Asian family doesn't talk openly about. Many times, we would rather live in constant tension than address the elephant in the room. I decided to use photography as a means to communicate that part of me without having to say a single word. It was important for me because I needed my family and friends to know who I am. I was tired of introducing my partner, Alvin, as "just a friend". He deserves more than that.
The book contains images as well as texts that resemble autobiographical journal-like entries. What would you like to communicate to readers of this book?
The text in the book addresses several people — my late mother, father and the general audience. When making the project, I knew that my experience was not unique to me and that many others were struggling with the exact same issue. I wanted my narrative to lend a voice to these people and help them speak our common truth.
This book was a collaborative piece of work with your partner. What are his thoughts on this experience?
When I told my partner about this project, he was initially resistant towards it and understandably so, because his life will be on display too. One day, however, he just looked at me and told me, "Whatever you do, whatever you want me to do, just let me know and I will always support you". He knew the project meant a lot to me and I was tremendously touched by his love. Of course, there were times when we disagreed with the concepts (he was grumpy about having to shampoo our hair in public) but I am very thankful and grateful that he saw the merit of the ideas and went along with it.
When did you fall in love with photography?
It was probably when I was 7 or 8. My mother used to own this Nikon point-and-shoot film camera. I would borrow that camera and photograph animals in the zoo for fun. I didn't call it an interest but I was more like a curious boy with a camera. When I grew older, I was the self-proclaimed photographer of my secondary school's Student Council. I would use my photography duties to get out of ridiculous games like water bombs because that ain't my definition of fun. I was more of an observer.
Who/what/where do you draw your influences from?
My family and friends influence me a lot. A large portion of the images I enjoy making revolves around people — ironic, coming from an introvert — but the camera allows me access to people in ways that I wouldn't have otherwise. Pop music from pop divas like Lady Gaga, Ayumi Hamasaki and Koda Kumi has also influenced me in intangible ways that I don't know how to put it in words. I also look towards photographers such as Nan Goldin, Sally Mann, Philip Lorca diCorcia, Gregory Crewdson, the list goes on and on.
Do you have any close collaborators you work with?
I feel awkward around people and I rarely collaborate with others for projects. I do have a few people that I look up to and seek advice from. Alvin (my partner for 10 years) has always been my greatest cheerleader but also my harshest critic. No project of mine goes through without him having some comment about it. If we were to consider the conceptualisation of work, he would be my closest collaborator.
What do you hope to show/achieve through your photography?
It changes every time. Sometimes, I want to show people my love for the person. Sometimes, I want to make a statement of equality and inclusivity. Sometimes, I just want to be superficial and take a photo of literal garbage, lamps and cats because I can. As much as I would want my photography to change and challenge mindsets and perceptions, I know that I'm just one voice. I will continue to contribute in small ways to greater causes but there are times when I just make photographs for the heck of it.
Do you have any tips for other aspiring photographers?
Have fun. Stop thinking. Just do it. People can't see what you are thinking until you take a picture of it. Make tonnes of images because you can. Allow yourself space to take a break and do something else other than pursuing that perfect image. We don't exist in this world just to do one thing at a time. Develop a voice and an aesthetic will follow.
What would be your most memorable photograph?
It changes every time whenever I make something new. Right now, it's the image of my partner and I with shampoo in our head, from the project "and now they know". The image was the "eureka moment" of the direction for the project.
Who are the young and local artists/designers/creatives you admire?
Leslie Kee's works have inspired me tremendously ever since I was a teenager because of how he portrays his subjects with such confidence, pride and bravery. His contribution to the LGBT community through photography has also inspired me to follow in his footsteps to contribute in my own ways.
What is one subject/location/object that you wish to photograph?
I would really, really, really want to photograph Lady Gaga, Ayumi Hamasaki and Ellen DeGeneres.
What is one change you wish to see in Singapore?
Legalization of same-sex marriage.
How do you see your photographic work developing in the future?
Honestly, I have no idea. I find myself responding differently to the different topics I want to explore. I let the ideas inform my process and the look of my work. We can only wait and see.