Intro to This Fat Bloke
I’m NgeeJee, Tsan is my family name. I’m a destination wedding and portrait photographer from Kuching, Sarawak, and I occasionally do private events too. I also do photography professionally covering products, corporate works and events for my online marketing business as part of our service to our clients when we are working on their online marketing foray.
My Discovery of My Passion For Photography
From young, I have always been fascinated by photography, as I can still remember sneaking into my dad’s closet, and toying with his Canonet rangefinder. I have always been very interested in how the machine work, and how an image can be obtained with such a contraption. But it wasn’t until much later (in my Form three secondary school years) that I get a first real taste of how wonderful the world of photography is.
My father (thanks Papa!) bought me a used Yashica FX3 Super SLR, with a standard 50mm f/1.4 lens and a Vivitar Series 1 70mm-210mm telephoto zoom. I can still remember the broad smile across my face when I gotten that lovely package, all tucked in nicely in a navy blue Yashica camera bag. Now I can finally join the ranks of Pentax EMs and Nikon F801s that my classmates and schoolmates have had. Finally I can make sense of my joining the photography club of my school, though I do not own a camera to boot. Finally I can put into action, what I have read in countless photography magazines that I have spent my pocket monies buying. And finally, I can at least label myself a “photographer” in my mind’s eye.
But the thrills and exhilaration were all cut short, when the reality sets in. Buying films, developing them after the shoot, and printing them started to be the hundred pound gorilla that I need to wrestle. All my pocket monies went into spending on just that. We were buying 35mm films in the cartons (instead of 1 or 2 rolls) as they gave us better economies of scale. The school photography club also provided us an invaluable avenue to buy films from supplier at rock bottom prices, RM6 for a named brand roll of 36 exposures ISO200 films instead of the common retail price of RM9-13, depending on brand. I still have the boxes of negatives, remnant of my early photography years.
How Long Have I Been In The Industry?
Well, to cope with the exorbitant hobby, my mates and I started doing portraits for our fellow classmates and schoolmates. That was the time, where we are making some quick bucks from our love for photography. I can still remember the first roll of 36 taken on a job. RM80 was what we asked for, for a session with 1 roll of 36 exposures. On location shooting is the only thing we do, as we do not have a studio, and nor does the school photography club. We only had a dark room which there are loads of other stories associated with it, but that’s a story for another day. Though RM80 does not sound like much, but in 1993, each session will allow us to buy more film, and shoot more stuff that we loved. So I guess I can label myself as being in the industry way back then, though the local camera equipment shop (whom we gotten to know well as birds of the same feather flocks together) bashed us for being “spoiling the market” for charging so lowly. We also did the school book class photos for the school magazine, and made some pocket monies too from the print orders that came from the entire school, and in good years, we can make 4 figure profits selling these prints to fellow students and teachers.
After that, there’s a long break in between early 2000 until I finally come back to providing photography services professionally in 2009.
Photography Is An Art, Period
I started to grow into loving art at a very young age, 5 or 6 years old to be exact. I have been drawing, painting, and then draw some more since then (even my current online marketing & web development business requires me to draw and paint, digitally). I’ve since then gotten into art classes, learnt to express myself freely with various types of art medias, and making lots of arts and winning some prizes along the way. I always think that communication is best done with art. Later in my schooling years I fell in love with graphic designs, and then photography came. I can still vividly remember my mom lamented “Why are you always shooting useless stuffs, why are you shooting stuffs that does not make sense?” every time I developed and printed my 36s from the lab (apart from the portrait works that I did as a paid gig). I had always enjoyed street photography and still life, down right to abstract photography.
I think that photography was such an incredible form of art that I am able to “draw” with a click of the shutter. I am able to capture and freeze a moment in time that would otherwise be forgotten forever. I think photography is not just about the technical knowhow on the control of exposure and the mastery of the tool (camera).
A badly taken shot, with bad exposure and focus of a decisive moment, is far better and more interesting than a tack sharp and perfectly exposed piece of ordinary rock on a plain table surface. A blurred image of a running man chasing after his son on the busy main bazaar in down town Kuching, toppling over the spices sold in one of the shops because the boy skipped school was a much more “perfect” shot, than the same man, standing in the studio with his son, having their family portrait taken.
So yeah, photography to me is Art; and a paying one too, if you know what you are doing. To me, there’s just no right or wrong in photography. As the renown wedding photographer Jasmine Star puts it, the opposite of “white” is not “black”. It’s just “Not White”. But no one can tell you what is not right, well at least in photography that is. There is no definition to what is “correct” photography, as opposed to “incorrect” photography. It’s a subjective matter, and to me, it’s art. Amy Deputy, a famous photographer from the US, thinks that “photography is the art of paying attention to details”, and I totally agree with her, and that is what I have put into my work, both commercially or professionally, and as a hobbyist.
Travelling and Shooting In Malaysia & Singapore
I have not had a chance to work for any Singaporean clients in Singapore, but I do have clients who worked in Singapore, and came back here to Kuching for photo shoots. I would love to comment on this matter, but I would be in no position to do so. All I can say is, Singapore has a much more mature market (in my humble-yet-not-scientific-as-I-did-not-conduct-a-formal-survey-but-based-on-what-I-have-personally-seen-and-come-to-know-of opinion) that what we have in Kuching.
People in general in Kuching are still not ready to appreciate photography as an art. Very few will think that it’s actually priceless for a moment to be captured professionally (like in weddings), and a proper fees should be paid to those who does so. Most people still sees it as a trading of the photographer’s time to shoot the wedding, as no “real job” was done, as no real deliverables are being produced at the end of the trade. They usually fail to see the importance of the artistic view of the photographer and his or her approach to the art. To them, we photographers does not have “cost” as all it takes is to be there at the wedding, click the shutter on our camera, and (now being digital) give them the image which anyone with a camera will be able to produce, albeit that camera gears cost many many arms and many many legs.
Most professional wedding photographers in Kuching are also a very sad bunch. All they know when it comes down to marketing their crafts is slashing prices. Wedding photography in Kuching is now such a competitive market that associations and NGO bodies are formed to “regulate” the prices. They have failed to see and value the Art in their craft. They have no other marketing arsenal in their sleeves other than to offer to the public that their service is the cheapest in town. I beg to differ, as my approach has always been that I will celebrate my art with you, and will give you my best in making your moments a memorable one, be it for 20, 30, 50, 100 years or more to come. To me, what is unique is my art, my ability to capture the same moment that everyone else sees but in a very different manner. Branding of my art to focus on its uniqueness is far more effective (in the long run) than that of to sell myself and my art short because the next photographer charges peanuts for a job.