ARTiculate by Tan Ngiap Heng
This is my second attempt at the series ARTiculate, portraits of people in the arts. In 1999, as a young photographer who had just left the Esplanade as an arts administrator, I thought that it would be cool to take a series of portraits of artists whom I knew. It would be a series of black and white portraits shot in natural light. I took about six portraits, but then my career taking publicity and production photographs for arts groups took off. I was unable to continue with the portraits simply because I was swamped, and somehow making the portraits did not get me pumped up.
More than a decade later, Platform invited me to contribute to their TwentyFifteen.sg project. The team wanted a new series of work. I was tempted to offer a series of landscapes exploring my inner journey, but that would be something new to me and might take several years to accomplish. So I came back to ARTiculate again. I didn’t want to make traditional portraits, so I’ve tried to use my current practice to create these portraits. In Portraits as Archaeology (2012), I took a portrait of my subject and projected it into their personal space, creating a site for the viewer to excavate my subject’s personality. In Portraits as History (2013, I created intimate portraits of my subjects by using their old family photos to light them. In ARTiculate, I have tried to create portraits of artists while using their artworks to illustrate who they are.
The subjects in ARTiculate are visual artists, writers, dancers, theatre practitioners, musicians, photographers and animators. This is a varied group of people, and finding meaningful instances of their art to create their portraits has pushed me to expand the way I use projections in my work. As the series has progressed, I have been pleasantly surprised by the results. Nothing is perfect, but I feel that I have been able to convey, in these portraits, the art of these artists who live and work in Singapore.
ARTiculate is my visual poem, dedicated to the wonderful Singaporean artists who so greatly enrich all our lives. I have chosen artists whose work or spirit has moved me. This is not an unbiased, democratic survey of Singaporean artists; with only 15 portraits, it could not be such. This is an unabashed groupie dedication, moderated by access to my subjects. Not everyone I wanted to photograph allowed me to photograph them. And not everyone whom I photographed has made it into the tight selection of 15.
I hope you find the work as delightful as it was for me to create it.
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