What I’ve Learnt: Aik Beng Chia

55, Visual Archivist
Published: 27 September 2023

I USED TO BE quite on when I started shooting. But now, I’m getting more and more relaxed. Photography is not a rat race.

I’VE BEEN SHOOTING for 13 years. I just do my thing. If I get likes on my IG, great. If not, that’s ok, too.

ORGANICALLY, my work made me who I am today. There was no agenda or game plan. I just kept shooting until things happened to me.

MY DAY JOB is in advertising but I don’t grind at work. I just make sure I have enough.

THERE ARE TIMES when I feel like I’m not doing much in the rat race but you know what? It is great for my mental health.

AM I SHOOTING to leave a legacy? I hope that whatever I’ve done amounts to something bigger.

THERE ARE MANY GOOD PHOTOGRAPHERS out there and 13 years later, I still get exhibited. That’s something that still surprises me.

MAYBE I’M IGNORANT but I don’t know anything about camera specs. I’m more visual than technical. There are times, however, that I force myself to understand the camera settings. I had to shoot people on the escalators but I can’t capture a good clear image on auto mode. I had to learn how to shoot manually.

REGARDLESS of what industry you are in, there will always be haters.

ONE TIME, I was talking to Kevin [WY Lee] and I told him how envious I was that other photographers get to shoot awesome pictures overseas. He asked what was wrong with shooting in Singapore; if you cannot shoot in your own playground, what makes you so sure that you can shoot in another person’s playground? That stuck with me. For the first six years, I just shot in Singapore.

ABOUT 90 PER CENT OF THE TIME, I’d shoot without asking the subjects for their permission. Because what I want, is the spontaneity of the moment. If I did ask them, something in the moment would be lost.

I’VE MADE SHORT FILMS but I’m more of a still person. You need a crew for filmmaking and the amount of time and involvement needed is too much for me to handle.

“PHOTOGRAPHY IS SELF-MASTURBATION.” That statement is true because in any craft, there’s some sort of conceit involved. I posted that on my IG story and it caused a lot of people to unfollow me. I still stand by the statement though.

BACK BEFORE INSTAGRAM had the archive feature, I used to Marie Kondo my IG feed. Every year, I’d delete them all. There was no reason to keep the images. It was just a matter of housekeeping.

A FEW PEOPLE have asked me to remove photos of them on my IG. In 2010, when I was shooting at the Tanjong Pagar railway station, I shared a shot of a couple kissing. One of them messaged me and asked me to remove it, so I did.

NO ONE WILL EVER SEE this photo but one time, in an alleyway in Little India, I saw a naked man when the door opened. He was sitting there, fully exposed and smoking. It took me aback. My camera was already in my hands so I secretly took a shot.

I USE AI to create fake images that I couldn’t capture in real life. Like the images of Bugis Street in the old days. I don’t have a time machine so this is the next best thing.

NOTHING BEATS BEING THERE: AI can only replicate, it can never duplicate. AI is going to be part of our lives. So, we just have to work with it. It’ll never replace the real moments but it’ll help in other ways.

OFF THE TOP of my head, I’m afraid that I may not have tomorrow to take another photo.

EVERY DAY, I’ll make the best of it. It doesn’t necessarily have to even be about photography. I can just enjoy my time by drinking a beer; that is good enough for me.

IT’S ALL GUT FEEL. It’s hard to explain what I’m going for when I shoot.

DON’T DEBATE with people because you can’t reason with them no matter how good your argument is. I just won’t bother.

THE NEW GENERATION of photographers is doing an amazing job. I don’t get why the old guard is so angry with them.

WHATEVER YOU DO IN LIFE, it’s important to let go. Once you do that, you will feel more at peace.

WHEN I STARTED PHOTOGRAPHY, I felt the pressure but that feeling didn’t last that long. I used to chase after the image. I’d hunt for that moment and when I don’t get it, I get fed up. Eventually, I learnt to just let the image come to me.

WHEN YOU SEE ME on the street, just say hi. I may look fierce but I won’t bite.

NOTHING WRONG with mimicking someone’s style. You have to start somewhere so you’ll often shoot like the photographer you admire. After a while, you’ll find your voice.

WHAT I DON’T LIKE are people trying to get that overnight fame. It’s obvious, you can tell. I don’t bash them, I’ll just let them be because how long can they last? It’s tiring.

Photography: Jaya Khidir

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