Who says Singapore is short on creative talents? In this column, we spotlight the names that are shaping up the scene here. Here, we speak to fashion photographer Stuart Chen.
The curious visitor to the website of fashion photographer Stuart Chen might have a few questions. Like what’s with the hilarious website name ‘Holly Macaroni’? “I worked as a waiter when I was 15 and being a vegetarian at a fancy restaurant wasn’t easy as their staff meals weren’t exactly tailor-made to suit each staff’s [dietary] preference. The chef was kind enough to prepare macaroni and cheese for my meals,” he explains.
And if you think that the mixtapes he uploads on the site (there are about seven as of now, ranging from deep house to EDM, are a cool touch, the backstory is more altruistic. “Back when I was studying in London, a friend of mine told me that my choice of music was so bad and that I should probably come to her apartment so she can give me a list of music to play for future shoots,” he says.
“After some time, I took an interest in garage house, deep house, tech house, reggae, funk and more chill music. That’s when I thought perhaps I should do my own ‘mixtape’ for photographers or creatives alike to use for their shoots.”
But quirks aside, Chen (he cut his teeth by assisting top Singapore lensmen Wee Khim and Mark Law) is a talented young photographer with an eye for intimate portraits that come with a crisp and clean touch – in short, they’re super modern. That trademark style he’s honed in the six years he’s gone pro is something that has caught the eye of clients from Singapore fashion label Eight Slate to Aussie unisex label Scott Benedictine to commercial ones like Resort World Sentosa and the Melbourne Law School.
Highly textured and eccentric collages – a big trend at the moment – are also something that Chen has turned into a calling card. The reason for that experimentation bore out of a sense of frustration with the way images are consumed on social media. “I saw that photography, in general, is similar. Scrolling through social media, you’d see an endless amount of great images taken by people, uploaded or reposted as soon as you refresh your feed,” he says.
“Don’t get me wrong, it’s an amazing time to be living in, but it got me thinking. Instead of doing heaps of photo shoots, I started internalising, looked at my archive and married suitable photographs together and that’s how collaging started for me.”
Here, we get up close and personal with Chen.
My name is … Stuart Chen Zhide.
My friends and family call me… Stuuuuu, Stuie, Stewie, Stuart or Di (“little brother” by my family).
My age is… 26.
I’m from… Singapore.
I studied photography at… London College of Fashion and RMIT University in Melbourne.
One thing I love most about photography is… seeing the way light behaves.
The three words I’d use to describe my photography are… composed, spontaneous, and intimate.
If I could photograph anything or anyone, it’d be… happiness and Kendrick Lamar.
The proudest moment in my career is... getting approval from the local authorities to shoot at London’s Trafalgar Square.
The last photo I shot before this interview was… an installation at Long Museum in Shanghai.
My favourite subject to photograph is… flowers and human. I can’t choose; I’m greedy like that.
My biggest inspiration is… my family.
My photography heroes are… Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Tim Walker, Inez and Vinoodh, Cecil Beaton, Helmut Newton, Hedi Slimane, Robert Mapplethorpe, Peter Lindbergh, Willy Vandeperre, and Jonas Lindstroem.
My favourite music to play when I’m shooting is… R&B or something chill or upbeat. It really depends on the vibe and how I’d like to influence the team.
My spirit animal is… the French bulldog.
If I’m not a photographer, I’d be a… sculptor.
I’m currently working on… building an archive of photography and videography for this year and next through collaborations with other creatives in Singapore and abroad in order to come up with an exciting exhibition.