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Fashion

Spotlight: From The Ma Jie To The LGBT Community, This Singapore Documentary Photographer Explores A Sensitive Side To Her Subjects

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Charmaine Poh. Photo: Kenji Mercado

The local photography scene is undoubtedly a male-dominated front, especially when it comes to the documentary genre. But in recent years, that pool has seen a growing number of practitioners who are bringing a softer and intimate perspective to their images.

One of the names to follow is Charmaine Poh, 27, whose work centres around the themes of gender and youths — often capturing an intimate sense of solitude and introspection. Her style caught our eye and for the recent September issue, Female got her to interpret the topical theme of nostalgia for her first-ever fashion project. The result: A visual essay capturing the carefree teenage years, capturing the nuances of boredom, naivete and angst.

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An unpublished image from Charmaine Poh’s first-ever fashion editorial for Female.

To fans of documentary photography,  her aesthetic would call to mind the works of industry heavyweights such as Nan Goldin, who in a career that spanned over 50 years, captured subversive issues like sexuality and addiction. The other connection that Goldin and Poh share: both studied at Boston’s Tufts University, where the latter majored in international relations. It was during Poh’s time pursuing her degree there that she got hooked on the craft after a photojournalism class.

It was during Poh’s time pursuing her degree there that she got hooked on the craft after a photojournalism class. “I took a class on it and loved documenting other lives but it was when I came back to Singapore and started taking photographs of my father that photography became real to me,” she says. To date, she has held at least 10 exhibitions, including last year’s “Room” at The Substation, which chronicled the passage of adolescence to female adulthood.

Here, we get Poh to share some of her favourite works as well as to share some details about herself.

The Female Questionnaire

A nickname my friends and family have for me is… Charmander.

My age is… 27.

One word I to describe my photography style is… intimate.

The last thing I did before this interview is… take a shower.

My photography hero is… (American documentary photographer) Nan Goldin (whose work deals with issues like sexuality, glamour and death). She’s one of the many photographers I admire.

My dream photo shoot would be… in space.

The biggest highlight of my career would be… knowing that my photographs made a difference to a few people at the end of the day.

One song that gets me in the mood when I am shooting is… “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman. It’s usually enough to make me feel all the things.

My biggest inspiration is… literature.

My spirit animal is… a whale.

One surprising fact about myself is… I love my nomadic life. But once in a while, in a new and beautiful place, all I want to do is to hide in a room.

If I was not a photographer, I would be a… spy.

The next big project I am working on is… about my nanny.

 


This image is from the “Learning to Leave” series which was part of the National Arts Council’s The Apprenticeship Programme.  Titled “Fence”,  it’s made of an old childhood photograph of me and my nanny, with newly-made images of the childhood home superimposed on it. It looks like I’m drowning, and that was how I felt.
This is an image of my father that I took when he was trying to come out of sadness and into Buddhism.
This image of my friend “E” is one of the first photographs I made while working on a new project about being queer in Singapore. Like this? Bagaholicboy spills the coolest bag trends to cop, embrace ’60s psychedelia this season, and own the limited-edition T-shirt collection from Versace.