The world of photography has undergone numerous transitions in just the last 50 years. Cameras, on the other hand, have their rich history dating back even further. As a product of the 70s and 80s, I’ve witnessed many monumental changes in photographic technology, all paving the way to the digital culture we now live in. From the iconic Hasselblad to the then-revolutionary instant camera (the world remembers it fondly as Polaroids), to the Super Kodak Six-20 Pack of 1938 and the Topcon RE Super of 1962. Progress did not stop there.
While he was certainly not the first to do so, cartoonist Berkeley Breathed took the best stab at bringing the future of photography into sharp focus when he tackled the subject in an installment of his “Outland” comic strip published in the early 1990s.
It’s no secret the humble point and shoot contraption has been, for the most part, replaced with the iPhone. Since it first burst onto the scene in 2007, the smartphone’s photo-taking capabilities have advanced in leaps and bounds. Completely transforming the way consumers capture and share memories, immortalising sacred moments faster and more accurately, with stunning results.
Today, there are many whose portfolios are solely based on photos taken with the iPhone. A quick look at Instagram revealed an impressive pool of talent, and I couldn’t help imagining each one of these amazing lensmen (and women) being accompanied by a crescendo of applause on a regular, continuous basis. They_are_that_good. And none more so than 30 something Sarawakian wunderkind, TS Chang, or, once we were introduced (albeit via electronic mail), Tun Shin.
Born and raised in Kuching, capital city of the East Malaysian state of Sarawak (something we have in common), TS went to the UK after high school, to further his studies and, well, never left. He calls London home now and it’s easy to see why. While there aren’t men in white tie, smoking cigars outside Pall Mall clubs, no Harry Potter at King’s Cross (I know), nor does the fog, in truth, envelope the city on a permanent basis, London remains choc-a-bloc with snapshot-worthy sights. And that must certainly be utopia for someone like TS.
I felt incredibly fortunate to have stumbled upon TS’ Instagram account; privy to oh so many wondrous images captured via his iPhone. And I feel doubly blessed that he sportingly agreed to answer all of my questions. I hope you enjoy this insider peek into the world the way TS sees it.
Tell me, is photography your main gig or a hobby?
It’s a hobby. I like being able to capture what I see with my camera; interpreted my way.
Do I take it then that shutterbug skills run in the family?
No, I’m the only one in the family who’s into photography. My parents didn’t even own a camera when they were around my age. In those days, technology wasn’t that advanced in our hometown, and a camera was considered a luxury item. My family only had our first camera when I was twelve years old. We bought it for our trip to Kuala Lumpur.
Photography aside, anyone else artistically inclined in the family? If so, which fields?
I’d say my late Mum. She used to be a seamstress specialising in sewing Nyonya Kebaya (a traditional Peranakan 2-piece outfit worn by women with delicate, intricate floral embroidery). An artistic skill in itself inherited from her dad. She liked fashion and always wore matching dress, shoes and handbags. In fact, she’d disapprove if we were dressed shabbily. It’s from her that I learn how “dressing up is not only out of respect for yourself but also for others.”
I love how your tool of choice is the iPhone. Why is that?
If you’d asked me to take pictures using my mobile phone four, even three years ago, I’d have been in total denial. There was no way a mobile phone would make for good photography. That is until I joined Instagram and saw all the pictures other people had taken. I couldn’t believe they were taken with the humble mobile phone. It was then I challenged myself to take pictures using my iPhone. And I haven’t looked back since. I believe wholeheartedly in my iPhone’s capability. It’s with me everywhere I go. I can take pictures easily on my way to and back from work; during lunch; when I go out to meet friends, you name it. And, if I wanted to, I’m also able to snap, edit and post pictures on the go. On the flipside, it’d be quite inconvenient for me to drag my DSLR to work every day.
Your photos cover a vast range of subjects from facades to scenery and food to people. Which do you love best? Why?
I find it hard to keep to one style hence my subjects are all over the places. I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or bad 🙂 I capture whatever I see, really. If I were to choose a favourite, it’d be scenery. That said; it could be a scene captured on the street, in the city, or within natural surroundings.
Your work beautifully combines convenience with aesthetics. How do you see the rise of the mobile phone in the world of photography?
Advancements in modern technology have made mobile phone cameras comparable (to a certain degree) to DSLRs. They’re getting increasingly popular due to convenience; accessibility to photo-editing apps; easy posting/sharing; and, more importantly, a mobile phone camera is an on-the-go tool. Truly able to capture that specific moment instantly. A lot of photography competitions now also include a mobile photography category. Like it or not, it’s definitely on the rise!!
There’s a fine line between overhyped tourist shots and artful compositions. What, in your opinion, differentiates the two?
Tell me about it! This is something I debate with myself each time I take a picture of Big Ben or Tower Bridge. I hesitate whether to post it. I love our London landmarks, and I can’t help taking a shot every time I walk past. However, to make it less touristy, I’d make the landmark a peripheral or background subject rather than the main. Or shoot it from a less conventional angle.
London, being in the heart of Europe, offers so much creative license in terms of geographical locations. Hop on a train and you’re in Denmark or Spain or … which is your favourite spot and why?
There are so many places and countries to choose from in Europe. It’s a small continent with so much to offer. But, if I could, I’d go back to island-hopping along the Dalmatian Coast in Croatia in a heartbeat. Many of the towns, beaches and islands there are less touristy (but they’re already on the rise, so go quickly!!) hence you still see the unspoilt beauty of the natural spots. The people are friendly and honest. Most of the islands offer a combination of old towns, beaches, clear turquoise sea, fantastic seafood and rich cultures. I’ll never forget the moment I jumped into the Adriatic Sea and swam with the fishes.
These are my two favourite pieces from you. Would you mind telling me the story behind them?
I’m quite surprised you picked these two.
OK, the first was taken at Rundetaarn in Copenhagen. As soon as I stepped inside, I was instantly drawn to the lighting, windows, and the brick paved floor. Since joining Instagram, I’ve started to pay a lot of attention to lighting, natural lighting in particular, as I find that good lighting greatly enhances a picture.
The second one was taken in a dark, hidden car park underneath a viaduct bridge in central London. I walked past it during lunch and was struck by this series of arches. I love the perspective that pulls your eyes in to this cold, dark space with a hint of eeriness. Just as I clicked the shutter, a security guard came into my picture and I almost left him in there. He seemed such a lone figure, creeping out into the setting.
Why are you surprised? Which are your personal faves?
I was surprised because most people go for pictures with beautiful sceneries whereas the two you picked were taken indoors, with concrete walls or brick pavements. The good lighting and perspective could’ve been their saving graces. But I’m glad to know my pictures without landmarks could be someone else’s faves too. I’ve many faves myself, but a recent one is this. It was taken from the inside of a cottage I stayed in, in a small village called Abbotsbury. I love how the light shone through the windows that morning. If I were a writer or a composer, I’d just sit there and be incredibly inspired! LOL!
If you could, which aspect of Kuching would you photograph? Now that you’ve been doing it for a while, I’m certain your mind’s eye remembers specific parts of the city which would make for very aesthetic shots.
I’ve always wanted to photograph the old town of Kuching, those areas surrounding Carpenter Street and Main Bazaar. Having visited so many countries and lived abroad for a while now, I’m really appreciating this part of Kuching where the oldest trades still thrive. The architecture of Chinese shop houses, the double wooden doors and windows. The cracked walls and narrow streets are all part of the beautiful aspects of this city. Sadly, as Kuching undergoes vast and rapid development, a lot of these traditional elements will fade away; hence, I think it’s even more important to take photographic records of them before they’re completely gone.
So we both agree that digital photography is the way to go. And that the use of mobile phones in that capacity is undeniably on the rise. Do you personally see the day when traditional events the likes of wedding banquets (for instance) are immortalised through the phone camera and no one gives it a second thought? And if so, how long do you think before this happens?
Actually, I believe people are already trying out their mobile phones for such events.
However, speaking from a non expert’s point of view, I think mobile phones still present weaknesses when it comes to low light conditions; creating shallow depth of field; that sort of thing, as compared to DSLR. And these may be the reasons why we still don’t see them being used that often during the events you spoke of.
In terms of people, who’d be your dream model/subject?
I can’t think of one, really (and that’s not because I’m self centred or snobbish!). I feel every person is unique, and I just want to be myself.
Last question, what’s your fondest childhood memory when it comes to food?
Hands down Kolo Mee! I miss it a lot as I remember my late father taking my brother and me to eat this noodle at the local ‘coffee shop’ after school, or for breakfast during weekends. It’s THE food I associate with my hometown. I’ve tried many versions of it outside of Kuching but I’m afraid none matched up. Not even those found in other places or cities within Malaysia itself. It’s a particular taste that belongs to Kuching and totally irreplaceable!
All photographs courtesy of TS Chang. With many thanks for your infinite patience.