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Meet the 23-Year-Old Photographer Capturing Singapore’s Concrete Jungle
by: Carmina Jariel
April 04, 2022
Twenty-three-year-old architecture student Chiok Jun Jie, also known as JJ, has been taking photos of Singapore’s sprawling cityscape since he was 16. The Lion City, a confluence of old-world charm and modern living, has been the perfect subject of JJ’s fascination for tall, sometimes intimidating, skyscrapers and urban landscape. He documents his work on his Instagram account with a following of more than 15,000, snapping bird’s-eye shots of a bustling city that serves as the melting pot of different Asian cultures. When not behind the lens, JJ is venturing into creative endeavors with his colleagues at Studio AKIPLGO, a multidisciplinary design collective made up of young “thinkers and tinkerers.”
The Beat Asia spoke with JJ in February to talk about photography, architecture, and how he’s making a dent behind the lens—one picture at a time.
Hi, JJ! Please tell us about yourself and how you developed your passion for photography.
Hi, my name is JJ. I’m 23 this year. I’m an architecture student. I started photography when I was 16. I’d been traveling before the pandemic to various countries to document my travels. I’ve been working for brands.
I recently launched a firm, a creative firm with a few of my friends called Studio AKIPLGO (pronounced as archipelago) where we do exhibitions, creative work, and interior design.
Did you learn photography in school or by practice?
I picked up photography on my own. One day, I picked up a camera, I was lying around, and I just thought [of going out] to take photos and eventually it became a hobby that I picked up. It was my break away from school.
In what ways do photography and architecture intersect?
I think photography has a [need to document] or [experience] the space around me. As an architecture student, I feel that [the experience] of space is very intuitive and important. I want to translate this [and] show others what I'm feeling in the space. Photography, naturally, has become a tool for me to convey these feelings to others. Photography and architecture have played hand in hand with me in the last few years.
How would you describe your photography and what do you want your audience to take away from your work?
I feel like my photography is surreal in the sense that I like to take cityscapes that I like. It is ever growing, constantly growing, constantly developing. To me, it's not about the nicest cityscapes out there. It's more of like documenting the progress of cities, the progress of space in time. I think that's what's most important to me and what I hope viewers of my photos would seek to experience. I’m constantly developing. Creativity is always developing and always changing. To me, it is a work in progress.
What are your favorite places to shoot in Singapore?
I really like Marina Bay, Gardens by the Bay, [and the] city centre. But recently I've taken interest in heartlands, documenting the Singapore spirit. Within Singapore there are so many residential areas, so many amazing and interesting architecture within the heartlands. My goal is to bring life to these. It's not just documenting the mainstream architecture that people would see when they Google Singapore.
What's the inspiration behind your photographs? Who do you consider as your heroes in photography?
Architecture and education. The way that I compose, the way that I look at the space around me. I keep my experience as an architecture student. My experience in the discourse of architecture. How can I better analyse space and then document it? How can I better share the architect's intention when I document a space? That's my inspiration and my constant take in my photos.
When it comes to my heroes, I like to say Alex Soth. [He] is my first inspiration when I started architectural photography and storytelling photography.
Being a photographer involves going out a lot. But since the pandemic has limited our mobility and curbed travel, how has this affected your craft and what are you doing to overcome that?
I have been exploring other countries [and] other forms of creative works. As I said previously, I’m doing exhibitions and interior design, graphic design. So, whatever I'm doing in school as an architecture student and whatever I'm doing apart from photography has allowed me to view the art that I produce in a different light. It has allowed me to experiment.
Going out has not been too hard for me. Usually, I take photos alone so it's really a one-man team.
Your profile says that you have ventured into NFT photography. How do you think NFT would affect professional photographers?
To me, it's an ever-growing platform. It's still new but it's very exciting because it generates interest around photography as a field. I feel like NFT photography has a long way to develop but it really helps a lot of photographers like me. I’m not an established name, so in a sense if you have support financially…it makes it accessible to people. That's why [I’m] very interested in exploring NFT photography.
Imagine you're talking to an inspiring photographer. What are the three things that you'd like to tell them?
Practice. There's this saying, I can't remember the exact number, but it goes something like: You won’t be good at photography until you take 30,000 photos or something. I can't remember the exact number, but I think practice is very important.
Do something different. Don't be too caught up with whatever everyone else is taking. There are too many people out there who are documenting the same stuff. Don’t be afraid to try something different. Be experimental. Don’t be stagnant.
Talk. Reach out to people. Talk to other photographers. It's good to learn from others. It's good to make friends.
What's your most favourite project so far and what's so special about it?
My most memorable project was [the one] I did for Puma. I documented this special line-up of soccer boots. That was very interesting because I think it was one of the first big brands that worked with me. It allowed me to explore and tap into this realm of product photography and how [I] integrate products into the urban setting.
How about your dream project or collaboration?
My dream [is to] become a travel photographer and be able to document various tourism spots and show the city through my own lens. I think that's the dream: to travel and take photos. That's the dream for most photographers.
Do you have any upcoming projects?
We just closed off our exhibition. The response was pretty great. We are excited to see what's up for us. Right now, together with my firm, we are working on temporary public installation in two shopping malls in Singapore. That's still under development but it's expected to be ready by March or April. That's quite exciting for us!
Thank you, JJ!
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