Photographer Kenneth Lee captures the drama that unfolds in everyday life through his exhibition, FreshfromKenneth.
Contributed By Yong Yung Shin
An arresting black-and-white portrait of a beggar and her child on the streets of China forms the centerpiece for Kenneth Lee’s photography exhibition at Room With A View on Carpenter Street. Lee, who is also a City News photographer, picked up photography in 2007 because he thought it was “cool” but only became really interested in the art in 2009. The exhibition marks a new chapter in the life of this 23-year-old as he prepares for National Service. He talks about his passion and the finer points of capturing a good shot.
What is your pet subject and why?
I love to shoot toddlers and the elderly, preferably those of other nationalities, because Singaporeans are naturally shy and reserved in front of the camera. I enjoy engaging with the little ones and old people when I’m on the streets in a foreign country, usually when I’m on holiday or on business trips. Naturally, kids enjoy having their photos taken and when you show them their shots, they are really amused and happy. Similarly with the elderly, they might be shy at the beginning but in the end, they always give in and flash a big wide smile—and that makes my day!
Tell us the story behind the image of the beggar and her child.
While taking street photographs in Shanghai, I noticed many people begging on the streets. Sitting in the freezing weather near the Bund, I came across a mother and her young child. The mother had a bowl in front of her like the others, but something about the pair touched my heart. She didn’t ask or go around begging and telling people to help her. Instead, she waited patiently for a “good samaritan.” Through her quiet resolve, I could see her love for her child. This shot, titled “My Only Son,” is one of my favorite pictures.
It’s about looking for good photo opportunities and using one’s heart to capture the image. Photographers are taught to use the rule of thirds, but beyond that, I learned to have spatial awareness—the ability to arrange objects in that space, to express your understanding of the relationships between objects within the four corners of a frame, to achieve the best composition possible. The strength of a well-composed shot lies in its ability to communicate something to the viewer before he even reads the caption.
Whose work inspires you?
Most of the time, I learn through observing photos in publications like Time magazines, random exhibitions, and the internet. The one name I do remember is Steve McCurry—the photographer who shot the famous “Afghan Girl” portrait for the cover of National Geographic.
What would you like to communicate to viewers through your works?
The main reason I love taking street photography overseas is to capture people with various standards of living, and to show the absence of love in modern society. I hope that with the talent I’ve been given, I can bring about a change in the individualistic mentality of the world.
Finally, what makes a good photograph?
A good photograph is a piece of art. It is visually pleasing, triggers your emotions and leaves an image in your memory.
FreshfromKenneth is on exhibition at Room With A View (17, Carpenter Street) from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. until May 31. Free admission.