Truths exposed by a photography legend | A List

Truths exposed by a photography legend | A List

Famed Singapore photographer Chua Soo Bin looks nothing like his age, 88, but he sounds every bit like someone who has lived through a war, social turbulence, economic upheavals and technological disruptions – he is sanguine and eager to pass on his hope.

At the end of the interview about his new exhibition, Chua Soo Bin: Truths & Legends, at the National Gallery Singapore, he says the only thing that mattered in the interview is this – the power of art.

“Art has given me life, and strength, and joy. That is the power of art,” he says. “It is not about the money but the enjoyment it brings, how it energises people and relationships. With art in your life, age is just a figure.”

That power keeps the octogenarian and self-taught photographer, who cut his teeth in advertising, busy creating new bodies of work and opening solo exhibitions.

His show at the National Gallery features close to 90 photographs. Many of them are from his seminal Legends portrait series, shot in the 1980s and featuring Chinese ink masters such as Chen Wen Hsi and Wu Guan Zhong.

The series is especially close to Chua’s heart, but not because it helped him break into the world of art. For him, a recipient of Singapore’s highest artistic recognition, the Cultural Medallion, spending time with the ink masters as he photographed them taught him how to be a person.

“They were giants in the art world,” he says in Mandarin, “but they were very humble, sincere in speech and driven by purpose.” He has clearly followed in their footsteps, gamely offering us three nuggets of wisdom about photography, art and life.

Don’t go chasing angles
When Chua shoots a portrait, he never obsesses about capturing the subject’s best angle. For him, what matters most is revealing on film, the person’s character and psyche. To do this, he spends time getting to know the sitter personally, and in an environment where the person is most comfortable.

The heart will go on
Chua started Legends, a personal photo project, not because he thought it would pay off commercially. He was simply moved by the works of the ink masters and their passion for art-making. That love and respect for life, art and beauty continues to motivate his artistic pursuits.

Never stop learning
When Chua came of age as a photographer, it was when pictures took time to be developed and cameras were not a function embedded in another device. So, he maintains that there is something magical about seeing a picture appear on film as it is developed in a darkroom. But he also embraces digital photography and says the last photo he took, which he was very pleased with, was shot on his phone camera, because it was what he had on him at that moment.

With additional reporting by Huang Lijie.

Details on Chua Soo Bin: Truths & Legends here.

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