Travel the World, shoot the best scenes, meet interesting people... wouldn’t that be nice if we could make that a living? For Vicky Yeow that’s the travelling photographer’s life she now leads. What’s so interesting about her journey is how quickly she reached her goal, and to her first solo exhibition at the Cathay (starting on the 10th May). We catch up with her to catch a glimpse into her travelling life.
Go Digital: OK Vicky, tell us your path to photographic enlightenment…
VICKY: I was a IT industry headhunter by profession, having started my own firm in my mid 20s. And I’ve gotten out of that some 2 years ago. I only picked up my first DSLR, a Canon 40D, in 2008. Before that I wasn’t into photography at all. I attended the beginner Canon classes and met, and was influenced by, their instructor Jino Lee’s trip to Bali in August 2008. In July 2009 I was looking at a lot of photos on the Net and came across a self-taught photographer called Chen Feng from Fujian, China. He is a NatGeo award winner and one of the top photographers in Fujian. I contacted him and managed to join one of his local tours. During the trip I said that I could bring a group of Singaporean photographers to see him (my friends saw my photos with him and decided to join). Apart from being my mentor he’s now also my business partner.
That started my photography enlightenment. By December I was already leading my first official photography tour to China. I’ve done about 15 trips now.
The other influences are Jino Lee, from Canon, and Mr. Hui from Photographic Society of Singapore (PSS). Mr. Hui is in his 60’s. He is a true caring, humble, gentle photographer. I learned the conduct of a photographer from him. He’s a close senior that I look up to.
The whole of my photography path has happened by ‘chance’. I didn’t choose photography by plan. But I did grab the opportunity when it arose. Having a mentor is very important.
Some would say you’re still a young baby of a photographer.
I went into the express lane. Of course teaching basic photography classes in Canon helped too.
What’s your speciality?
When I bring groups out we do mostly landscapes - and also human interest photography. These are not so much portraits, more like street photography with human behaviour to tell a story.
Any special personal projects you’ve done?
In between the travel workshops I do my own journalistic stuff. There’s a remote place in India I visited called the prostitution village. The idea of a prostitution village interests me because the women of the whole village are prostitutes. I wanted to understand how the women feel about the profession. I wanted to document things that we don’t see in our daily lives; to see and understand why things turn out the way they do. In this place, the history started during the Indian monarchy era. They had girls who were court entertainers who, after that era ended, ended up eventually as prostitutes.
Nowadays, the girls have migrated to roadside huts and to the major cities. Before I could see them, I had to register with the police and be escorted around as it was considered dangerous. That made it difficult to talk to the girls openly and frankly. They would run away at the sight of the policemen. Sadly the men of the family would act as the girls’ pimp. And as there’s no contraception, there are a lot of kids around who stay with the mum.
One telling place I visited had an old man looking after a lot of kids. He wouldn’t answer why there were no ladies in the village. There were only young girls or old women. The adult women were out working.
His family had graves in the home compound, as a sign of their wealth. He showed me his sister’s grave. It showed how the sister supported the family this way. My project is yet to be completed. I will go back to find out more.
And how did you manage to bag an exhibition with the Cathay Organisation?
I received an email from Cathay Organisation in June 2010 when I was in Tibet that their boss was looking for a photographer called Vicky. She had gone to a photo lab and chanced upon my Fujian photos. I said that if I do an exhibition, as my first one, I didn’t want something that anyone could produce, especially from my workshops where many people as taking the same picture. In the back of my mind I had wanted to show the Sadhu holy men of India story.
When I was in Nepal, 2009, I would see these holy men appear in a lot of tourist photos. After a photo they would demand money otherwise they become verbally abusive and threatening. I was curious if this was the means to their livelihood. I had time to interview them in their quarters in the temple. At first they were very fierce and tried to deflect me until they got tired of scolding me. Luckily, I bumped into an English speaking Sadhu who explained that if you take pictures of models you will pay. If they were going to be your model then you should also pay. It’s easy to understand it from their point of view. Their story is on my website. When the exhibition starts, I will show a sequel to the story on my subsequent trips.