"A single spark can set off the greatest fire."
Today FixatedF turns FIVE! Back in 2009, I forced one of my most striking friends to pose for me as I took head-shots of her. It was an impromptu shoot in my room during a party (which at that time looked like something out of Vogue to my naïve, barely-sixteen self), sparked by ambitious intentions of sending them to modeling agencies and idealistic hopes of making Eshaba the next Lakshmi Menon. Although these plans fell through over the following months, other things were transpiring in the grand scheme of life.
Within a year's time I discovered what it meant to have a muse, realised the direction I wanted to steer my photography towards and then created a digital platform to express myself visually through my photography. That was the birth of FixatedF. Since then, this blog has been a safe space for me not only to communicate creative ideas, but to also rant about personal struggles from time to time.
Five years later, I'm still getting Eshaba to pose for me whenever the blank spaces in our schedules collide. Without prior planning, without high expectations, without any rules, we've been squeezing in photo sessions over the years. My first post on FixatedF featured her portraits and simply read "that’s what happens when a tornado meets a volcano" - that's still exactly how I feel today when photographing her. All through these years, this girl hasn't ceased to inspire me. It always feels like anything is possible. Take these latest images for example. Despite her messy wardrobe dictating the styling, a bedside lamp as a light source and the glow of a MacBook to fill shadows, we managed to create some kind of aesthetically-pleasing visuals in the middle of a cold, winter night. It's an exercise in stirring things up in the creativity jar while having fun.
Here's to the next half of the decade being as inspiring a journey as it has been so far, with more portraits and editorials, travels and food, visuals and stories. I am deeply grateful to everyone who has supported me from the conception of this blog, and to everyone who has played a part in making the content here possible, from fanning models and carrying reflectors to even lending me cameras and equipment. Ciao!
Tonight I'm feeling despondent. It's one of those nights where I lay staring at the ceiling as melancholic and angry thoughts of varying degrees try to overtake each other, racing through my mind. Here I am trying to stay afloat, trying to shake off this sensation of drowning, trying to sink only into bed. The days of summer pass and they seem uneventful, save for a few exciting weekends, and I never noticed that I've been physically and emotionally draining myself. So let the venting begin...
To start things off, being back with my family has been stifling in ways. One-half of the parentals isn't supportive is in total opposition to my creative endeavours (i.e. photography, this blog, anything fashion related), which means a lot of what I do has to be on the sly. It's a chance to put my 007 skills to good use as I keep my sartorial decisions out of sight. Although this is something I've become accustomed to over the years, leaving this space of negativity and then coming back into it is bloody deflating. Just when I thought I'd found my voice, some confidence and the grit to be who I am... I get put down faster than you can say Azzedine Alaïa, by the people who should be encouraging me. So done with this, it's something that I know won't ever change.
Moving on, how does one deal with kaypohs? Every second person I've met since returning has asked me about my plans after university, which is still two years away, and then comment on how much weight I've put on (this is a whole other rant on its own). Judging by their reactions to my standard reply of "I haven't thought that far yet", they appear to be concerned and disappointed. This is almost always succeeded by an earful of unsolicited advice, detailing what I should and shouldn't do. Yes, there are those who do it innocently, coming from a genuine place, but most times these people are just plain kaypoh and have nowhere else to impart their two-cents-worth of knowledge. Being subjected to this treatment time and time again is tiring and irritating - to the extent where it becomes hard to suppress the urge to tell people to *insert my initials here*-off and mind their own business.
Am I supposed to have worked out a life plan from now till retirement? Thinking about this led me to ponder over the cookie-cutter lifestyle, ubiquitous as a sign of success, in both developed and developing societies around the world. You're born, you go to school, you get a degree, you work, you get married, you have children, you retire, you die. I'm not sure what's worse - this regimen itself or social expectations and pressure to adhere to it. At the end of the day, when even my friends harp the same tune as everyone else, I can't help feeling like I'm doing something wrong, like I can't get anything right. Round of applause for self doubt, always knowing the right moments to strike. And that's how I fell into the philosophical ditch of looking for a purpose in life, only to find purposelessness.
I try not to let these things affect me too much and wear a face of contentment all the time. Fake it till you make it, right? Alas, everyone has a breaking point. Earlier today I came across #BlackCatAppreciationDay on Instagram - the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. I lost it. Almost a year ago, before moving to London, I was left with no choice but to give my two beautiful babies, Salem and Sable, up for adoption. No one at home was willing to look after them in my absence. I never speak about my cats beyond the generic small-talk, simply because it hurts. Leaving them was a heartbreak I never dealt with. I'm not ready to come to terms with losing them. Thinking about them, plainly missing them was enough to send me spiraling hell-ward, causing all these other pent up emotions to come crashing down. And that's how I got to this state of despondency.
So here I am trying to stay afloat, trying to shake off this sensation of drowning, trying to sink only into bed. My apologies and gratitude if you're still reading. This 2am ventilation has really lifted a weight off my chest and I think I can sleep better tonight.
Photos by Calvin Bong. Thank you for capturing these very mood-appropriate visuals.
While I am a firm believer in the phrase if you want something done right, do it yourself, I find that people misjudge what it really means when they take it at face value. What I understand from this saying is more along the lines of if you want something done in a particular way, to a certain standard, to your complete satisfaction, without any qualms... do it yourself. Makes so much more sense, doesn't it? This is the reasoning behind why I try to do hair and make-up for most of my shoots, why I partially designed my blog* and why I'm starting to take my own photos for outfit posts. Totally bringing the selfie-game up to the next level.
A bonus of taking photos on my own is that I get to squeeze in a good workout while running between position and camera, under the pressure of a ten second deadline. The result? Cardio for the day and a perfect self-portrait. It's as easy as 1, 2, 3. If you're counting in Navajo, that is. Truth be told, the first couple of times I tried, I was left with unfocused blurs and bitter disappointment. But I was determined to get this right, and after a few more days of practice, I believe I've nailed it. And being the generous person that I am**, I've put together a few tips and tricks to make sailing into self-shooting seas smoother for you.
"I don't own a tripod" and "a remote is out of my budget" are plain excuses. Hell, you don't even need an actual camera, you can do it with your phone on timer mode, propped up against furniture. In the past, I've piled up old issues of Vogue as a tripod. So I don't see any reason why you can't do the same, or find a shelf, or stack stools (as I did for this image) to create your own makeshift tripod. Next, set your camera's timer to 10 seconds or however long it would take you to get into position (and if your camera allows for a burst shot mode, turn that on)... And bam, you got the makings of a self-portrait.
a - Place something (pillow/chair/your grandma) where you'll be standing and focus on it. What's important here is the distance this thing is placed away from the camera. I do this when shooting at home.
b - After fixing your tripod into position and marking out where you'll be standing/sitting/laying/jumping, bring your camera there and focus on the tripod. Hold the camera the same distance away from the tripod where your face, or whatever you want in focus, will be. This is great when shooting outdoors or in open spaces.
c - Again, if you're out and about, find a corner of a building or a tree or a fire hydrant to pose next to. Focus on that object and then stand in line with it when shooting.
If using auto focus, be sure to switch to manual focus once you've set your focus, so it doesn't change when you press the shutter. And now you know the secret to looking sharp. Literally.
Don't forget to consider light! This applies to taking photos in general. Light is a key aspect of photography, but many tend to overlook it. You can add depth and give a photo character with it. My favourite kind of light when taking self-portraits is direct natural light. The best time is when the sun is lower in the sky. I tend to steer towards settings where light hits me from an angle on either side of my face, but don't be afraid to play around. A backlit situation can be equally beautiful. Also, I have lots of mirrors lying around in my attic, so I like to put them to good use and bounce light around to get it exactly where I want it or for interesting effects.
If you're using a self-timer, you really don't want to be running back and forth only to be discouraged by the outcome. Before you get clicking, spend a few minutes in front of the mirror/webcam/self-facing phone-camera and try out different poses until you find a few that you like. The aim here is to get your perfect shot in as little tries as possible. So, come on, vogue. But then on the other hand, you could appear too stiff. Just winging it might work for you. It always depends on the situation.
Practice makes perfect. I'm sure you've heard this enough times throughout your life, but it's just so damn true. Don't be disheartened if you don't get your self-portrait exactly the way you wanted it to be. Beautiful things take time to cultivate. Keep trying and you'll surely improve each time, finding your own little cheats to make things easier. Also, practice taking portraits of other people. The more you do, the better you will be at knowing good angles, lighting, locations, camera settings and so on. Then incorporate these things you learn into your own self-portraits!
Now that you know some of my secrets to shooting self-portraits, go forth and be brave enough to look like a total weirdo while taking your own photos out in public. The embarrassment will last only for so long, but the photograph you took of yourself, and the immense satisfaction, will last forever. Don't forget to share your self-portraits! I really want to see how they turn out!
Wearing: Uniqlo - Sweatshirt // Tissot - Watch
* I tried to learn coding to turn my 2D dream into a digital reality... but that was just a not-so-hot mess.
** My name actually means generous, derived from Arabic, used to describe 'the giver of gifts'.
Time creeps on, with a river's relentlessness, washing the walls of this house clean, freed from traces of inhabitance. With every bit of this mansion that crumbles, light shines onto a forgotten corner. People come and go, but never remain for too long. They know this is her home. Windows and doors, ceilings and floors, all may fall, but her beleaguering memories are here to stay. As you stare at dust, dancing through streams of light, you might catch a glimpse of the lady that never left.
Hypocrisy is never a flattering shade on anyone. That's the colour one wears when they fail to practice what they preach. That's the colour I almost wore on the morning of our shoot. Be spontaneous. Just go with the flow. YOLO. That's what I tell anyone I see stressing over little things. What I did was the total opposite. Less than an hour before our shoot, my friend and make-up artist had fallen ill and unfortunately wasn't able to make it... and I almost lost the plot. I actually don't know why I freaked out so much that morning. Possibly because I had just woken up when I got that text, or possibly because I had overplanned this shoot in my head. It's so important to take your own advice at times and thankfully for a very reassuring Josie (who is also amazing at painting her own face), I bounced back into motivation. I really should know by now that life can never be tamed into following the confines of a plan.
Look at our location for example - a mansion with lavish architecture, a marvel of technology with electricity in it's glory days... today, uncharted on maps, it's only wealth is its century-old history. Woodneuk Mansion lies in quiet earnest in a tropical-jungle-embrace, only frequented by adventure seekers with a thirst to explore (and trust me, on a modern little island like Singapore, the thirst is real). When this house was built for the Sultana of Johor, the silent muse of this editorial, no one could have fathomed what this place would turn out to be... Not that it's common for people to wonder what their house will look like a hundred years later. Or is it? Anyways, What I'm saying is that despite its state of dilapidation, Istana Woodneuk is still a beautiful place. Not in the way it's residents would have preferred, but a gem nonetheless. While location scouting, I knew capturing Josie here was a must. With a ring of fire blazing in her gradient eyes, she gives off a natural glow of belonging to another world. It's a Cinderella story. Kind of. With Josie being Cinderella and Woodneuk the glass shoe. No? Ok, I'll shut up. But tell me convincingly that you don't think she belongs in the pages of Vogue Italia, working the hell out of the McQueen inspired bandage headgear. I bet you can't.
The point I'm trying to put across is that you can't control life. It's never going to steer completely in the direction you want it to. Have a little faith in yourself and brave through the multiple detours. You'll always reach your destination in the end. And if you don't there's probably something else the universe has waiting for you. Because everything happens for a reason. Yes, you may cringe now at my attempts to be deep. After that, follow me on instagram. Just because.
Someone please fill me in on how my favourite month has sprung upon us already? Actually, don't. I couldn't be more excited for this month and the celebrations that come with it. Starting with the obvious, it's Singapore's 50th year of independence. I'm not the kind to hang up flags or stick on car decals or don a red-white attire (one of these is a lie), but just because I don't express myself on the outside, doesn't mean I don't feel patriotic on the inside. I may fall in love with cities and towns across the world and I may bitch about the weather here and I may not always agree with what the government is doing, but Singapore always has been and always will be home (truly). August 9th is the one time of year when the flag-waving side of me rears its head and I can already feel the side-eye my friends will be giving me as they read this entry. Let me live, guys. Also, National Day this year has brought about on of my favourite hashtags, #SimiSaiAlsoSG50 - in reference to kiasu exploitation of the theme this year. From every restaurant/cafe/salon (any type of service-based business really) having $50 promotions to fishcakes badly (mis)shaped into numerals to red-coloured McDonald's ice-cream cones - there's no escaping the nationalistic festivities. I love Singapore as well, but I'm sure we can agree that some of it is just taking it too far.
SG50 aside, just three days before my own birthday is the anniversary of FixatedF. My little corner of the interwebs is turning five. That's an entire hand of fingers. Despite months of radio silence from the lack of inspiration, a year-long hiatus and a hosting relocation, this blog is still running. It's definitely one of, if not the longest commitment I've ever made. Looking through the archives, it's pretty fascinating (to my narcissistic self, I suppose), to see how my photography has evolved through the years. I've come a long way from that questionable photoshoot on my balcony with my very first model-muse, Eshaba. With that in mind, please don't go looking through my archives unless you want early-onset crease lines from the cringe my younger self will be serving you.
The rest of August looks promising and I'm hella excited for the growing queue of content waiting to be delivered. Till next time.
Self portraits by yours truly.
Wearing: Danin Delimma - Shirt // Isabel Marant x H&M - Coat // Chanel - Bag (Vintage)