Mr Kevin Ou, 35, is a Singaporean photographer who has worked with celebrities such as actor Elijah Wood and singer Alice Cooper. He is also a resident judge in History Channel's reality photo competition series, Photo Face-Off.
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While studying for a mass communications diploma at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Mr Kevin Ou signed up for a photography course, but was rejected. He still does not know why.
"But the more you tell me 'no', the more I will do it," said Mr Ou, 35.
So he bought a camera, along with books and magazines on photography, and taught himself some skills. He said: "Because I was self-educating, my growth as a photographer was a lot faster than that of my peers."
At one point, he was assisting commercial photographer K F Seetoh, now better known as the chief foodie of food culture and lifestyle company Makansutra. Nevertheless, photography was just a sideline to him back then. "My mind was fixed on going into advertising to be a creative director," he recalled.
All that changed when he interned at an advertising agency in 1997. He worked with prominent photographers, including R. Ian Lloyd and Russel Wong, and saw them in action.
"They were having fun. They were creative and they could make a lifestyle and a business out of it. So that was what seduced me," he said with a smile.
Mr Robert Gaxiola, a creative director at the agency, and Russel Wong advised him to attend the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, because it offers advertising, graphic design and transportation design courses, as well as photography.
"In school, you get to work with these designers. And when you graduate, they will want to work with you," Mr Ou explained.
Their advice was in line with plans he made to "escape" to Los Angeles while serving national service the next year, as he thought the creative industry in Singapore and Asia was very small.
"I always knew I wanted to do more. So I wanted to strike out and go either to Los Angeles or New York," he said.
In his sixth semester at the Art Center College of Design, in 2003, a former classmate who was working on a Ford advertising campaign offered him his first big break.
"It was a US$140,000 job," he said. He was only 24 then.
He roped in classmates and friends from other faculties to help him with photography and art direction. "It was, literally, fake it till you make it," he said.
Mercedes loved the campaign he shot for Ford and approached him to do something similar. Soon, he found himself shooting a lot of cars. Then, he found that with cars came celebrities. While shooting covers for DUB car magazine, he got to photograph some of them, including Snoop Dogg and 50 Cent, with their cars. More big-names followed.
As he got to know more famous people, he was given other opportunities, such as shooting their album covers. He even started a magazine, Modern Home + Living, to show celebrities and their homes.
In 2011, he was on vacation in Singapore when the Japan earthquake and tsunami struck. He launched a charity campaign with the Singapore Red Cross, photographing local celebrities and selling the portraits to raise funds for the victims.
"That was my first foray into working in Asia," he said. Since then, he has been zipping around the region photographing Asian celebrities.
Nine of the last 11 months that he has been based here has been spent flying around Asia for work. In addition to managing an entertainment marketing company, The Lumenere Group, which connects international celebrities with Asian brands, he is also a resident judge in Photo Face-Off, a photo competition reality show on the History Channel (StarHub TV Ch 401).
In the show, five budding photographers compete in a series of challenges for the chance to go on an all-expenses paid trip to New York City to photograph some of the world's biggest stars. The winner also gets to attend the Canon Photo Clinic, a photography trip and workshop hosted by Canon with renowned photographers, in Japan.
"Everyone needs help when starting out. So I hope to guide these photographers," he said.
He was a nice person to photograph. But his attention span is very short. It was a lot of effort on my part, but I managed to build some rapport with him and was able to get him to focus on the shoot.
It was fun photographing Elijah because I was the last photographer for the day. And I was one of the few photographers who had one-on-one time with him. Because I gave him time to relax and chill, I think my shot of him is really powerful. It shows the real him rather than the Hollywood Elijah Wood.
I photographed Alice Cooper backstage at his concert. I was given five minutes but, somehow, ended up with only 30 seconds. However, I have never bonded with anyone as much in that short time. He gave me a lot more than anyone would give me in half an hour. He was a true professional and legend.
This was shot in Las Vegas for DUB car magazine. It was for the launch of 50 Cent's edition of a Pontiac. It was really exciting, as he has a gangster reputation. But when I met him, he is nothing like what the media portrays him to be. He is actually a very smart and observant guy.
This article was first published on Oct 8, 2014.
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