Platform for photography

Robert Zhao is known for his images exploring nature, imagined landscapes and the relationship between man and animals.

Photography collective Platform launches award-winning artist and photographer Robert Zhao's book on Tuesday. Zhao's is the sixth in a 20-part photo book series by the collective which will lead up to National Day next year.

Platform, a passion project which was originally intended to be a large-scale exhibition, is the brainchild of Singapore photographers Tay Kay Chin, Darren Soh, Ernest Goh and Leonard Goh. It originated from a 2011 concept paper written by Tay.

The idea was to celebrate photography and publish the works of 20 established and emerging photographers, as well as offer new platforms to photographers such as Zhao, 30.

In a phone interview from Penang, where he is conducting a workshop, Tay, 49, tells Life! the original idea changed along the way and his photographer friends decided to turn "the big project into 20 smaller projects leading up to National Day in 2015".

He adds: "Next year, I will be as old as Singapore. I wanted to work on a project leading up to that."

Selected photographers are given full freedom to work on the project of their choice, though images have to have a Singapore theme.

The 20-part photo book series got off to a good start last August when the first title - For My Son, dedicated to Soh's then 18-month- old son - sold close to 100 copies and netted $6,000 in print and book sales on its launch date. Tay says they also received some donations from well-wishers to fund the series.

Soh, a landscape and architectural photographer, is known for photographing Housing Board estates, which he has been doing for the last 10 years.

Zhao is known for his images exploring nature, imagined landscapes and the relationship between man and animals. He has picked up several major art awards, including UOB Painting of the Year in 2009 and the National Arts Council's Young Artist Award in 2010.

The other initiative of the collective is TwentyFifteen.sg, a website campaign to promote all the books leading up to the launch of the final one next year. Through the books as well as the online platform, which includes artist interviews, the collective wants to create new platforms for emerging as well as established photographers such as Zhao.

"When I was their age I had a hard time," says Tay, a former Straits Times picture editor who now teaches and does freelance projects. "We are giving them a head start through this project."

A point of interest is how each photographer in the book series conceives of the Little Red Dot.

"Robert, for instance, imagines a Singapore which is impossible," says Tay.

Zhao, who worked on the book for eight months, calls Platform "an important platform where photographers come to do what they do best, to tell the stories which keep them alive".

His 15 images, he says, "is a set of photographs which sits between the future and the past. As our landscape changes very fast, it is hard for us to remember what has happened in our landscape. The events which we do not remember and have happened before may seem like the future".

Others involved in the project include documentary photographers Samuel He and Sim Chi Yin, portrait photographer Tan Ngiap Heng and art photographer John Clang.

Samuel He, 31, a former Straits Times photojournalist, is collaborating on his book with another photographer, Sam Chin, who does documentary work.

He says: "This is definitely a very good initiative. Launching your own photo book in Singapore is a very risky venture. This allows us to concentrate on producing photographs for the book without worrying about the cost of producing the work."

Each 28 by 38cm book containing 15 pictures by one photographer is priced at $25. Each photographer also gets to sell three prints priced at $1,200.

All proceeds are ploughed back into the project to help fund the production of subsequent books. Each print run of 500 costs the collective around $3,600.

Tay credits photography buffs and supporters for keeping the project going. Books Kinokuniya is stocking the books and talks and launches are held at the National Museum of Singapore. The museum will also be giving the collective space to mount a mini exhibition in April.

View it SINGAPORE 1925 - 2025 BY ROBERT ZHAO When: March 4, 7.30pm Where: Salon, National Museum of Singapore Admission: Free Info: Go to TwentyFifteen.sg. The book is priced at $25 and can be bought at the launch. After that, it will be sold at Kinokuniya Singapore, Ngee Ann City. There will also be a pop-up book sale at Carpenter and Cook in Lorong Kilat on March 8 from 11am

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