He shoots portraits for love

In a corner of Kerbau Road in Little India stands the Sajeev Digital Studio.

The studio has a quaint appearance, but the photographs taken here are now in an exhibition by local visual arts centre Objectifs.

Titled Sajeev Photo Studio: A Decade of Portraiture in Little India, the exhibition pays homage to portraits taken by its owner K. Sajeev Lal, 49.

The studio caught the interest of Mr Kevin WY Lee, founder of Invisible Photographer Asia, an advocate for photography in the region. In his walks around Little India, Mr Lee noticed how crowded the studio was.

Mr Lee worked with Objectifs to organise the exhibition.

He said: "Sajeev's is one of the most popular studio among foreign labourers. You would always see it filled with people, sometimes packed to the brim. It is one of the more colourful photo studios because of the people there."


There is a reason for so many foreign workers going to Mr Sajeev's studio: He helps them find love.

Mr Sajeev takes photos of male workers from India and Sri Lanka and the workers send the photos back home to woo potential wives.

When asked how successful his photographs are, Mr Sajeev, who has been doing this since he opened the studio 11 years ago, said with a smile: "It is a 100 per cent success rate. Customers who send their photographs home all manage to find wives."

One of his many customers is Mr Uranthai Ravi, 35, The quality control officer, who has been working here for the past 11 years, wanted to find a wife from his village in Thanjavur, India.

He decided to send his photographs to his village, hoping to impress one of the women enough for her to want to be his wife. On his friend's advice, Mr Uranthai visited Sajeev Digital Studio, "When I saw the photos, I liked the quality and I was excited about sending them to my village," Mr Uranthai said.

His efforts paid off and he got married last September.

The Sajeev Digital Studio charges $15 for a portrait session and three 4R prints. It charges an additional $4 to e-mail the photos. Mr Sajeev said that many of his customers find out about his studio through word-of-mouth.

"What makes us special is our good price and how we offer an all-in-one package. Photography, printing, e-mail, we do all of that here," he said.

Mr Sajeev, who was born in Singapore, bought his first Yashica film camera when he was 15. He taught himself photography and later took up a film developing course.

As he honed his skills, he started to take on freelance assignments and he opened his photo studio in 2004.

Although the Sajeev Digital Studio started out with film photography, it turned fully digital in 2006.

Mr Sajeev's wife, Madam Sheeja Saj, 43, has been working with her husband since the studio opened.

"Every one wants digital files now because it is faster and we can e-mail the photos to their families," she said.

It is not just single men who patronise the Sajeev Digital Studio. The studio also caters to other customers.


One of the customers, a housewife who wanted to be known only as Ms Suga, 35, said: "Although I stay in Boon Lay and it takes an hour to get here, I am happy to do it because of the good price.

The photographs always turn out very nice."

Other than the annual Onam festival, the harvest festival that happens in August or September, Mr Sajeev's photo studio stays open all year round, from 10am to 10pm.

He said that he is even open on Sundays and public holidays because it is only then that foreign workers have the time to come.

Even if he goes on holiday or is sick, his wife or one of his six employees will keep the studio open.

He has been offering new products to his customers, including unique name cards with their photographs on it.

"Even if we do not have as many customers now, we are still going to try as hard as we can," Mr Sajeev said, with a smile.


This article was first published on August 17, 2015.
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