What would you do with more than 218,000 Instagram followers? Why, you’d shoot like a beast, of course.
Tap on the Instagram account @yk, aka Lee Yik Keat, 22, and you’ll see the feed of almost 1,200 cinematic photos shot across iconic Asian cities. Not to simplify the description, but it’s as though Wong Kar-Wai decided to parkour around Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore, shooting from rooftops, nondescript alleys and capturing the tenderest of human conditions.
What results is an artful stream of minute, pensive stories, each one more interesting and surprising than the last. The man has an amazing eye.
As with most obsessions, there come a point where it turns profitable. For YK, that point happened a couple of years ago, and demands for his commercial involvement only keep growing. Attempts to reach him go into a black hole, but it’s because his inbox — e-mail, Instagram Direct Messaging — are all flooded with requests to work with him.
But he’ll apologise to you for not replying e-mails. He is low-key and unassuming in person, perking up only when the conversations gets deep into photography.
“My interest was sparked just as Instagram was becoming the biggest thing. I was interested in how people could take such good photos with their phones,” says YK, who completed his national service last month.
Once a part-timer snapping urban shots when out delivering hardware for his uncle, he is one of the hottest Singaporean lensmen. His clients range from Ultra Music Festival, Singapore Tourism Board, Adidas and Samsung.
Tapping on Augmented Reality, the vivid images come to life when scanned by the Artivive app on a smartphone. Titled 二, A Tale of Convergence, the exhibition is held at the Leica Galerie at Fullerton Hotel. The show is opened daily from 10 am to 8 pm, and runs till Oct 24.
He is thrilled to be completing his National Service stint in early September. Already, his schedule for commercial work in Europe and Japan is full for the next couple of months.
Keyyes: How did you become a commercial photographer?
YK: It was a gradual change after I got my first proper camera. Instagram was getting so much attention, becoming the biggest app in the social sphere. I made use of Instagram’s massive reach by putting my best works out there. I treated it as a proper portfolio.
Another tip is to always go the extra mile If you want to shoot for a certain client or brand, work towards it by ‘losing’ first. Do the job for a lower rate to raise your profile. Provide more than you can, push yourself!
You have a unique eye. How did you develop a distinctive style?
I draw inspiration from all over, be it listening to music or people-watching. Since I was young, I’ve loved to observe the little details. Perhaps the habit has shaped my photography style.
I look at the ordinary things in daily life and capture them. I find my style through experimentation. Persistence is also key. I love watching the daily vlogs of Casey Neistat, an American YouTube personality and filmmaker. His willpower to complete anything drives me.
What kind of stories, people, landscape intrigue you?
I’m drawn to people’s struggles, the darkness behind the light. I also find landscapes and cityscapes captivating. Culture and locals intrigue me. Once I spotted a person on crutches amidst the people on the streets. Despite his disability, he maneuvered through the crowd just to admire the sights and sounds of Chinatown.
Humans are often your unknowing subjects. How do you capture such raw expressions of them?
I love the raw emotions of humans on the street. Mostly I capture people when they aren’t looking at me, or right after they discover my camera is in front of them. Sometimes I follow them from a distance to see where they are off to, to get bonus shots.
The photo above is a great example of getting raw emotions. The bus came to a halt at the traffic light and this elderly was reading his newspaper so close to his face, it was something out of ordinary. I ran to the front of the window and snapped away. Any moment if he looked at me, the shot would have been totally different.
How do you convey emotions through a still image?
The split second of what they are doing is very important. Imagine you’re standing behind a butcher photographing him chopping meat. You capture another shot of him serving the customer. These are two very different stories and images. The shot featuring the butcher chopping meat could elicit fear, you can almost hear the sound of the chopping in your head. The other shot where he serves the customers with a smile shows happy human interactions and cheers you up.
The action captured in the frame is critical to the emotions that you want to convey in a shot.
Photography tools, mobile app filters are easily available now. How do you stand out and create value as a photographer?
Your image now can be seen by millions in a minute, it’s a double-edged sword. You can reach out to so many people instantly but at the same time, your works can be replicated so easily. You need to be original to stand out now. To have a story and emotions that move people, images that are of moments and substance.
What it is you want to say with your photographs, and how do you actually get your photographs to do that?
I want my photographs to make people feel emotions. I want you to feel as if you were there, observing the world through my viewfinder. I shoot a lot of everyday things, capturing the little moments people often miss out on.