Collecting memories through film photography comes naturally to Holycrap; after all, this Singapore-based art collective is made up of family: Pann (dad), Claire (mom), and their kids Renn and Aira.
I discovered Holycrap when I visited Books Actually, an independent bookstore in Singapore. Among all the attractive books on display (I judge a book by its cover, sorry) it was the RUBBISH Famzine that piqued my interest: it was pink and I liked the layout + choice of fonts. Plus, there was a picture on the cover which looked like a film photo. It was sealed so I had no idea what’s inside but I bought it blindly.
The issue was called Google Translating Tokyoto. It was first published 3 years ago and reprinted in 2015 due to constant requests. The zine chronicles their visit to Tokyo/Kyoto, armed with six 35mm film cameras and solely relying on Google Translate to communicate with the locals. The result is an endearing collection of poems, screenshots, and film photographs. Their creativity and sincerity is greatly inspiring, I often find myself browsing the zine when I’m stuck in a rut.
I got the chance to ask the family a few questions about film photography, their creative process, and some stories behind their favorite photos. Enjoy!
Hi, Holycrap! Please introduce yourself to our readers.
Pann: Hi I am Pann, the 43 year old Dad, and I am the Creative Director of this group. I love collaborating with my family on weekends through projects and meaningful discussions on ideas and vision.
Claire: Hey everyone! I am Claire, mom and sometimes Boss of Renn and Aira. I was a Graphic Designer before I stopped work just before Renn was born. Was definitely a huge decision but never regretted it and in fact it is such a blessing to be able to be home with the kids. Though I have a feeling now that they are wishing I was back at work!
Aira: Hi my name is Aira and I just turned 10 in July. And I can’t wait to be a teenager. I love drawing, I love singing even though I stink at it. I love animals very much and I have 4 cats at home. In my free time I also love to create clothes!
Renn: Hi I’m Renn and I am almost a teenager. I will be 13 this December. I love painting and turtles and playing games on my iPhone and iPad of course. I love bullying my sister and talking back to my parents. Hahahah….kidding….not.
Tell us a bit about Holycrap. How did it start?
P: Holycrap started from the sense of guilt of not imparting knowledge to my kids. My day to day running as a creative director of a creative studio, Kinetic Singapore allows me to meet students and young creatives all the time to talk about their portfolio. To be frank, most of them are strangers as I probably meet them for the very first time but I still impart a huge portion of my time to them, sharing tips and trade knowledge. So when it dawned upon me that I am not sharing enough creative thinking with my own kids, Claire and I knew that we had to refine our methods on raising Renn and Aira.
C: Haha and it was really an ‘epiphany’ that Pann had one night in early 2011. We were about to sleep and the lights were already turned off when Pann suddenly but rather calmly asked me, in total darkness no less “Hey, should we start an art group with the kids?” Just like that! All I could muster was “HUH?” But as the saying goes…..‘The rest is history.’
R: It has been very fun doing the exhibition together with my family. We have bonded even more over a long period of time. I find putting catalogs and zines together very exciting. Athough we go through tough times, there will always be good ones too. For example when we receive an award for work that we do. I am happy that there are people who like what my family and I do. And also this has been very meaningful, collecting memories.
A: After I saw my brother do his first art exhibition, I was very inspired and I wanted to paint like him as well. I told my parents that I wanted to join him in the next exhibition. They actually told me not to because I was still very young and they were worried that I will not be able to have the stamina to work long hours like Renn. But I was very determined and promised them that I will be able to do it and I proved them wrong! And now we are doing our famzines together and it is so interesting and fun.
How did your RUBBISH Famzine come about?
P: We had so much fun and pain putting our catalogs together, that process inspired us to document our lives (as long as it is what we like) as a family, so that it can be an archive for the kids. And when they are in their 30s, 40s and beyond, they will have all these amazing memoirs and memories. And I love taking photos of my family and this publication also allows me to indulge in my love for film photography. We thought of creating a family zine so that we will be dedicated to collecting these memories.
C: While we were thinking of doing up a small publication, like a small magazine or a fanzine, we realised quite immediately that our zine will be based mainly on our family; our stories, activities etc. And we knew it would be fun to do a parody of sorts, relating our family zine to a ‘fanzine’ and therefore it should become a ‘famzine’.
A: It expresses our personal quirkiness and such. We can tease and make fun of one another, but not in a mean way.
R: Actually we always use this word ‘rubbish’ at home a lot. We like to talk nonsense or irritate each other sometimes like telling one another “Don’t talk rubbish” or “That is so rubbish!”
Your zine-making process is very analogue: hands-on, organic, and quite punk-rock. How do you cope with challenges?
P: The process is a very organic one. But our first rule was, the zine is made for ourselves, it is self-indulgent, because we must love it before we expect others to even like it. One thing is for sure, every zine is part of a family brainstorming session, we will sit down, have tea and snacks, and we will just keep chatting. Taking down ideas that we think are interesting. Then we will revisit those jotted down ideas week after week to refine them. As the famzine comes in an edition of 300, it will always have a certain degree of handwork to it. We will customise it with special finishing, for example, tearing of the pages, using rulers to create dings and imperfection to the book etc. I am not sure if it is considered punk rock but it is definitely analogue and organic and we love the fact that every book is the same but they are all very different. Like how humans are.
Pann, you are without a doubt, a film addict! How did you get started in film photography?
P: In art school, I took a year in photography, although I was under very good lecturers, I did not like the technicalities behind photography so I did not pay special attention to it. After I graduated from art school, I landed a job as a junior art director and I started art directing photo shoots. The truth was, nobody realised I knew nothing about photography. But visually I knew exactly what I wanted, just that I didn’t know the technical aspects. I just simply told the photographer that I need the image to be tighter and giving comments like “the background seems a little too sharp now, softening the background will bring out the subject better” etc. Years passed and I enjoyed art directing shoots and one day, a fellow colleague introduced me to the Russian Lomo LC-A in 2009 and that totally got me hooked to film photography.
I have always loved photography, I love capturing moments but I am just not a fan of being too technical with what I do although I agree that with technical knowledge, we can make better decisions since film photography has got no preview function. But after my first few rolls, I got obsessed with it. I wanted to learn and know more, so I started shooting with all sorts of film cameras I can lay my hands on.
Do you still remember the first photo you took?
P: To be frank no, but I think this is my first few shots using my Rolleiflex 2.8f.
C: I do not remember exactly the very first picture I took but I definitely remember the first time I took a camera out and it was when I was 10 and it was at my class outing to the botanic gardens. I was obviously using my dad’s Kodak Pocket Instamatic 300 camera and I still remember shooting a roll of badly taken photos of my classmates and flower bushes etc.
R: I think the first time I actually took ‘proper’ photos on a camera was during my first trip to Tokyo with Dad’s office friends in 2009. I shared 1 roll of film with Aira and this is one of my favourite photos. I find this memorable and touching as this would be the first “wefie” I took with my sister.
A: On that same trip which I shared the camera with Renn, I was only about 3 and a half years old. I started to take only pictures of my family and friends. But I didn’t really know how to and because I was so short, many of the photos I took either had no head or showed only half their faces. This is the funniest as I only managed to capture the legs of Mom and Dad!
Can you name some of the film cameras in your collection?
P: These are the workhorses in no particular of preference, I am not a collector and I do not have the habit of having mint condition cameras. I just enjoy using them.
1. Konica POP in Tomato Red. Recently checked, not working :(
2. Yashica GSN
3. Yashica GTN
4. Ricoh R1s
5. Olympus Mju I
6. Olympus Mju II
7. Fujifilm Natura Classica
8. Fujifilm Tiara
9. Contax G2 Black
10. Contax G2 Champagne
11. Leica R8
12. Leica R9
13. Canon EOS 1n
14. Nikon FM2
15. Nikon F3HP modified to take Leitz R Lenses
16. Nikon F3P modified to take Leitz R Lenses
17. Nikon FE
18. Nikon Nikonos V
19. Hasselblad 500cm
20. Rolleiflex 2.8f
21. Polaroid 230 Land Camera
22. Olympus Pen
23. Kodak Brownie
24. Canon Autoboy
25. Seagull 4B
26. Lomography Super Sampler 4
27. Lomo Fisheye 1
28. Lomo LC-A
29. Nimslo 3D camera
What is your most favorite camera and film?
P: I have a few favourites. Contax G2, Rolleiflex 2.8f, Nikon F3p, Leica R9 and my trusted Ricoh R1s. Kodak Gold Max 400 works well for me.
What do you like best about film photography?
P: I love the fact that we can’t preview what we shot. A lot of people see it as a disadvantage, but for me, it is a plus. A lot of the experience is taken away when we are so eager to look at all the preview shots and we start to re-enact the scenario again to get the perfect shot. I am not saying it’s a no no, but it does not work for me. And film does have certain magic that is otherwise hard to re-create. The natural look of film grain, the occasional over/under exposed miscalculations and not to mention organic light leaks and other peculiar accidents. And the fact that every roll is a delight to scan and I just can’t wait for those surprises I am going to get, be it good or bad.
Was there any moment that you had to photograph someone/something and you ran out of film?
P: To be honest, I have not had this experience because I am always very prepared, I will go out with 20 rolls of film and 5 sets of batteries. The only time something quite ‘tragic’ happened was when I was in Prague and it was winter. We had thick layers of clothes and I could not feel the camera strap. So upon removing my jacket, my Nikon F3HP dropped to the hard ground and the filter mounted to my favourite Leitz 35mm R Summicron was dented and cracked. I had to look for a camera repair shop to remove the filter and I wasted a few hours because of that. But the saving grace was I am always out with three cameras, so while one fail, I will have another. If you love retro analog, you need to be more prepared.
Your family travels a lot with film cameras. How do you decide which ones to bring?
P: There’s not much strategies involved, I just bring what I feel like bringing, as for Claire and the kids, point and shoot film cameras are fun enough.
C: It is not so ‘habitual’ for the kids and I to always carry along with us our cameras. But I do make it a point to remind the kids to take theirs out especially if we are going somewhere special or new. Or if we are about to embark any of our art projects or our zine, then we would surely remember.
Among your all your travels as a family, do you have any funny or weird moments that were captured on film?
P: I think Renn and Aira takes the most innocently cute or weird pictures because they don’t know much about this medium which makes it interesting.
C: Call it a occupational hazard but most of my pictures would be of Renn and Aira. I have always believed that cameras are truly one of the greatest inventions. To be able to capture that one moment in time, that split second that would otherwise be lost forever. But with the camera, memories can last forever.
R: I have been taking photographs more seriously since 2011 because of our art projects and stuff. I usually take pictures of the places we visit, of my sister and folks. These are some of my favourite ones because they are special and also because of the faulty aspects of the camera. My Dad told me sometimes light might leak into my old cameras. I had a roll of film in a faulty camera and it took multiple exposures on the film. They look creepy and interesting.
A: I enjoy taking photographs because there are many times that I don’t capture what I wanted to shoot! But I still like the end results because they are unpredictable.
What is your most favorite film photo at the moment?
P: I love this photo I shot of Claire recently. I have a series of her with her face incidentally blocked. Don’t ask me why, I just gravitate towards it.
Actually Claire is like my muse, so I naturally have a lot of pictures of her.
C: Frankly there will be countless of photos that would leave us breathless or fill us with so much warmth. The first 4 pictures were taken by Aira. Because she was still learning how to use the camera ‘properly’, how to view her intended images etc, somehow she snapped us without our heads obviously and even her own selfie was headless! It was at once hilarious and lovely to me, that her ‘portrait’ of all of us would look like that.
The other picture by Pann is one that I absolutely love because he captured Aira and Renn doing the first thing they would love to do when they wake first thing in the morning which is playing the iPad and watching TV.
Renn and Aira are also budding artists, and the art world can be quite crazy and unrelenting at times. What’s the most important advice that you have given to your kids?
P: You are right about the crazy times we are in. To be frank, Claire and myself have no plans for them to be artists. The platform we have chosen is ‘disguised’ to educate them with the discipline of finishing a project. The constant ‘rejection’ in some of their work is to help build their confidence and tenacity for the real world. It is just that we rather teach through art.
C: It is very easy for people to assume that Renn and Aira will become ‘artists’ or that it was our intention for that to happen. And strangely enough, that was never it, ever. Actually it all started when Renn was really young, 2-3 years of age, I noticed that he loved to doodle. And naturally since Pann and myself love art and design, we were just happy to let him carry on. And always giving him the opportunity to draw like not bringing out the iPad but having color pencils and paper with us instead. When Aira came along, she too naturally followed her big brother. Over time, their love for drawing and painting grew but we were also prepared for them to possibly one day ‘lose’ this passion. And that will be alright as long as they always have the drive and determination to do something else they might love. It need not be art. Teaching them values and lessons through this medium is simply just one of the ways we can incorporate creativity and grit seamlessly.
What’s in store for Holycrap? Anything we should watch out for?
P: We have just launched our latest Rubbish Famzine on the 8th of October. Copies are running out fast as there are only 300 copies out there. You can buy it here!
C: And usually at the end of every year during the December holidays since 2012, we will always try to put up a small art exhibition of Renn and Aira’s works. It is something we always look forward to despite it being very grueling especially for the kids, juggling their studies, having to miss play dates and parties etc. But again these are the lessons that comes along with doing all these projects with them. This year, we have been really busy with quite a few art collaborations/projects on top of trying to get in sync with Renn starting his first year at a secondary school. So currently we are still working out our year end ‘adventure’.
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