Mindy Tan traded words for photos when she shifted her career from being a newspaper reporter to a photographer. Alarmed by the pace Southeast Asia is transforming its tradition for modernity, Mindy captures Asia from the perspective of someone who wishes the world can slow down.
In this interview, Mindy is armed with the Russar+ Art Lens.
- Name: Mindy Tan
- Instagram: @mindytanphoto
- Website: mindytan.com
- Country: Singapore
- Lens: Russar+ Art Lens
- Camera: Fuji XT2/Xpro2
Please introduce yourself to the Lomography community and the readers of the Online Magazine.
Hello, my name is Mindy, I’m born and based in Singapore. I shoot social documentaries, all of my photographs have a human element to it and I enjoy exploring that relationship between ourselves, the way we live, our nostalgia and memories.
How did you get started with photography?
I was always curious about that black box my father has at home filled with old cameras and lenses. Dad’s a family man who has few needs and wants, but this black box was very precious to him so that really stood out as something precious. Somehow in my late teens, I started playing around with one of the cameras from that box (a Nikon FE2) and later took a darkroom developing course. I was always in love with the process of developing black and white photographs, and always in love with photography but found little time to do it. In 2008, I quit my job as a reporter in a daily newspaper to pursue photography full-time. It was still story-telling, using images instead of words.
How would you describe your style as a photographer?
It’s pretty spontaneous and candid, as my personality would also be. As in life, I like most images to be ‘found’ and chanced upon but am also very acutely aware of how a photograph can quickly turn into misrepresentations.
What subjects do you particularly like to take photos of?
That’s got to be people for sure - I’m particularly drawn to an older crowd, people who are in their 60s and above, I find they are much more at ease with themselves and they have so much to teach us. Their experience shows on their faces and body language rarely is there any pretentiousness they carry with them, I draw energy from observing them.
What would you count as your greatest achievements or favorite projects?
I wouldn’t say one thing achieves more than another, but in general, it was a series of images of the Sungei Road Thieves Market, its fate unknown due to redevelopment and a new train line in the area. The photographs and video were challenging to produce, it was a difficult community to photograph and videography. Later on, several artists who were producing in different media (sculpture, installation, performance, etc.) came together to hold a group show about the market, in a gallery opposite from it. We invited the vendors to the opening reception. I remember seeing them gathered outside the gallery in a group, too shy to come in because they had never experienced an art show before. In the end, we coaxed them to enter and they had a good time interpreting the various works, sharing stories with us along the way, staying throughout the night watching the works over and over again. It was gratifying, I cannot explain the feeling.
Digital or analogue? Does it matter which?
I shoot digital for practical reasons, and always in manual so you have full control.
Analogue slows downtime and makes everything a little more precise. This could seem the case but perhaps if you have the heart for something, it doesn’t matter which tool you use in the end.
Can you tell us a little more about your Russar+ Art Lens experience? Any interesting things you encountered or challenges?
As my Fujifilm XT2 was set to a ‘shoot without lens’ setting, the focusing was entirely manual and at times I wasn’t sure if it was all sharp. I stopped depending on the viewfinder but relied on the focusing distance meter shown on the lens as a better gauge for sharpness instead.
Please choose your favorite photo(s) from the Russar+ Art Lens shoot and tell us about the images, and why they’re your favorites.
I just love how wide and straight this lens is for shooting small corners. In that photo, there is a little narrow coffee stall I frequent almost daily and they are the couple who makes my coffee exactly the way I like it. The lens perhaps it is personal pictures that mean the most. I was able to shoot from the entrance and even get really close up in the midst of their busy day, to get them to pause for a moment - kudos to the really approachable pancake lens that wouldn’t turn anyone off.
What is your favorite feature or what do you like most about the Russar+ Art Lens?
Can I say its good looks? The lens takes you back in time. It makes you feel like objects don’t have to be 100% sharp as long as you are capturing its soul. Because of the manual focusing I’m using, I tend not to look at the viewfinder, but at my subject, gaining more interaction with them and not covering my face with a big piece of metal so they can see me too!
For what kind of projects would you recommend the Russar+ Art Lens for?
The narrow alleyway type of projects and lots and lots of streets.
Any tips for first-time shooters?
Try going into crowded places where lots are happening and see where this lens takes you to!
Any advice on how to fully utilize the Russar+ Art Lens?
You may want to set the f-stop at a fixed range for a full day, or even the focal distance keep it fixed. Then go out, and keep shooting with the same settings to get a feel of the lens, changing only the ISO and shutter on your camera body. ie. Do not touch the lens! Let it do its thing as you try to understand it. That's the way we build relationships with our partners, and also… our lenses!
Do you have ongoing or upcoming projects that you would like to tell the community about?
I am currently working on a series of Rochor Centre - a really hot topic with Instagrammers in Singapore. Rochor Centre is essentially a block of government flats build in the late 70s which consists of hundreds of families living in it, but will be relocated because the buildings will be torn down to make way for an expressway that will run through the city, exactly where the buildings are.
I’ve been shooting a series of its residents as they move out of their flats. Some of the work has been uploaded on Instagram and more will be released soon.