HE IS QUIET and unassuming; someone you would never have guessed to be an artist or photographer. There are no airs about him, no sense of inflated ego or pretension. We meet in the early afternoon in town for a casual meeting to discuss his passion and practice of analogue photography and old photographic mediums.
Simon Tay's beginnings in photography are unusual – it was only through BMX biking that he became interested in film photography. He noticed that quite a few of his friends in the BMX community actually used film cameras to shoot, instead of digital cameras. At first, he decided to just use his phone until he was a good enough photographer to get a proper camera. Then, in 2012, a friend of his bestowed him with an old film camera, and it became his prerogative ever since.
For me it’s just another form of expression. I started off building custom bikes before switching to photography. Even now, I do more than just photography. I dabble in creating photograms, water colour painting and other media forms.
I go on to ask whether if it’s a matter of progressing from photography, which turns out to be something he disagrees with. For him, it isn’t really about progress. It’s about his fear of being too comfortable in just one medium. So instead of getting stuck on just photography, he chose to branch out.
He pauses in thought, before adding, “Besides, if you look at all the different art mediums, such as painting and photography, they all share similar composition techniques. Ultimately, it is about expression.”
He shows me some photos on his phone from small projects and artworks: watercolour postcards, cyanotypes, salt prints and so on. After a few moments of indecision, I finally choose to ask this expected yet important question: But why black and white film? To which he responds in this poetic manner:
When you shoot a black & white photo, the image is silenced. It is very much like listening to music with your eyes closed. You only focus on what you are hearing since there are no distractions to take you away from the music. I feel the same about black and white film. The colours do not matter – rather, it is the image and composition that counts.
“Besides, I enjoy having creative control over the entire process, from shooting, to developing, and making prints straight from the negatives. You can’t do the same with colour film.”
So the question remains, what does he hope to evoke with his photography?
“I do not set out for my photos to bring out any particular emotion – I leave it up to the perspective of the viewer. It could be nostalgic, it could be refreshing, or it could be everything in between. In that sense, I would like to think that most of my photos are timeless. There is not a singular manner to describe or label photographs, and I like that.”
All photos courtesy of Simon Tay.