(I wrote this note in 2012 after one of the darkest periods of my young adult life. It was the story of my first foray into photography, and little did I know, the journey would have been nine years and counting. It has been a wonderful adventure so far, filled with ups and of course, many downs as well. But one thing I know for sure is that my life would have been vastly different had I not taken that initial leap of faith. If you are standing on that metaphorical ledge of life right now, and wondering if you should take that leap of faith, I hope that my story and journey brings you confidence and some comfort in whatever you are going through right now)
10 days ago I completed my final Physiotherapy exam and.. it felt like a huge weight being lifted off my shoulders. This marked the end of 5 years of studying, endless mugging, plenty of tears and yet also memories of many happy times. This is the end of a long chapter, and it really is a relief to finally be able to move on. Only the closest of friends understand the struggles of the past five years and now that this chapter is over, I would like to share with you my story.
I came over to Perth in the winter of 2007, half a year before my course was due to start. Prior to that, I was in the army in Singapore for the last two years and during the final year of my enlistment, I suffered from severe eczema that constantly relapsed. I thought that coming over to Australia would help, having a change of climate and being around family would help. Unfortunately, the climate proved to be an aggravation for the eczema and whilst I was around my family, I was away from friends and from the familiarity of Singapore. Needless to say, depression set in.
The eczema got bad, real bad. My skin was constantly weeping, the itch was extremely unbearable and my entire body was inflamed and in pain all the time. Every morning, I wake up with my t-shirt stuck to my body and I dread getting out from under the blanket because without the humidity, my skin dried out in an instant. Every shower was a nightmare and it felt like a thousand needles piercing my body when water came into contact with my skin. Even during summer, I was in a jumper because with my skin broken down so badly, it couldn’t retain any heat. Yes, even during summer, I was shivering. I had no social life. The condition of my skin had gotten so bad that I became a social recluse. The constant flaking and redness on my arms, hands and face had made me feel like a freak.
The first three years
The first year of university was a struggle. The long days on campus were enduring trials for my skin and days involved ducking in and out of the toilet for a quick application of medication or when the itch became unbearable. When I first heard that the physiotherapy course also involved removing your shirt during practical classes, I almost had a mini break down. Now, not only had I have to time my classes with my remission, the scars were never entirely gone with each remission and the stares were never far away. The stresses of university didn’t help either, I turned to food to cope and became a binge eater. I was so focused on being the best that I studied so hard and beat myself up so much over the grades that it aggravated my condition. I remember one particular day when I had an extremely bad relapse and skipped classes in the morning only to attend an exam in the afternoon with half of my face looking horribly peeled and sun burnt. In the end, I did become the best student during first year, but with the price I paid, I’m still not sure whether it was worth it.
Those three years were truly the darkest days of my life, there was a lot of tears and many times I felt like giving up, there just wasn’t any light at the end of the tunnel. There were many times I thought I was dying and at times, I did think of dying and without my family and partner, I wouldn’t have carried on.
After the first year of physiotherapy, my skin started to clear up with the occasional relapses and I started to enjoy being around friends. I still studied hard, with the goal of finishing with honors and I did made it into honors stream. Studying and doing honors at the same time was no easy feat, and I can’t say I’m particularly smart either. I just did what I could and for the first three years of university, I devoted my life to my studies and somehow with some self-help books, I managed to overcome binge eating. Final year was a different ball game altogether, it was a combination of full time hospital placements, assignments and honors work and whilst I was doing well theoretically, I wasn’t as good on the practical side of things. Needless to say, I crashed and failed two hospital placements. Although with obvious discriminative grading of one of the placements and my previous credentials, the university rejected my appeal and no one, except for my honors supervisor, lifted a finger to help.
Either you’re in or you’re out, they say.
As simple as that, I lost everything I worked for in the past three years and had to start from scratch. I lost my passion for physiotherapy and I absolutely hated the educational system. The next two months I spent in Singapore, contemplating what to do with my life and it was tough, because it felt like everything I had worked for had ended. Besides despair, I also felt shame. I felt like I had let down everyone who had believed in me. I took those two months to think, a lot. I thought about life, the meaning of it, the shortness of it. I thought about my dreams, if I had any and what they were. I thought about the final days of the hospital placements, they were like a nightmare going over and over again in my mind. At the end of my trip, I couldn’t figure out what I want, but I knew one thing, that life was far too short to be stuck doing something not worth my time.
The first dive
Prior to my degree taking an adverse turn of events, I had started becoming interested in photography sometime during my third year of studies. Whilst being really enthusiastic in street photography and capturing the stories and emotions of people, I never did it professionally. My photography had no goals, no aims. Yet, one day I assisted a friend in a photoshoot for an advertising campaign and was totally blown away by the freedom to express myself creatively, the lack of rules and constraints and the feeling was, least to say, liberating. That was when I thought, ‘hey, I should seriously consider this.‘
The goal was always to express or translate an emotion or feeling through my photographs. I first fell in love with pre-wedding photographs by a well known brand in Singapore and their photographs touched my heart. Their photographs and their ability to instill emotions through their images drive me towards the images I want to create. Yet, the first step into the unknown is always difficult. Deviating away from the known path, and being in charge of your own life, your own goals and dreams can be quite daunting indeed. Events became the stepping stones to building this dream I had to become a photographer. I got in contact with organisations and photographed events for free. I know that many photographers frown upon newcomers covering events for free but this is the path that I chose, and I have no regrets. I firmly believed that to improve and get my name out there, I had to gain exposure and improve my skills first. Over the course of the next four months, I photographed as many events as I possibly could and during that time I gained insight into how the photography industry works, made many new friends and that was also when I realised that I couldn’t photograph parties forever.
(I actually photographed countless 18th and 21st birthday parties, and it took me two years to earn my first $10,000 back then)
The first step into the wedding industry
My first wedding referral came from a friend and it was photographed in the heat of summer of 2012. It was 38 degrees and I cleverly wore black. I did what I can, and the percentage of what I didn’t know and what I knew was quite unfavourable. On the wedding day itself, the bride reassured me that everything will turn out fine. It’s still a hilarious thought that I remember vividly to this day, and I can never ever forget the trust they had in me to photograph their important day. Naively thinking that referrals will start coming in after that first wedding, I had to face the harsh truth and learn to market myself better and I’m very thankful to this day for the friends who have lent a hand at the start. From then on, every wedding was a new exploration of how I interpret the story and emotions, a new challenge to improve my way of taking photographs and interaction with people. There is so much more I would like to say about my short experience in this industry, but I think that’s another story for another time.
The end of the beginning
I had to complete my physiotherapy degree, I don’t think there was really an option of giving up, despite the countless verbal attempts. It’s really a difficult to do something I had no passion in anymore, and I had 25 weeks of placements left, with a final exam. Every day was a struggle, there were ups and downs, and there were times where I doubted myself and wanted to quit, except for the encouragement of close ones and friends who forced me to keep going. All the while I was trying to make this whole photography dream work, to finally be able to follow my passion and be in control of my life. As I look around in the train every morning, I saw reflections of myself in my current state. The mindless gazes and stooped postures, tired souls trapped in a self imposed reality, worn down by life itself. And I think to myself.. how sad it is not to have dreams and ambitions, to be constrained by the chains of a preconceived sense of reality. I realized that the day I sacrifice my dreams and ambitions for the sake of safety and comfort, I would already be defeated.
If there is just one thing that I hope you take away from reading this, it will be to go after your dreams and live for yourself.
Life is short, it really is, and I cannot imagine something more terrible than surrendering yourself to be average, to be normal. Resigning yourself to working at a 9 – 5 job just because it buffs up your bank account. You go to work everyday drained and unfulfilled, and you earn enough money to spend on material things and entertainment after work to fill in that void in your life; it’s a horrible vicious cycle, and it’s stupid to say the least. You may think that this is reality but the truth is, it doesn’t have to be this way. This isn’t living, this is dying. Change is always difficult and there is an insane amount of fear when you give up safety and comfort to go after your dreams. But like I always tell myself, even if everything didn’t work out well, I would have lived my life the way I wanted it and at the very end, there will be no regrets.
Follow your heart, surround yourself with love, embrace the fear, and dive after your dreams. At the end, regardless of how it went, you would have made a difference to your life and have an incredible story of courage to tell to your children. A story that is yours.
From the heart of a boy
who is simply chasing who chased after his dreams.