Graduating with a Diploma in Architecture, Akai Chew currently works at The Urban Redevelopment Authority of Singapore (“URA”). Pursuing both what he accomplished at school and his passion for photography, SPRMRKT is proud to present his first ever solo show in this series of photographs that captures his eye for detail towards the built environment and in fashion.
Your first solo show! How and when did you discover your love for photography?
My dad had an old compact film camera and I loved the press of a button and hearing the film whirl. As for cityscape photography, it started from my aunt’s house actually. She stayed in this old shophouse which was adorned with many colourful ornaments. She had a motor showroom and workshop downstairs, and she lived upstairs. The whole place was full of character. Soon I began to notice that there were actually many houses like hers. That was how I started noticing architecture.
I picked up a book on design in secondary school which showed a really colourful house with lots of walls and greenery. It got me in love with architecture and photography. I’m amazed at how something so simple can look so breathtaking. Later I learnt that the house was designed by architect Luis Barragan and it was photographed by Rene Burri.
You have a diverse body of work from landscape art to fashion. Which artists or photographers have inspired you the most?
I am inspired more by architecture, which to me is like a three-dimensional photograph. I like to observe how light enters a building and reacts in a spatial environment. I love the works of Luis Barragan, Tadao Ando and lately, Peter Zumthor and Stephen Holl and their theories of phenomenology.
As for fashion photography, I am inspired by Nick Knight, Solve Sundsbo and local photographers Chuando & Frey.
Name us one of your personal favourite photos or series and tell us why.
That would be my Bane of Urbanism series. It was one of my more well-received earlier works. I received a few online messages on it, and through those, I met many like-minded people who became my closest friends.
I had visited Pearlbank Apartment through an open invitation by architect Ed Poole who works from one of the penthouses. During that time, the apartment was pending an en-bloc sale. I was struck by the monumentality of the whole place and how dense it actually was. Despite that, it felt really comfortable inside, and rather well-designed.
There seems to be a correlation in what you do at URA and your eye for detail for the built environment, as seen in your images in Pyramidus and Persistence / Deliberation. Has your discipline nurtured or inspired your art as a photographer in any way?
Definitely. It taught me to see beyond the cosmetic look of the building and consider factors like why it is designed this way, what the driving idea behind the design is, and how this certain design influences people in more ways than they expect. It also drives me to question the function of architecture and the built environment in society, and how it affects our perceptions and our lives.
Any thoughts on taking photography up full time?
Perhaps one day in the future!
Boundaries you wish to push with your art?
I am currently conceptualising an interaction of elements with architecture photography, and a blend of architecture and painting perhaps?
One of your fashion shots appeared in Harper’s Bazaar in 2012. What other publications would you dream about seeing your images in?
Artistic magazines like i-D and Dazed & Confused.
Any plans for after this show?
Sell some prints and take it from there!
A series of landscape art photography taken by Akai, inspired by SPRMRKT.
For a complete view of Akai’s work, please visit his online portfolio here or visit us at 2 McCallum Street from 6th April 2013.