Forget smiley photos, folks marking milestone events with gritty, edgy photoshoots

Forget smiley photos. Some folks are marking milestone events such as weddings and graduations with gritty, edgy photo shoots

The husband reaches for a bottle of whisky, his fast-food meal in front of him. His wife is feeding a baby doll. They ignore each other, focusing instead on the TV screen outside the frame.

This portrait of emotional alienation is hardly the picture of marital bliss, yet one couple commissioned it, along with five other similarly unusual concepts, to celebrate their wedding last December.

Mr David Han, 32, and Ms Fang Shihan, 30, are among those commemorating happy occasions, such as weddings and graduations, with unexpectedly gritty photos.

Take for instance, Ms Elizabeth Boon, 24, who attended her National University of Singapore (NUS) commencement ceremony last week. For her graduation shoot, instead of flinging her mortar board into the air or posing with her family in a studio, she conceptualised a series of images showing the harsh realities of the life of a fresh graduate.

Some pictures show her holding a placard saying "Hire me leh". Others have her crumpled on the ground surrounded by empty alcohol bottles. Her edgy pictures smash the stereotypically celebratory style of photography for milestone events.


Ms Elizabeth Boon’s gritty graduation photos highlight the challenges fresh graduates face in the job hunt. PHOTO: ALEXANDER IAN LOH

In the case of Mr Han and Ms Fang's pre-wedding shoot, it was a matter of "keeping it real", says Mr Han, a corporate sales manager in the IT industry.

"What we see is that, for marriages to work, it takes effort. A lot of Disney-like images of happy families are not true. We don't want to hide behind what society wants us to be: an ideal family where parents have high-ranking jobs and the children have tuition, play the piano, do ballet and go to good schools," he says.

The couple, who are expecting their first child, also wanted to move away from "lallang shots" - the depictions of lovers strolling through lallang grass common in pre-wedding photo shoots.

Instead, their photos show, for example, Ms Fang, dressed in a kua, a traditional Chinese wedding dress, and Mr Han in a sharp suit, stepping out of a house. A headless mannequin in the background with a broom and laundry basket represents the "thankless" household work done behind the scenes of a perfect-looking life - a facade that the couple do not want, he says.

He says that while there were no strong objections to the photos, some family members reacted with confusion, asking, for instance: "Why is there a weird thing in the background?"

Most of the photos were not publicly displayed at their wedding dinner reception.

Ms Fang, who is a business development executive in a logistics start-up, says: "It's difficult to get aunties and uncles to accept such scenarios." The reaction from their friends, however, was "overwhelmingly positive", she adds.


Mr Han and Ms Fang stepping out of a house as a headless mannequin is seen in the background. PHOTO: VAMOS PHOTOGRAPHY

For another couple, being true to themselves resulted in an edgy photo shoot when they tied the knot in May last year.

Videographer Douglas Lin, 33, and public servant Charmaine Lim, 29, wanted a concept that "reflected their personalities", he says.

He was into car drifting, influenced by the movie, The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006), and she was into all-night gaming.

Their wedding photos combine their interests. In one picture, set in an abandoned warehouse, he is driving a blue Mazda RX-8, while Ms Lim, in a red gown, is gaming furiously. The shot took at least four hours to set up and the entire pre- wedding shoot cost a five-figure sum, says Mr Lin.

Such unconventional photos for important events can draw criticism, though.

Ms Boon, who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications and new media, did not want a graduation photo shoot "focusing on that one day of joy".

Instead, she wanted to highlight how fresh graduates can find it challenging to find a job.

Posting the images on her Facebook, Instagram and blog, she received cutting comments, such as she could have spent the time doing the shoot - including posing in corporate hub Raffles Place holding a placard saying "Graduate for hire" - on applying for jobs instead.

The photos taken with empty bottles of alcohol were to depict how graduation parties do not detract from the fact that the fresh graduate still faces a daunting job hunt the day after. An online commentator told her she looked "instantly unhireable".

In fact, the photo shoot, done by an amateur photographer friend, took only a couple of hours and there was no drinking involved. The bottles were old ones that her friend had collected over the years.

Still, criticism surrounding such social media posts may be valid, say human resource experts.

If such images circulate widely online, "it can be considered quite controversial", says Mr Erman Tan, president of the Singapore Human Resources Institute.

When doing such projects, job seekers need to be aware of the kind of image he or she is projecting and the kind of employer he or she wants to attract.

Mr Tan adds: "Different employers have different expectations. Some are more conservative, such as those in banking, law and the public sector. But if they are in creative industries such as advertising, they may be more open."

Ms Boon says she intends to do freelance work such as emceeing, acting and writing for the next six months. "If a prospective employer thinks I'm unemployable, I don't think I'd like to work for him," she says.

Social media inspired another photo shoot with an unusual concept. Pre-school teacher Aqaiyah, 25, came across a "crazy beautiful" underwater maternity photo shoot in the United States on Instagram.

When she was pregnant last year, she decided to do one as well with her actor husband Danial Ashriq, 25, who also works in his family's kebab business.

Six months into her pregnancy, they approached photographer Andrew Lim, founder of Drewperspectives, an underwater photography firm, to discuss ideas for a set of aquatic images.

She waited until she was nearly eight months pregnant to do the shoot as she wanted her bump to be bigger. For the two-hour session, she wore a flowing gown that her mother made.

In the end, perhaps, such unusual photography is just another way of seeking an individual, unique take on life events such as marriage and pregnancy.

Ms Aqaiyah says: "I wanted to do something very different from others. It's my first baby, so why not?"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 17, 2016, with the headline 'Ready, 1, 2, 3, scowl'. Print Edition | Subscribe