Capturing special moments of people with special needs

Japan-based S'porean lensman snaps images to promote inclusiveness

Tokyo-based Singaporean portrait photographer ND Chow has shot big names such as Hollywood's Tom Hanks and symphonic conducting legend Seiji Ozawa.

Last week, however, Mr Chow returned to Singapore for a new challenge: to photograph a group of locals with special needs in an initiative to promote inclusiveness.

The images will be shown in a video montage at The St Regis Singapore tonight, as part of the SJ50 celebrations organised by Singapore-based communication agency Ad Planet Group to mark 50 years of diplomatic ties between Singapore and Japan.

The models also took part in a catwalk at Paragon mall yesterday and will do so again today at 2pm.

During the photography sessions, Mr Chow asked the models innocuous questions that threw them off guard and made them less conscious of being photographed.

On one occasion, he asked two hearing-impaired sisters, through a sign language translator: "Do you both quarrel?"

They laughed and Mr Chow captured their spontaneous facial expressions in a flash.

Mr Chow uses a variety of cameras both film and digital, from medium format to 35mm to Polaroid, choosing the format that best fits the task.

"The most important thing is your vision. It is more than the camera. The basic picture should be good or it won't work no matter how much you touch up."

His vision did not come easy. After failing his O levels twice, he took on odd jobs and travelled as much as his budget would allow, taking with him his first camera, a Minolta x700.

He realised that to get photos of people, he had to strike up conversations with them. It turned him from a kid who never spoke much to people, to a young man who was adept at chatting up anyone on the street.

Mr Chow, who settled down in Tokyo in 2001, has taken pictures of famous personalities such as actor Tom Hanks and conductor Seiji Ozawa. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

A sense of adventure led him to take on photographic assignments, which led to more as people began to notice his talent.

In 2001, Mr Chow decided to settle down in Tokyo as Japan attracted him with its unique fashion, design, music and poetry.

He avidly collects toy figurines, especially Japanese action figures. His home and office are full of them.

Actress Haruka Ayase photographed wearing a summer dress in a snowstorm. PHOTO: ND CHOW 

One of his most memorable shoots took place in Nagano a few years ago for a magazine. It featured Japanese actress Haruka Ayase wearing a thin sleeveless summer dress in a snowstorm.

The conventional wisdom was never to shoot spring and summer fashion in winter, but Mr Chow thought it would evoke a sense of anticipation of the coming season. So he suggested it to the magazine, and the editors agreed.

Mr Chow said: "It was about minus 5 deg C. I was shivering even in ski clothes."

He remembers Ayase screaming at him to hurry up. They had to retreat indoors four times during the 30-minute shoot to warm up.

Mr Chow is not bothered by the advent of phone cameras and social media that has made everyone a "photographer" nowadays. He pointed out that really good photographs last longer in people's minds.

"When they (clients) come to me it means it's not an easy job. They know I can cross the hurdle. You always give them surprises and cross the boundaries."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 23, 2016, with the headline 'Capturing special moments of people with special needs'. Print Edition | Subscribe