What is photography to you?
Seng Mah is an accredited Australia Institute of Professional Photography. He has been a photographer and an educator since 2009.
In this episode, Seng and I talked about What is Photography to You and How to Capture photos that bring fulfilment to yourself.
For many of us, photography started as a way to document what we’ve witnessed. From being able to capture unique moments, to be able to share those moments with our loved ones, to be able to inspire others through your photography. Photography means differently for everyone but one thing we have in common is the way it brought us fulfilment.
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Seng Mah 0:00
When you start to think very clearly about what it is that you do, and why you do what you do, a lot of it comes not from this whole notion of photography, but whatever it is that fulfils you as a person Hey, wiki hunters,
Stanley Aryanto – The Wicked Hunt 0:24
welcome to another podcast or the art of photography podcast. I almost forgot my own podcast name there. My apologies. Yeah, I mean, it’s really exciting. It’s been an amazing journey. It’s been really inspiring, just not for not only for you guys, but also for me talking to this amazing photographers and sharing their wisdom. And their knowledge is just really amazing. I actually have not only watched them once or twice up, watch multiple times, and going back over again. So really, really awesome to hear this guys just share their knowledge. And, yeah, today we have one of my early mentor when I first started photography, actually, I learned one of the flash technique flash. Yeah, one of the techniques from him. And he’s, it’s, that was like, it’s crazy. We’ll talk a little bit more about it. But this is saying and he is one of the he runs photography trips all around the world. And he is one of the the go to person, I suppose I think for people in Perth. So Sam, how you doing? Welcome to
Seng Mah 1:39
the Yeah, thanks, Stanley. Good to be here.
Stanley Aryanto – The Wicked Hunt 1:43
Yeah, I can’t I can’t believe how long it did. It’s been isn’t it?
Seng Mah 1:46
Yes. A long time. I’ve been running the business for 11 years now. What do you think you came? You came in a few years ago? Right? Yeah.
Stanley Aryanto – The Wicked Hunt 1:55
Yeah. So I actually sorry, yeah. So I came in, I think three times to have the walkthrough and I remember I booked two of the the photo walk about with you with you. And then I forgot I, I I had the reservation wrong. Or I thought I had grown reservation and went to the wrong location. It was so funny.
Seng Mah 2:20
Like, oh, yeah, that was in Fremantle, you went to the wrong location.
Stanley Aryanto – The Wicked Hunt 2:23
I went did the one next week or something else? Like yeah, yeah, that
Seng Mah 2:29
was one of the days. Yeah,
Stanley Aryanto – The Wicked Hunt 2:32
yeah. But yeah, I mean, like, so like, I’ve, I’ve learned a lot from you. And, you know, watching you’re not only from your workshop, we’re also watching your photography and the way you compose and the way you vision a lot of the scenery. So just tell us a little bit about yourself. So the listeners know about you, and maybe a little bit of origin story of you know, how this photography, passion come about. Okay,
Seng Mah 3:04
I’ll try and keep it as brief as possible. Otherwise, it just gets gets a little bit too long. So my name is Seema, and I’m based in Perth in Western Australia. I’ve been living here for about 37 years now. Prior to that, I was I was actually born in Malaysia, but came here as a young person with my family and things like that. I run a business called Venture photography workshops and tours. And it’s got two branches of it workshops is the education part of it. So as Sandy mentioned earlier, I teach photography, a whole gamut of different things from beginners all the way down to advanced lighting and portraiture, landscapes and so on. But then I also run photography tours, which was great, up until around, I suppose, march 2020, when, when the will and the pandemic kind of shut things down. And so at the moment, I’m just running tours in Western Australia. And which is the state, I mean, in Australia, and, and I run my photography classes. with some regularity, it’s my I’m a full time professional photographer. I also do also do commercial photography. On the side as well. So yeah, so as a photographer, but I teach photography, and I take people that were on photography trips, you asked me about my passion, I think, I think a lot of us get into photography just because we like creating things and and one of the things Chai got me to photography was really kind of just, in a way kind of documenting moments. And I guess, you know, the moment now my preferred genre in photography is travel and documentary. And I think it comes from the fact that I do enjoy documenting moments. And then just from basically using my dad so they can film camera. I kind of graduated around 2004 2005 I got my first digital SLR and things basically progressed from there. So I’ve been running venture photography workshops and tours for about 11 years now. Yeah.
Stanley Aryanto – The Wicked Hunt 4:54
Wow. 11 years. All right.
Seng Mah 4:59
It feels so good. It was like only last year that I started, so it’s obviously enjoying it.
Stanley Aryanto – The Wicked Hunt 5:05
Did you actually study photography or
Seng Mah 5:07
no, I’m self taught and when you call yourself God, it’s it’s an interesting thing in photography, I find that it’s probably one of those fields that you can get into without actually having to complete any kind of formal qualification. And from my understanding, in terms of the sorts of formal training that you do, takes two sides of it once the practical industrial side. So basically, you learn how to take photographs, you learn how to work as a professional photographer, so that you can do commercial work, or portraiture work and or weddings or things like that, learn a bit about the marketing side of things. And then the other side of it is probably more the history and theoretical side of things that looking at photography within the framework of, I suppose the history of photography, and the work of other photographic practitioners and people who are working in a whole range of different styles and genres and things like that, and relating photography back to the whole notion of, of art in a way of seeing and stuff like that. And I think, you know, quite often, to be a good photographer, you really need this great combination of both of them. One thing and the other, in order to be able to produce the great images, but also to be able to understand where the images that you’re producing, where they sit in relation to what has been produced before what has been created at the moment and what possible paths may be taken in terms of photographic image making into the into the future as well. So I think it’s a, it’s quite often a nice balance, then, in some respects, because I’m completely self taught. And I actually come unfortunately, I come from a fine art background as well. So I studied fine arts at university years and years and years ago. So while I know the practical side of photography, and the pragmatic side, you know, how to how to teach photography, how to, you know, shoot, how to use lighting, and all that. I also understand photography as a form of artistic expression and weights, it’s at the moment in relation to all the work that’s come before, and potentially weighed nearly down the down the line as well.
Stanley Aryanto – The Wicked Hunt 7:19
That’s, that’s amazing, I think, you know, there’s a lot of a lot of not only, like, I guess, false perception that photography is, it’s not considered art. And I really, really glad that you mentioned that, you know, that there is a two things to photography, one of one of them is the artistic side of things, and other one is like more of the technical side with the camera and so forth. So what, why would you like zero, like, consider photography as an art? Because, you know, nowadays everyone can kind of take photos, right? I mean, the new iPhone takes such an amazing photos. And would you consider like those photos as an art as well? Or, you know, what do you think, share us your thoughts?
Seng Mah 8:08
Well, let me just answer that with another example. Because he gave an example of the iPhone and people being able to take images and all that. So let’s say for example, I have a wall in my home. Okay, I have a few choices. I’m going to paint if I got a few choices, right, I could buy a big tub of paint and just paint a wall and said Painted cream, neutral vanilla cover, colour, paint a wall cream, and I’ve created a painting, correct? Yeah. Or I could, you know, take a mix of colours and I could splash the colour around on the wall and I could just create a multicoloured rainbow splattered wall. So I’ve also created a painting or I could buy more colours and more paint and I could paint landscape scenery on the wall and I’ve actually created a painting or I could instead by a very large canvas and paint something else on the canvas and I’ve created a painting as well. So which one would you consider? In which one would you not consider? So
Stanley Aryanto – The Wicked Hunt 9:08
I have never heard that analogy before. That’s That’s amazing. I think for Yeah, for those people who kind of don’t see it as an art that’s the ad is amazing. I’m definitely gonna I’m gonna I’m definitely gonna take the copyright
Seng Mah 9:28
thing. Yeah, so I guess just to kind of kind of prevaricate on what you’re saying a little bit, as well. I guess the thing with photography is, photography emerged, I guess, historically, almost in direct competition to what was perceived as art back at that time, because suddenly there was the ability to create a way of capturing or documenting representing a scene which, you know, compared to now two ages, but back then was a lot faster and Perhaps more realistic in its depiction then then painting. So it created this massive kerfuffle, in terms of what would you consider them? You know, what is photography? Where does it sit? Is it? Is it a tool? Is it? Is it something that’s used to record an aspect, or representation of reality? Or is it an art form is it just another way of expressing the inner vision or the artists vision in that sense, they created a massive kind of paradigm shift in the, in the art world, and I guess, because photography, and the use of the camera, which is basically a light box, this captures light is different from, say, for example, being a sculptor or a painter or something along the lines of an artist in that sense, because photography is in the service of a whole range of different potential outcomes. So say, for example, you could photograph something to record it, like, you know, real estate photographers photograph homes inside and out to provide a an advertisement for it, you could create that so it serves a very pragmatic functional outcome, in that, in that respect, there, you could use it to take portraits of people essentially document what people look like. And that’s another kind of really kind of very pragmatic functional purpose to photography, you could use it to record events, you could use it when you’re travelling to record, your travel experiences, and things like that, so has a very practical reason for for photography. And I think, because a lot of people experience photography, through this practical aspect of it, you know, think about it, your earliest memories of the photographs, you know, it’s quite often family photographs, photographs itself of itself as a baby taken by parents or grandparents and so on and so forth. You might see photographs, you know, from say, you know, your parents generation, your grandparents generation, from their travels, from the trips from the, you know, family gatherings at home, and all that. So your introduction, as most people’s introductions to photography will be some level of representation of their lives in a sense that, even if he was someone born, you know, within the last 15 years, or 10 years, their introduction of photography would be images they’ve seen on the phone or the tablet, and it’s basically slow recording. So because of that, I think we tend to perceive photography, less as a, an art form, and more as something that is like a documentary documenting, recording kind of process. But at the end of the day, you know, the camera is still a box that captures light is a technology in that box that has changed
over over time, and changed a lot more rapidly recently, obviously. And so the way in which that particular box that particular tool is used, and reason in which is used defines the actual product, whether it is a documentary thing or whether it’s actually something quite artistic, you know, we always fall down to tools now the the analogy of the paint on the walls and the paint on the canvas, for example. Or if you’ve got rock and a sculptor with a hammer and different types of chisels, those are the tools at the end of the day, it’s just a set of tools and, and what it actually creates, can then be regarded as to whether it’s something that’s pragmatic, so you know, they might, the sculptor might produce column for a pillar to hold up a wall. Or it might they might produce a sculpture or such and such, for whatever artistic purpose in there, I think, you know, when people say beauty is the eye of the beholder, I think what is art is in the eye of the Creator. And, and quite often artists defined by a marketplace as well. So you know that there are commercial entities out there, who work very hard for their own purposes, commercial purposes, to define what is art and what isn’t. And I think there’s always going to agenda behind this definition of art. And unfortunately, a lot of people who work in the creative field agonise over whether what they’re producing is art or not. And I think they spend far too much time agonising about it, rather than thinking about what it is they’re producing, and then working hard to do something with what it is that they’re producing, whether it be using a column to hold up a wall, or are they producing a beautiful sculpture, they need to define what it is that they’re what they’re doing. So So I guess, in answer to that question, in a very long, convoluted way is why don’t we just start by defining what art means to us and what we produce, and then go from there.
Stanley Aryanto – The Wicked Hunt 14:47
That’s awesome. That is, wow, it’s just so much wisdom. That’s, I never hear it in that perspective. And that’s amazing to hear that in that perspective and the way you put it I love how you say, you know, a camera, even though with all the technology nowadays, at the end of the day is just a box. And you’re right, you know, at the end of the day, the camera one click by itself, you know, you have to set it up, it’s all in your hand as, as a creative, you know, the creative creator. So that’s exactly, yeah, I totally love that, that you mentioned that. So you talk about document photography there and, you know, like, how the document, document tree photography might not be considered as much as art compared to like, a lot of those, like, you know, the fine art or the illustrative because, you know, the illustrative are a lot more closer, because you don’t actually take that realistic kind of image. But, you know, it gives you the creativity in there. I personally think there, there is a lot of art in documentary. And I think you do too. And I would love for you to talk about that. What what your thoughts on the in terms of documentary photography, especially when you travel and stuff like that, you know, and how it relates to the art side of things.
Seng Mah 16:17
I think at the end of the day, if you’re going to look at documentary photography, and travel photography, they all serve a particular purpose. And I think you need to define what it means to you. For me, everything starts with a definition for yourself. So you know, you can you can travel and create fine art pieces. When you travel, as you know, you could you know, you could travel to Canada and then create a beautiful wintry landscape that you perceive as being an artistic expression of your heightened sense of isolation, or loneliness or something like or peace or calm or an end, it might look really pretty, and people might buy it for their own homes, or it might resonate with someone else. And they are drawn to it for purely emotional reasons. So in that way, you can create what is essentially thought of as artistic photography, when you’re travelling, you can also create illustrative work while you’re travelling because you take a picture of a tree, a picture of a chapel, Hill, and you Photoshop it all together, you can create those things. So you’re creating something out of that through the process of travelled. So at the end of the day, you still need to be able to define for yourself what you mean by documentary photography, and what you mean by by travel photography. And for me, when I define it, it’s very, it’s, it coexists together because when I travel, I’m documenting something, in terms of the travel and the travel photography, part of it simply means that when I travel, I’m looking at being able to photograph a sense of place and a sense of culture, a sense of community, in the sense of people in the, in the environment, which I’m actually travelling in. So that is that is my own definition of travel and documentary photography, it’s about, it’s about, you know, conveying a moment, an emotion, a story that’s based on human activity, for example, or a place to draw my photography there. And if someone else resonates with it, and wants to call it art, that’s great. I sometimes will call it art. But, you know, in order I think I call ourselves photographers, you know, in that sense there, and then when we’re interrogated a little bit further, we might then start to go into genres of photography, like, you know, a travel photographer, or a documentary photographer, and stuff like that, then anything beyond that, I think there’s a lot of soul searching that comes into it. But it’s an interesting point that you talk about this art versus photography dichotomy, because as you know, within the photographic circles in the community, there appears to be a little bit of a backlash against things which are photographic in origin, but a lot of people don’t consider photographs. So the illustrative work, for example, where people construct images from photographic sources, you know, a tree that was taken in their church or was taken in their cloud taken somewhere else, you know, a flock of birds taken somewhere else, and then they composited together. So the a lot of people who get up in arms and say, That’s not photography, you know, that is art. Or that is, that is, elicits an illustration, in fact, we have the category Courtland street photography, in of itself, it’s almost as if we need to categorise this thing. So that’s the complete opposite of it, isn’t it saying like, well, is art now we can call it photography, you know. So I think those things are constantly being defined and redefined. And it just get back to the fact that at the end of the day, you have to be really true to yourself, and you have to define it for yourself first, because once you find something for yourself, it makes explaining your work a lot easier. So what I often tell people to do, even if they’re new to photography, and they don’t know what they like photographing and all that is, if you can take a blank page, and just let whatever’s in your head stream out in terms of what it is. So you say, you know, I like to and you just write, write, write, write, write, that’s the first step in being able to define what it is that what is this that you you like photographing, and how you’re going to go about defining what photography means for you. To begin with. That’s,
Stanley Aryanto – The Wicked Hunt 20:22
that’s amazing. I think one thing that I really like, from that point that you bring is that defining something for yourself. And, you know, in this media era, and the social media era, I think, a lot of times, and you know, I’m one of those person where I, when I started, I was defined by everyone else, instead of you finding for yourself. Mm hmm. And then like, after a while, like, you know, you you get, you lose kind of the passion because you stopped taking photo for yourself, and, you know, you stop taking photos to express yourself. And I think like, especially in the photography era, one of the things that I love about photography is just the way that everyone perspective is different. And you know, like, it’s just, it’s like, you don’t have to be the same. That’s what makes it great. Like, the difference is what makes it great. So, I’m really glad that you mentioned that. Yeah, so, I mean, you do a lot of different genres of photography, isn’t it? You go from trade to commercial to travel to documentary? If you’re like, you know, what’s your favourite? And or, you know, like, what, what do you like, out of those things? You know, there’s not a lot of people that actually like to do all, all the different genre, because most people are either like a landscape or a portrait or wildlife and so forth. And how did you kind of like, get into, get that exposure to all these different genre?
Seng Mah 21:52
It’s really interesting, because I never actually come from a position where I let what I do as a photographer be defined by other people. People like categories, people like labels. So they quite often ask questions like, what kind of photography? Do you a landscape photographer? Or are you a portrait photographer? Or are you your animal photographer? Do you like wildlife and all that, and those are categories, right? Those are labels. And I think a lot of people who start off in photography, they think that they have to fix they have to, they have to be able to fit into one of these little pigeon holes, this little boxes, in order to be able to then start to define what it is that they do. And this is where the kind of self reflection comes in really handy. Because I think, when you start to think very clearly about what it is that you do, and why you do what you do, a lot of it comes not from this whole notion of photography, but whatever it is that fulfils you as a person, right? So, I’m a person who enjoys learning about other people. I’m a person who enjoys connecting with other people engaging with other people, I’m actually, you know, they’re very curious about other people’s lives. Before I took up photography. In a very serious way, I also wrote a lot like what stories and stuff like that. So that’s, that was a storyteller. Enjoy storytelling. So it was a curiosity about creating things about people’s lives, and often talk to people and try to find out more about their lives and all that. So if you look at that aspect of it, that translates into an interest in people. And through photography, how do you basically represent an interest in people, you take pictures of people, you take portraits of people. So that’s where the portraiture comes in. And then again, you know, with landscapes and all that, you know, there’s a part of me which enjoys the natural world immensely, and you enjoy going out and you enjoy seeing beautiful scenery, and you look at beautiful light. And how do you go about expressing that creatively when you’re a photographer, or you become a landscape photographer, and that basically, then leads you on to try a whole range of different techniques, you know, you learn to photograph in the right light, you learn to chase that light, you learn to work with a light that nature has given you at a particular point in time, regardless of whether it was the light you’re looking for or not. You learn other techniques, you know, that comes through like your long exposures, for example, using filters on your focus stacking, and, in your case, your astrophotography, you know, that comes through in that aspect of it as well. So that’s also sort of different than in your, in your wilderness photography, for example, you know, the pristine landscapes that you find in the Rockies and things like that. So there is that aspect of it that appeals to me and it still comes from the heart comes from a part of your spirit that says, I relate to the beauty in the natural world, right. You know, so there’s that aspect of it and how do you go about finding more and more about the way Oh, well, you know, you travel for example, I have an interest in culture and history. So a lot of my travel and because I’ve got a background in art, as well as literature for some strange reason,
one of the things I love doing was basically to go to museums and stuff like that when I’m travelling, and I love going to those all historical towns, because I’ve read about it I’ve seen, I know the history of those areas. So it’s about relieving that, that thing that when you go and travel there, you know, so how do you express that love of have new new worlds and new lands and new towns and all that kind of stuff? How do you express that love of being able to see for your very eyes, ancient history manifests in front of you? Well, you do that through your travel photography, travel photography. So I think, for me, and it’s probably true for a lot of people. Those labels don’t mean anything, because for me, it’s really about this is my interest. So I photograph, what I’m interested in. This is what resonates with me. So I photograph what resonates with me, it just happens to apply, people can apply labels to them. So that’s why people say, oh, you know, you photograph portraits, and you photograph landscapes, and you photograph, the travel and all that, you know, so people apply those categories. And I think, you know, at the end of the day, all you’re doing is you’re a photographer, and you’re making images of things that you like, and, and experiences that resonate with you. That’s, that’s all it is. So, so that’s, that’s, for example, is a reason why, you know, I’m not that interested in say, Photographing Flowers, that doesn’t appeal to me, I’m really not that interested in photographing birds, because it doesn’t appeal to me, you know, the sorts of things so I don’t go around chasing little spiders and insects and all that with a macro lens, because I’m not interested in it. So for me, photography is really about fulfilling what interests me. And acknowledging also that interests change over time, I may find new things that are very interesting to me. And then I may then pursue them photographically, and if there’s a label that goes in it, great, if there isn’t, well, that’s fine as well. That’s, that’s
Stanley Aryanto – The Wicked Hunt 27:03
great. Yeah. You know, I totally can resonate with that, because I’m, I’m a bit like that, I just like to take photo, whatever and reason why I like to take foot off the stars, there’s just a lot of, I grow to I get frustrated being some just always struggling with a lot of people, especially when here in the Rockies, you know, with the monitors here. And when you do Astro it’s like photography, what photography was meant to me when I started was it was more like a meditation, it was like me and the camera and the nature or with whatever it is, I shoot, you know, whether it’s a portrait or wildlife. So that’s, that’s why I kind of get into more of the Astro because of that reason, but it’s not necessarily that I you know, I like to shoot Asher more than the sunset. I love sunset photos. You know, they’re amazing. But just that when I do sunset, and sunrise, usually there’s like 20 Other people next to me. And, you know, sometimes you just want to be by myself. And for that reason, I tend to be shoot more Astro. So that’s pretty
Seng Mah 28:11
much an expression of your own personal interest is your own the way you are as a person, right?
Stanley Aryanto – The Wicked Hunt 28:17
Yeah. Yeah, that’s great. But so what do you think of the social media? How does that impact the perception of photography and how it can shape the photography nowadays, especially for those of you who just started, right, because this is all day know, if they just started, you know, or someone like you, you have that different understanding of what art is. But for those people that can just start it, they might not see anything past Instagram photography, you know, what do you think about? Yeah, but that,
Seng Mah 28:54
but the first thing that I’ve got to say is, I think what social media has done for photography and photographers is it’s actually made a lot of people very aware about the value of the visual image, as opposed to basically just say, someone writing a long essay, and posting it on a blog or something along the lines of that. So Instagram, for example, is clearly a very visually driven social media platform. And so what it’s done is actually foreground for a lot of people that photographs, images, visuals are incredibly important, as part of this social media transaction that takes place. So that’s a really good part of it, because basically, it’s making photography very prevalent in the eyes and minds of a lot of people. Obviously, there’s a flip side of it, in a sense that what happens then is people begin to limit themselves in terms of what images they actually take, because they almost in a way kind of mimic or duplicate what has been deemed successful before so you know, the thought the sorts of silly talking about selfies, but it’s not just a selfie, it is a particular style. I’ll have selfie. You know, a lot of influences are practically, quote unquote Instagram models, because they are producing images that look very kind of fashion editorial, whatever it is that you’re promoting or influencing on your platforms. They are, they are being photographed for photographing themselves or whatever it is they’re photographing in a way that fulfils the need to gain more followers or, or promote a product or something along the lines of that. So even though everyone sort of realises that there is a greater need for visual images, the variety is being reduced the variety and visual imagery that we produce because of social media has been reduced to a kind of repetitive duplication of what people deemed to be successful. It’s in in photographic circles, it’s kind of like, you know, someone taking a picture of something like that BlueBoard sharing Crawley in Perth, for example. And then it’s successful. So everyone else goes there. And we repeat the same process because they believe that photographing that subject in that light from that angle can repeat that success. But what it simply does is it creates a super saturation of the image. So the power of the original image is so watered down by that, that repetition itself. Think about the one like a tree, for example, right in New Zealand, the soul autumnal tree in the lake growing out there, I’m sure the first time it was published, it blew the minds of people away. But now we look at it. And we don’t even give it a second glance because the you know, immediately so supersaturated images, you know, in Juana Korean and even in Canada, for example, I know that’s a really blue lake, I think is like the mountains coming down, or Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, Moraine Lake, there’s so many images taken from the same lookout positions, that initially it looks amazing. But eventually it’s like, well, you know, nice, you just kind of move on. So I think, I think what social media has done is it’s actually created this, this repetitiveness in the way people take photographs, you know, people very cynical people, basically look at this whole thing where they can pull off very similar looking images, you know, someone in rejected standing in front of the giant waterfall in Iceland, for example, or someone on a rock in the weight jacket, and a hat overlooking a lake, that images that those images have been repeated, ad nauseam. So it’s created this kind of a culture of imitation rather than a culture of of originality, because I think the purpose of imagery in social media is actually governed not by the desire to actually create an image. But the desire to gain some level of fame, or notoriety through social media, and not so much wanting to actually create images. And for one reason, I mean, if you ask yourself, right, why am I putting images on social media? I get every person listening to this, who uses Instagram and asked them the answer this question, why am I posting this photograph on social media in my Instagram? And what would the answer be? What’s your answer? If you post a picture on Instagram? Why do you post on Instagram?
Stanley Aryanto – The Wicked Hunt 33:19
My, my answer to post is that to share my, my travel and my whatsapp experience with other people, and, you know, those, that’s why I like to take those views that are quite unique, because I want to show people you know, that unique perspective that people never experienced and share that kind of thing. But yeah, you’re right. I think a lot of them a lot of part of the is also to get that likes, and also to get that comments, right. Get that sense of confirmation saying that, you know, yes, you are doing the right thing. Yeah. So So there is two things that and I think some people can have, kind of have habit more towards one or the other depending on what they’re doing. I’m not sure if that’s how you feel as well.
Seng Mah 34:09
Do you use hashtags on Instagram? Totally. Why?
Stanley Aryanto – The Wicked Hunt 34:15
That’s mainly because for the business perspective side of things, and
Seng Mah 34:20
people can find your images, right, so people can find work for the Instagram algorithm. And it increases exposure increases, like so the reason you’re posting on Instagram is purely driven by the fact that you are trying to gain some level of exposure and gain some level of you know, and that’s the reason why I post on Instagram is I have no use of Instagram at all. So I don’t use Instagram as a microblogging of my daily life or anything like that. I lead a very boring life if I were to deliberately post my life on Instagram will be like coffee, coffee, breakfast cereal, you know, his his me driving to the shops, you know, it’s, this is completely unglamorous life. So we create fictions on Instagram. We create the Shouldn’t in social media, and I think that’s what social media excels in is excels in allowing us to curate the way we present ourselves and the way we present our work to the world. It’s almost like having like a micro exhibition or having a publishing mini book, except this one just keeps going on and on and on and on and on. So so the impact of social media for me on on photography is that it encourages a lot of photography, it doesn’t matter what medium you’re using, what camera you’re using, it encourages a lot of photography that encourages a lot of self reflection, and curation, about your own photography, these things are extremely good things to have in your mind, when you’re a creative person, to be able to reflect and analyse your own work to basically curate your own work so that you’re not just putting rubbish out there is a great things. But on the other hand, they’re all kind of being moving in a direction of essentially mimicry and imitation, rather than the creation of original stuff, stuff that may not resonate with other people. Stuff that may not garner the likes and followers and everything else that comes that comes with it. So yeah, we are we are doing the right thing in terms of curating and all that. But we’re probably curating it in a direction that doesn’t actually allow for the exploration and the expression and the presentation of a more personal vision. That’s my take on it. Anyway.
Stanley Aryanto – The Wicked Hunt 36:27
That’s, that’s very interesting for you to say that. Yeah, I think you’re definitely right, right there. Instagram kind of help photographers to kind of get out there and share their story and all that stuff, as well. But I think that the other side of thing is that people saw this popular photo that got that is successful. And then they get really fixated with that. And I think the really sad thing about this, like, like what you say, you know, like, when you do it on Instagram, you do, you will always want to try to do one for you know, the followers and the licence stuff. But also, from my perspective is like, don’t stop creating for yourself. So, you know, I think one of the one of the education that I got from marketing on Instagram was saying that, yes, do you do your you know, do your popular posts, and then put it out there, but don’t discount the photo, that really means something to you, and then don’t worry about how many likes, you’re gonna get on it, because you already get that likes from, you know, this popular one. So yeah, there’s definitely a really hard balance there to take right now.
Seng Mah 37:41
But I think the danger there is to actually approach things like that with a level of maturity and a level of self awareness as well, a lot of people no longer they stop taking pictures of what it is that they are appealing to them, they’re taking pictures of what’s popular, because they are using social media purely as a popularity contest. So I think that’s a that’s actually quite a sad part of it in the sense that a lot of people who are very, very skilled, very skilled and have the ability to create very fine images, but it it’s almost kind of being driven in a direction of creating what’s popular, what’s what’s going to appeal to the market. It’s a very business oriented kind of approach, you know, rather than creating images that, that appeal to them, and who cares what happens, let the images find the market, let the images find its viewers rather than creating images for an anticipated or expected audience and always, but at the end of the day, that’s what art is, you know, do you create art, because you know, it’s going to sell in order to sell, it’s got to basically appeal to a particular audience, right, a particular aesthetics? Or do you create art, and hope that it finds its audience and through finding its audience, you find a market for it? You know, which one’s the easier one to do?
Stanley Aryanto – The Wicked Hunt 38:58
Yeah, totally. I think what you say is very correct. You know, it’s, it’s a shame that a lot of people that have that potential or new perspective, get kind of beaten down, and I, you know, that was me for definitely, it was me, when I started I was, I was an Instagram photographer, I go to places that looks great on Instagram. And we thought having second thought I would take that particular spot, I was like, where is that perspective taken for? And I took that and it took me a while until I realised that man, like, you know, like, this is not why I got here, you know, my mission was to, to actually show people, the world the unseen worlds, like why am I taking the photo that people take forever? All the time. So I think that that, that message that you see you have to be true to yourself and define it for yourself is like really a homerun for a lot of this because at the end of the day, like a lot of us see photography as a way to express ourselves and as a creative outlet in In our life, right? And I think like there’s a lot of people that even though they do like a full time job a nine to five as an accounting or whatever they may be that photography become their creative outlet. So yeah, don’t let that go away from from you. So that’s great. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So you mentioned that you used to, used to, you’re interested, you’re very interested on people people’s story. And, and also, like, you know, history, how does that have? How that storytelling have reflected your photography? And how that kind of translate from, you know, like words to do to basically a single frame even?
Seng Mah 40:45
Yeah, storytelling is one of those new buzzwords that have actually popped into photography? Well, it’s always been in part of photography, but at the moment, it seems to be in everyone’s consciousness, partly because I think a lot of competitions have judges to go on and on and on about how an image must tell a story and all that. So that’s a, that can be, that can be quite a confusing thing for people to kind of think about, but a photograph photographs as a static image in one frame. So how can you tell a story about about a photograph in that setting image, the way, the best way I can relate to that basically, is let’s say, for example, you are in a bookstore, and you are browsing books, or in the library in your browsing books, now, you’re not going to be able to read every single book there. Alright. So how do you assess which books are essentially going to appeal to you, you might look at the title, you might look at the cover, you might look at the author, and then you might open to the first chapter or the first few paragraphs, and then you read it. Now there’s got to be something in that initial process, that’s going to basically give you an indication that you want to read more, so you will borrow or buy the book, okay? And what is the thing that actually gets you to decide that you’re going to invest more time in that book, because you know, when you read a book, you’re basically telling, telling yourself and telling the world, hello, take three days of my life that we’ll never get back, because I’m going to invest it in reading this book, or we’re gonna watch a movie, okay, it’s gonna be an hour and a half of my life, I’m never gonna get back up two hours of my life, and we’re gonna get back. So I’m going to, you better be good, right? And what is the thing that actually pulls us in and makes us commit that aspect of our life, which we have in limited supply to that, and that’s where the story lies. It’s, it’s the hint, it’s the hook that basically says, hey, it’s worth investing, time, and emotion, and to commit to this particular book, or film, or in the case of photograph. So the way I basically say we talking about storytelling and photograph is the same concept coming through here, there has to be a hook, there has to be something that captures the interest of the viewer, and asks the viewer to commit time in engaging with that photograph. In other words, the viewer is almost in a way saying I’m going to emotionally connect with this is image, I’m going to spend some time exploring it visually, I’m going to try and get an understanding of what is actually happening
in in this image here. And in doing so I’m actually going to receive a sense of something fulfilling or something satisfying, through my engagement with an image. And that’s what I mean by the storytelling. We may have bought a book or borrowed a book and not finished reading it, because it didn’t go the way we wanted it to go. We didn’t want to commit any further to it. Same thing with a movie or a film, or whatever it is, right now. If you binge watch NetFlix, and you watch, you know, season one offers a series and by about midway through season one, you’re going like Nah, I’m not gonna, this is not interesting me at all, I’ve just wasted, you know, four hours of my life watching the first four episodes or something like that, you’re making a decision to abandon that because the story is no longer appealing to you. So I think a storytelling and an image is about having the viewer engage with the image or your image, where they are investing time they’re committing their attention to it, and they’re engaging with it. So how do you how do you do that? For me, it’s about it’s more than just being a pretty picture. So, you know, like, if you’re scanning a travel brochure, and all the images that are amazingly beautiful, because they’re obviously selling the destination, right? And some of them use look at a new stare for ages and you can almost feel yourself kind of being there. And that’s a story that’s an image that’s captured that particular feeling and it’s drawn the viewer into the image and the viewer is exploring the landscape in an image with your eyes and the imagination. That’s a powerful image, it tells a story. And it’s drawing us into this narrative that you could look at a travel photograph or a documentary photograph or a portrait, and you’re investing in the emotion, they look at a portrait of someone and you can identify with the emotion in your eyes, for example, you begin to explore what they’re wearing. And you’re kind of relating what they’re wearing to the life circumstances, you’re looking at the background, what might be in the background, and kind of looking at how that background might relate to their life circumstances, their story, so you’re investing more than just a cursory glance at that picture. And that’s a story that pulls them into that. So I guess the story lies in the story lies in the details that engage us and takes us into the world that’s represented. In a photograph, it’s not necessarily having something exciting happening, it’s not necessarily having something that’s kind of like visually explosive or anything like that. But it’s the small things that make us linger longer in the image, and get us to invest and to enter the world of the image. And in the same way in which we imaginatively enter the world that’s been told to us in a book, or which we engage emotionally with the characters that we watch. In a film, we actually care for them. And we don’t want them to get, you know, the under bad circumstances, part and parcel of what makes dramatic tension in our in a film. But we want to see what happens to them. And hopefully, hopefully, it’s a happy ending. That’s why we stay until the end. And I think the same kinds of emotions kind of apply in a way which we engage with photographs. So if your images can tap into those very triggers, that will get people to invest and commit and engage with those images on those levels, then it’s a storytelling image. So that makes sense. Yeah.
Stanley Aryanto – The Wicked Hunt 46:46
Wow, that is that is crazy. Like, one other thing that I was very interested to, I actually had to put a note there, just to make sure I don’t forget, you know, in this social media era, or especially on the, you know, technology era, we, we get bombarded with content and everything, right. So if you look at Instagram, we hardly browse through a photo for more than two seconds, we look like next look like next. So what what does it really take to create that that photo is that, you know, that we that we know, as a creator, that the story is in the details, but for the viewer? They might, they might not notice that within that two, three, or even five seconds that they’re looking at it? What does it actually take to create that sort of photography that it’s so powerful to hook your, your viewer? And engage them further into the details of your photo?
Seng Mah 47:50
Are you talking about a social media platform like Instagram? Are you talking? You’re talking about social media platforms?
Stanley Aryanto – The Wicked Hunt 47:57
I think it’s just in general, not only social media, I think, you know, we have a lot of competition, for example, right now, there is no, you know, when you look at competition, we I think we can we can kind of think about you know, less of the popular shot, if that’s what you men can I think, but also, you know, the judges will have hundreds and hundreds of entries. What does it take? Or, you know, how do you create that photo that’s so powerful, so that the judges will actually invest further, as you said earlier, within, within that story, or within that frame?
Seng Mah 48:34
I think it’ll you’ll answer the question, you got to kind of think about how we, as viewers read and process visual images, right. And a lot of that is quite often very, very subjective as well. You know, if we can, if we can make meaning of an image, we are probably more willing to invest time in exploring it further. If we cannot make meaning of the image. And there’s nothing that hooks us into it, then it’s chances are, you know, just scroll past if you’re talking about something like Instagram, for example. So if what I think you’re asking is what are the key elements that will allow an image to engage with the viewer when it is competing with a lot of other images in a saturated image saturated kind of context, which could be Instagram could be if you’re judging a photographic competition, you might be looking at over 500 700 1000s of images. So you have to make a decision very, very quickly. If you go to a group exhibition and 50 images in the exhibition, you’re not going to spend, you know, five minutes on each image, you’ll be there forever, right? So you’re just going to scan and you’re going to stop at certain images and what’s going to do that, what’s going to pull it into those images over there. Now, having said all of that, I would say that this is probably not a very ideal context in which images should be looked at and consumed by people this mass production. Spamming of images is not the ideal situation, to have easily. So when you have an exhibition, you curate it so that you’re not having your images compete with each other by having too many of them, for example. Okay, so so I’ll qualify that. So to say what’s going to grab a viewers attention. I think the first thing is you need a headline, you need that headline, like a newspaper article, you need that headline. And the headline needs to hook the viewer in. So if the image is something that a viewer is already familiar with, it’s chances are, they might just give it a quick glance, and you know, double tapping to give a love heart in Instagram is so easy doesn’t mean any meaningful in engagement. All right. So you scroll past, the actual hook would be basically something that makes the leader go WTF, I think it’s like, what what is this? You know, what is this? What is this, and then that curiosity then prompts them to look more closely into the, into what’s actually happening in the image. And from that, they begin to try to find meaning in that image. And bearing in mind that the meaning that the viewer constructs out of the image is not necessarily the meaning that the photographer or the artist invested into the image itself, but they’re already engaged, and they begin to draw meaning through gestures to get drawn, they might lock onto certain expressions, or they might, if it’s a portrait, they might lock into certain detail in the images, you know, things that appear, and then that, that helps them kind of create a an image creates a story from the processing of the image itself. That if that makes sense, that’s why I was thinking to myself that the the most valuable comment that you can get in social media for any image you put in there is not nice capture, or not great image, or not awesome, or not sensational, and all that. Those sorts of feedback, you know, or not, when someone just goes love heart emojis, those things require no investment. That’s just someone, you know, saying something to be polite, and to acknowledge that, you know, they like your image. It’s when someone writes something and says, Oh, my God, I know the feeling of this person. Exactly, you know, because I’ve been in that position. And this is what happened to me, and then they relay their own story. Back. And that’s when you know that there has been real emotional engagement in the photograph. And I think that’s something that we should all aim to look at an image of, say, a frozen feel in the Rockies, and there might be a few struggling plants growing in it. If you put it on Instagram, and someone just puts thumbs up, thumbs up, or the thank you emoji or the love heart emoji or the kissy emoji means nothing, right. But if someone writes, My God, this takes me there, and I can feel the cold in my bones. Now, that’s real connection with with an image, as opposed to love hard, love hard, and about tech loves, and all that kind of stuff. So
for me, if you’re looking for real connection with the people look in your images, if you are looking for your images to actually mean something to people and mean something. So when you invest time in creating the images, you gain, whatever time you’ve gone into photographing, you’re putting into photographing and creating the image is time, you’re never gonna get back. Right? So. So you want what you produce, to be meaningful, you know, to at least one other person out there in the world. Because if you can get a comment like that, then you know that you’ve achieved that particular achievement if we got that. And I think that’s what we should we should aim for, rather than this kind of, oh, you know, to appease the algorithm of social media, I’ve got to post two pictures every day, when I’m going to post an Instagram story every day. I mean, it ends the day, some mechanism, the mechanism asks us to engage in engage with it in a certain way in order to get the popular likes and all that but, you know, is that is that actually good for creativity?
Stanley Aryanto – The Wicked Hunt 54:11
Yeah, that’s, that’s definitely Yeah, that’s great. It’s definitely a struggle between creativity and being able to reach more especially with this, like, you know, all the algorithm that kind of basically curate what what what you know, seen as popular, so, that’s great.
Seng Mah 54:31
Yeah, look, it’s coming
Stanley Aryanto – The Wicked Hunt 54:35
to an hour mark. So I’m just gonna ask you a couple more questions. One of the questions I’m really interested to get your intake on this is that especially based on what you just said before, should you catch it in your photo or should the viewer you know, let interpret that to their own, you know, what, what what does the what does the effect of the caption to Due to an art of your photography, will they actually take away that message? Or will they actually strengthen it?
Seng Mah 55:06
I think it depends on the context in which the image is actually being shown or exhibited. Captions can sometimes Empower images, make them strong make make the message, the meaning, the way it’s consumed and understood and emotionally engaged with a lot stronger, incredibly stronger. And sometimes Captions can impede in letting the viewer kind of just process and make their own meaning, so to speak of, of the images coming over there. So it’s not a it’s not a binary outcome, yes, or no, you know, kind of stuff like a lot of it depends on the A lot of it depends on on the contexts in which the captions work. What I find more useful, is something like an authentic artists statement than a caption. So for example, if someone’s having an exhibition, or they publish a book of photographs, so I’m not let’s talk about Instagram and all that, because that’s the thing we’ve talked about that, let’s say you usually do a photo book, or you have an exhibition, or something where your work is actually or even if you’ve got an online gallery, right, okay, on your website. And you write like a statement from your heart, which means I’m not talking about some kind of highfalutin, you know, wencke type of, you know, artist statements, something that’s really funny have heard about, about your experiences in making the images about perhaps the motivation in making the meme because I generally speaking, don’t talk about the meaning in my images I talked about, about about what they what, what they are to me, and why I photograph them and stuff like that. But I don’t prescribe what people should make out of those images there. And talk a lot more about myself, and what drives me as a photographer and all that and then let that become like an overarching context, in which people can then use that and apply to the images and see how the images have come about through this particular mindset that the artist had as a creative person, rather than writing the individual captions. But having said that, sometimes captions, especially for press images, and documentary images, sometimes captions, can really kind of work very powerfully with the images so that both of them together, almost symbiotically. Create an experience for the viewer slash the reader that each of them individually could not have achieved.
Stanley Aryanto – The Wicked Hunt 57:40
Yeah, that’s, that’s very interesting. I actually, I always, almost always put a story behind the photo, you know, what, what was it like? And what, what, what my experience where I go out that day, and so forth. But one of the reasons why I I want to ask you this question was that just the other day, I have a, I saw a comment on on one of the foot photography group, and then that’s what he said is like, you know, like, I’d rather not have captions. So I, you know, after our conversation, but storytelling, I was really interested to see your take on that. So yeah, that’s really good. Cool. Well, um, yeah, look, you’ve been an educator for a while now, and you’ve got into photography for a while now, for those of you who just want to start it, and who kinda like, you know, got interested and want to create something that is meaningful and as strong as what is the one advice, you know, one of the most important advice that you would give them
Seng Mah 58:45
complete this sentence, I take photograph, because I take photographs because.dot.to complete that sentence. As amazing, simple as that. But it has to come personally, it can’t come. Now, whatever reason you give after the dot, dot, dot, that’s fine. But you just have to define that for yourself. First. Find out what it is that that interests you so much that you want to actually take photographs of it. And then work towards being the best that you can be in what it is that you want to take photographs of. And sometimes you might need to actually push your own comfort, boundary boundaries, basically, to break through any kind of resistance that your own self might have had to achieve that particular outcome. And I’ll give you a really quick example of that one. As I said earlier, I have a very strong interest in people and I really wanted to connect with them. But in the early days, when probably 15 or so years ago, more than that, actually. It’s hard to approach strangers to ask for their photographs, especially when you’re first starting out and because I you know, engaged with a lot of photographers now that’s still a perennial concern. On an anxiety with a lot of a lot of photographers who want to take photos of people, but they just are not out there with your personality. So I came up with a strategy to get past my own fears and anxieties. And that was to actually have a purpose, in a reason why I wanted to take photographs of people. And that purpose was to actually basically go create a community photographic project. And the community photographic project was essentially tied into what was happening in a wall at that particular point in time. And at that particular point in time, this was, I think, just probably after what had happened in Bali, and everything else with the bombing. So it’s going back quite a long time. And there was a lot of fear and a lot of anger and a lot of suspicion and all that. And I thought one way in which you can actually combat that is to actually, you know, get people to express in writing their commitment to basically still be good people, basically. So I went around, and I wrote one piece of code, I wrote a very simple three or four word statement, and I met two people. And I said, Hey, I’m doing a community project where I’m photographing people, if they’re willing to commit, they just have to be photographed holding this car. And that’s how I got through the fear or the anxiety of actually approaching people. Of course, they will say no, but then they say no to the project. They didn’t say no, to me. And that was a great way of actually getting past any of those initial hesitancy that comes with that. And after that, that was perfectly fine. If you approach people because you’ve already built up a particular pattern and a particular level of confidence. That’s it.
Stanley Aryanto – The Wicked Hunt 1:01:51
Yeah, that’s, that’s great. I mean, yeah, that’s one sentence that is really strong. And it’s really interesting, because I’ve never really actually asked myself that. And, you know, that’s even for me who’ve been taking photo for awhile who’ve been interested for in photography for a while. And I think I know the purpose of my photography, but I think it’s, you know, by answering that question, it really, really, you know, hit that home run. So, fantastic. You know, thanks a lot for the for the advice. That’s, it’s amazing, I’m pretty sure the listener at at home, especially those of you who kind of just started and not sure where to go with your photography can take this and, yeah, build your own meaning and, you know, express yourself to photography instead of looking at other things, or other people work and try to mimic them. So that’s amazing. So for those, for the listeners, who’s interested to learn more about yourself, saying, What’s the best way to find you?
Seng Mah 1:02:55
Oh, okay, so I’m obviously all on all over social media as well. But I don’t, I don’t, I don’t garner a very large following in the 10s of 1000s or something along the lines of that I use it, you know, for my own personal purposes and stuff like that, but my website is venture photography.com.au So they can go there and they can look at the courses so it probably be more relevant for people in Australia especially in Western Australia. If you want to learn photography with me, if you want to go on my tours and stuff like that at the moment for next year. It’s just within Western Australia only go to triple W dot venture photography.com.au And you can see what’s basically on offer there you can follow me on Instagram on sang venture, which is my name s e Ng, then what venture together and that’s mainly kind of like my, like travel landscape kind of work there. And then obviously, on social media, you can connect with me on venture photography workshops on Facebook, or just look for my name and cinema on Facebook. Pretty much and yeah. And I posted on my YouTube channel, but I currently don’t, I’m not a YouTube type influence. I use the YouTube channel more as a learning resource where I put a lot of videos, how to videos and all that for the classes and people that I teach. I put them up there during the lockdown. This year, when wa log down for about six or seven weeks I and people were at home and you couldn’t do anything I ran. I ran live zoom webinars and sessions like this and had guest speakers and we did you know things like portraiture and how to use your camera and all those kinds of stuff. On and we have a group on Facebook called Photo talk, Rafi, which is spelled P H O T. A L K prophy. Like for tog Rafi on Facebook. That’s pretty much it. That’s where you can find me.
Stanley Aryanto – The Wicked Hunt 1:04:45
Oh, yeah, fantastic. I mean, you got you got amazing works. For those of you who are interested in travel, I actually learn how to use light and flash that I still use that technique. It’s It’s It’s An amazing technique, especially the one that you thought during the daylight, but you make everything underexposed. So it looks like
Seng Mah 1:05:06
Yeah, yeah, I love that. Tonight. Yes, with a flat sheet. That’s right.
Stanley Aryanto – The Wicked Hunt 1:05:12
I love that technique. I still like it was definitely one of my favourite techniques.
Seng Mah 1:05:18
That’s right. Yeah, I still teach that. So if you find a potential boss with me, you come in learn how to do that.
Stanley Aryanto – The Wicked Hunt 1:05:24
I would never think of it, you know, think of that in a million years. So that was amazing to learn. But yeah, like, you know, saying he’s also an professional accredited photography and has one of few apps in documentary awards. Is that right?
Seng Mah 1:05:40
Yeah, yeah. So I was wa a professional documentary photographer of the year, a couple of years ago. Yeah. And I’ve quite often been a finalist of the professional Travel Photographer of the Year awards and things like that. Yep.
Stanley Aryanto – The Wicked Hunt 1:05:51
Exactly. So highly recommend to check out his work. And yeah, thanks a lot for tuning in. And hopefully you enjoy that. Hopefully you get a lot of that there was a lot of wisdom in that. And thank you very much saying for coming in. But I’ll see you guys next week. We can hunters. Hopefully you guys have a good weekend. Till next time.