Please welcome our week 27 artist, Vignes Balasingam, known on Flickr as devilmangod. This week's exhibit has been curated by 'stpiduko'. On Flickr.
1: Location is everything, so interested to know where you were born, spent your childhood and where you live now?
I was born in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia; the house my grandparents raised their thirteen children and eight nephews and nieces. It was the house my father would woo the woman that would become his wife and my mother. When I was eight, we moved far out of the city to a new housing estate. It was located between a rubber plantation and a primary rainforest. I remember wild boars would roam the streets at night rummaging through the dustbins for food. We didnt have water supply then, so we walked about 2 kms for fresh water from the river. My brother and I spent most of our time in the river and forest to my mother's grief. Some evenings, the jungle police would drive slowly speaking over their PA system warning residents that a tigers had been spotted. That never really meant anything to me and my brother. The sense of adventure was too strong to resist. Now I live in an apartment on the 6th floor in the heart of the city of Kuala Lumpur. Its not as exciting as the dwelling of my youth but it does make moving around easy.
2: Every photographer has to start somewhere. Do you remember the first roll of film you took? If so, with what camera and do you still have the negs?
I remember it all too clearly. It was a roll of Kodak colour negative film. I dont remember the specifics of the film though. It was my last week of primary school. I was in Standard 6 and at 12 years of age. I begged my mother to let me use her Olympus Pen so I could take some photographs of my friends in school (after this point, many of us would go to different secondary schools and eventually lose contact). My mother agreed. I was ecstatic! I remember those exposures very well. I dont know if the photographs were technically good, but time has a way of putting great value on photographs. Those were probably the best photographs I've ever taken. The film is still around. Its in that huge box where my mother keeps all our photographs.
3 : When did taking photographs chang from wanting to take snap shots to something a little more serious?
I was probably about 4 years old. I had never been allowed to touch the family camera. But I remember looking at the photos on Nat Geo and Life. It was at that age I knew I wanted to make those photographs. I still wonder if it was the photographs I craved or just a sense of adventure that ran hot in my veins. The real change in respect with the question came in 1992 when I was on a 10 week expedition in Borneo. That is where it all came together. But photos I would be happy with wouldnt have happened until just a few years ago. I couldn't afford a camera for the longest time.
4: What camera are you using now and is it your camera of choice ? Is there something else you wish you had / what is your ideal set up.
My desert island camera would be my Nikon FM2n. It fits great in my hand and it to a point lets me "see" better. The camera somehow lets me take the most amazing photos. I simply love it to bits. As for lenses, I am not fussed. A 35 mm or 50 mm would be great. No flash.
I shoot all my portraits on a Hasselblad 500 C through a 80 mm Planar T*. It seems to be the right camera for the photographs I want to take. All the photographs featured here on Spotlight Seven were taken with the Hasselblad except for one.
I love both my camera setups and dont think I can wish for anything else at this point. Both cameras help me extend my vision of what I see in my head. If anything else, a 120 mm Makro for the Hasselblad and a couple of PocketWizards would be nice.
5 : What is it about photography / portrait photography that interests you?
I like people. I think that is the most important thing about my portrait work. I dont think I can take the photographs I take if I did not have a sincere appreciation for people. Photographing people lets me into their lives, even if its for a few minutes. Looking down the camera for the shot I want, there is a sort of detachment and at once attachment between me and the person in front of me. I guess this is why I mainly stick to people photography- its what is natural to me.
6 : How do you approach your subjects ? what level of interaction do you have with them?
I am very casual and candid with the persons I want to photograph. I just go up to them tell them what I am doing and ask them if they would like to be photographed. I sometimes joke about things and sometimes I can be very intense. And the promise of a copy of the photograph in their mailbox is usually a bonus to them. I always have my camera in the bag when approaching people. I dont know why I do this but I feel it may be less intrusive. I've never figured it out. I also have an iPod full of photos that I've taken, especially some from the project I'm working on. This is an important tool I use to help explain my intentions to people.
8: where do you want to go from here ? aspirations ?
My photographs have to mean more than just useless pieces of art. It would be a waste if everything I did is just a pretty photograph and nothing beyond that. I've got a personal obligation to do something more with it. I cant tell you what I am going to do as I am still developing my ideas and plans. So I guess you'll have to follow me for a few years to see where all this ends up. Or doesn't!
9: Film Versus digital?
Apples and oranges. I love digital for certain work I do. For now at least, my personal work just seems to translate better on film. Thats it!
10: Flickr has become a more than just a show case of peoples work. Do you think it is almost an essential tool for developing photographers?
Like everything else, Flickr is a tool. It can be a very very powerful tool if you know what to do with it. Not just from the marketing and self-promotion point of view. I use it as a tool to analyse my own work, edit, sort and it is a great time-line review of my photographs. It has helped me make critical judgement and in that way helped my vision grow. Its also a great place for discussions, sharing and learning. But of course, you have to make wise choices about what and how you operate on Flickr. It can easily become a self defeating monster that can suck everything out of you.