Starting with a Bang
Exhibition sponsors, partners, and industry professionals attended the event at the Fullerton Hotel Singapore. While some were admiring the portraits on display, others were spraying and smelling the various fragrances placed next to each portrait. I also saw people scanning the QR codes on the caption boards to listen to audio recordings for each portrait.
For example, a portrait of a woman who loves hiking will include a fresh, woody fragrance and the sounds of someone walking on a leafy forest trail.
I have done a few photography exhibitions in the past, but this is different. It is the first time I am doing a multi-sensorial photography exhibition! I am very excited to share more about it with the Singaporean masses.
Old is Gold
I’ve done two previous exhibitions at the Fullerton Hotel before: Haenyeo and Longevity Okinawa. In both of these exhibitions, I showcased portraits of elderly people. For Aging Singapore, my main focus is, once again, on senior citizens. Many people think that I specialise in taking pictures of elderly people, but this is all just an unplanned coincidence!
My exhibition, Haenyeo, focused on raising awareness about the women divers of Jeju Island, South Korea. Many of them are in their senior years, some still diving even in their 80s. I flew to Jeju to photograph them on their morning dives and was awe-struck by their grit and determination.
It is very dangerous and physically demanding to dive into the deep sea. Watching these elderly women jump in without hesitation was very inspiring to me. It really gave me a fresh perspective on aging. Growing old does not necessarily have to be dull or boring!
Moved by the Haenyeo’s resilience, I flew back to Singapore to hold an exhibition to share their story.
Shortly after, I travelled to Okinawa, a Japanese island, to photograph the centenarians living there. Okinawa is famous for its long-lived elderly residents, ranging from 80 to over 100 years old. I interviewed them to learn their secrets to longevity, and many of them had similar answers: maintaining a healthy lifestyle, finding a hobby to pass time meaningfully, and regularly socialising with friends and family.
I found the advice relevant to many, since aging is a process that everyone will experience eventually. Since we cannot turn back time when we are old, young people should learn about the centenarians’ secrets early on to have an early head start.
I thus returned to Singapore and held my second exhibition at the Fullerton Hotel, titled Longevity Okinawa.
These two exhibitions have added to my photography experience and taught me many things about the concept of growing old. Perhaps it was these impactful memories that subconsciously inspired me to use aging as an exhibition concept once again.
Not long after, Aging Singapore was born.
Why Aging Singapore?
After living in Singapore for 7 years, I consider it my home. I wanted my next exhibition to be about a topic that was current and relevant to Singapore, and our aging population came to mind.
An aging population is something that many countries deal with. Many young people find this worrying as it might increase financial stress on their countries.
In Singapore, this is hardly the case. Many elderly locals are still working, and wish to continue for many more years. They also have hobbies and interests that they actively participate in, and maintain a healthy life even after retirement. I find their vigour and passion truly admirable.
Through photographing seniors in Singapore, I wanted to use my exhibition as a platform to help share their stories of hard work and determination. I hoped that it w0uld inspire youths to follow in their elders’ footsteps. By promoting these stories to the Singaporean masses, I also wished to debunk negative stereotypes that people have about Singaporean elders.
On a personal note, I wanted to do something different from my previous exhibitions. I realised from my past travels that the most memorable experiences I had involved a stimulation of multiple senses. It was only when I was in the moment, seeing, hearing, and smelling everything around me, that a memory became unforgettable. I wanted to incorporate that into my next exhibition.
Though I understand that a picture speaks a thousand words, I strongly feel that including different senses in the viewing experience could enhance it even further. I thus got the idea to incorporate fragrances and audio into Aging Singapore. This way, visitors would get a viewing experience like no other.
I also hoped to financially contribute to a suitable charity through the exhibition. Through the sale of prints, posters, and postcard sets, I decided to look for a charity that helps the elderly in Singapore, and donate a portion of the proceeds to them.
My team and I are also currently working on producing a documentary film about Singapore’s aging population.
The documentary will include interview footage from all 12 photographed subjects talking about their lives and daily routines. Some of them recount old memories and compare them to their current quality of life. There will also be exclusive footage of me sharing my experience in interacting with these seniors. I also talk about my thoughts on the aging population and the stigma surrounding old age in general.
The aim of this documentary is the same as the exhibition—to destigmatise aging and foster more respect for Singapore’s silver generation. It will be released on YouTube some time next month, and I sincerely hope that it will be able to touch the hearts of more youths, perhaps even across Singapore’s borders.
In the Making
The first step of planning the documentary and exhibition was finding partners that could help to make it a success! I needed to look for a partner company to create the fragrances for the exhibition, and a senior charity to collaborate with.
As a longstanding client of mine, fragrance and flavour house Symrise was very willing to collaborate with me on this project. They were excited to create different fragrances for each of my subjects. We discussed and suggested ideas and notes for each fragrance. In the end, the many different fragrances were inspired by different aspects of each subject’s life. Some were based on the environments that the subjects loved to frequent, some based on their heritage, and others on their personalities.
Symrise really came through with their final products; each scent was sophisticated and insightful, which added depth to the portraits and heightened their impact on the viewer.
Another big collaborator that I managed to seek out was Lions Befrienders, a local social organisation that helps seniors live happy and healthy lives. They organise social events and light exercises to bring seniors together. This is a great way to get them to socialise and positively impact each others’ lives.
Through Lions Befrienders, I was able to get the contacts of many seniors with interesting lives and hobbies. In fact, they are among the twelve portraits displayed at the exhibition!
Lions Befrienders was also very gracious in allowing us to document the activities that they organised, such as Chair Zumba. I am very grateful for their help in preparing for the exhibition. Their hard work in helping seniors live out their twilight years fruitfully is an endeavour that I wholeheartedly support.
As a matter of fact, 20% of all profits made from exhibition sales (in the form of prints, posters, and postcard sets) will go to Lions Befrienders. I hope that with a little bit of financial help, my exhibition can directly benefit Singaporean seniors and better their quality of life.
Behind the Scenes
I had a lot of fun interacting with the seniors that I interviewed for the exhibition. It was very interesting to learn about the different elderly folk in Singapore, because each and everyone of them has such unique stories to share. From performing opera to going on religious travels, I was very lucky to learn about their fascinating lives. They were all very welcoming to me and my team when we visited them, and were always eager to talk to us.
Their stories were so diverse! My team and I had a lot of fun experimenting with the audio clips for them. Based on the many things that they shared, there were countless combinations that we could choose from while curating the audio files.
We decided to let each file tell its own story, hoping that they can help paint a more vibrant picture of a day in the life of these seniors. Visitors are welcome to interpret the audio clips as they wish.
The Fruits of Our Labour
It was certainly a long and eventful few months of planning, shooting, and editing for my team at COCO Creative Studio. On top of preparing for Aging Singapore, we also had to manage our usual commercial workload and deliver quality work on time to our clients.
From acquiring sponsors to going on location shoots, we worked tirelessly to bring the exhibition to life. When the exhibition was finally open to public on 14 November 2022, I was filled with a sense of pride and accomplishment.
It has not been easy putting this exhibition together, but after seeing everything come together on the day of the launch, I truly felt that every bit of effort was worth it.
In the first week of the exhibition, I also invited the seniors themselves to come down to the Fullerton Hotel Singapore to check out their own portraits. It was heartwarming to know that they were satisfied with the large prints. Many of them were also happy to meet the other subjects, even going as far as exchanging phone numbers to keep in touch. Watching them socialise at the exhibition venue was a dream come true—this was the first time the subjects of my photographs were able to come to my exhibition, and it was surreal!
I could tell that the seniors were proud to be a part of the exhibition, and the smiles on their faces made this all the more worth it for me. I only hope that I can help more seniors feel this sense of pride and satisfaction by seeing their own faces on a large canvas.
My Heartfelt Thanks
I would like to thank our exhibition partners, Symrise and Lions Befrienders for their continued support. Many thanks as well to our sponsors, Brilliant Prints, BenQ, and Vinomofo for their products and financial assistance. I am immensely grateful for the hard work from my team at COCO Creative Studio. And last but definitely not least, thank you to COCO PR Agency for promoting the exhibition through press releases and obtaining media interviews for us.
It takes a village, and I am humbled and thankful for everyone’s help in putting this exhibition together. It is only with everyone’s help that I could hold an exhibition of this scale again. I sincerely hope that the exhibition will be able to change minds. There is much to learn from these respectable elders!
The Next Step Forward
Apart from the upcoming documentary about Singapore’s aging population, I have other plans for the Aging Singapore exhibition. After photographing so many seniors, I realised that Singapore has an abundance of unique elderly people. I want to share as many of their stories as I can!
Many Singaporeans come across elderly people each day—in hawker centres, at void decks, and in neighbourhood parks. Most people are unaware of how unique each one of these elders are.
It is truly a waste to generalise them through negative stereotypes, when they are hardly true. Many seniors are still actively contributing to society and making their mark on the world.
This time round, I only managed to photograph 12 subjects. It was truly a pity that I could not feature more seniors at the exhibition. Therefore, I would really like to transform Aging Singapore into a long-term project. I would continuously exhibit photographs of different seniors around Singapore. Old pictures can be regularly replaced with new ones, featuring different elderly people each time.
This way, I would be able to share even more stories and garner more attention from the masses. A long-term exhibition is also more fitting for the growing nature of Singapore’s aging population. As more people grow older, I will have more stories and faces to share.
Through this long-term project, I hope that impressions of the aged will slowly change for the better. Soon, I wish to see more people becoming more optimistic about aging!
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