For many Singaporean photographers and film-makers, Objectifs is more than a visual arts centre. We explore what makes it special, as it prepares for new beginnings in a new home.
TEXT BY PAMELA HO
Published on 26 May 2015
TEXT BY PAMELA HO
It’s not just a centre to me,” declares award-winning Singaporean film-maker, Royston Tan. “In our earlier years, we didn’t have an office, so Objectifs would lend us their premises for casting and auditions, and these are part of the wonderful memories I have of it.”
Tan’s works have since been screened at international film festivals and bagged numerous awards. And Objectifs, a visual arts centre dedicated to photography and film in Singapore, has been a part of his journey from the start.
Their independent film label, Objectifs Films, which focuses on Singapore content and represents award-winning short films and selected independent feature films, compiled Tan’s short films into DVD box sets — Old Places, Old Romances and the upcoming Old Friends — for distribution. “They also organise many meet-the-fans sessions, which gives us exposure,” he adds. “Film-makers aren’t very good at that kind of thing!”
“I remember Royston stopping by to help us pack film catalogues, past midnight, without us asking!” recounts Emmeline Yong, Objectifs’ co-founder and centre director, adding that many artists would drop by to help them with administrative work or assembling Ikea tables. “Back then, we had a staff size of two, no budget and didn’t draw any salaries ourselves for the first couple of years.”
Objectifs Centre for Photography and Film was founded in 2003 by three women, Yuni Hadi, Dawn Teo and Emmeline Yong (pictured from left), somewhat of a rarity in the male-dominated fields of photography and film in Singapore.
One of Objectif’s key initiatives is Shooting Home, an annual photography mentorship programme. Teo recalls her first workshop in 2003. “It was the first time I encountered so many people who decided to leave their jobs to pursue photography as a profession. We’re so glad to be a small springboard for them to take their giant leaps of faith.”
Jean Loo, who was from Shooting Home’s 2008 cohort, says, “That workshop was the start of all things for me: pursuing a career as a freelance photojournalist, then gradually honing my voice to focus on social documentary and advocacy work. With Objectifs, you never feel alone, and it’s easy to feel alone when you’re out there pursuing your passion.”
“I remember during one of our nightly critiques, all the participants put down their guard for a frank sharing session and really rallied to support each other,” reveals photographer Bryan van der Beek, who instructs at Objectifs. “I think everyone left that night with a better understanding of how photography needs to touch people, to tell stories, and is far more than any sunset shot.”
Loo concurs. “Their classes are never just about shutter speed or aperture. What draws me back again and again are the values they represent. These values of dedication, hard work, and the emphasis on a photographer’s purpose have helped build the photography community here to where it is today.”
“One of the key things I talk about very often is the community: building one, keeping one. At different phases of an artist’s career, the artist needs to have other artists, arts managers or curators to bounce off ideas, to give them opportunities, to meet new people, to embark on new directions,” explains Hadi, Objectifs co-founder and artistic director, who also wears the hat of executive director of the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF).
Award-winning Singaporean film-maker, Tan Pin Pin, acknowledges that support. “Yuni, Emmeline and the team have been like family to many of us. They not only helped distribute my films, they’ve also been instrumental in organising the Fly by Night Video Challenge over the past 10 years,” says Tan of the initiative she co-created with Hadi. “To me, Objectifs is an oasis for film-makers and photographers to rest and to recharge.”
“It’s a place where you can find ‘your people’, the kind of friendship that goes beyond when you are successful. It’s a support system,” Hadi affirms.
From Liang Seah Street to their current 3,600-sq-ft shophouse at Arab Street, Objectifs will move into 8,000 sq ft of floor space, spread over two buildings, come 11 June. Yong recalls with bemusement, “Back in 2005, Yuni and I took a walk to what was then Sculpture Square to recce for an event, and we had mused that it would be lovely to screen local films and present larger photography shows here!”
Serendipitously, 10 years later, this particular space, now renamed 155 Middle Road, will be their base. Through the years, Objectifs has presented over 165 exhibitions, 150 screenings, and brought its workshops, school programmes and outreach efforts to over 23,000 students. With this new space, what more can we expect?
“The layout, from larger Chapel Gallery to outdoor courtyard spaces, allow us to present different types of shows,” Yong shares. “And the proximity to arts institutions like the Singapore Art Museum and National Museum of Singapore, and to schools like the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and LASALLE College of the Arts, also presents many collaboration possibilities.”
“Objectifs started out modestly and grew organically. We’ve never been in a hurry to expand,” stresses Hadi. “Building a solid foundation and keeping the quality of our exhibitions, screenings and workshops have always been most important. I think the space came at the right time for us, when we’re ready for it.”
Catch opening exhibition Breakfast at 8 Jungle at 9 by photographer Ernest Goh at Objectifs Gallery, 10 June to 19 July. Admission is free. For details, visit www.objectifs.com.sg.