Written by Agency.Asia
They call him a ‘rising star’ but Dominic Khoo is already among the very best in the world...
Where you might expect to find a weighty ego we instead discovered a talent with a cheeky grin and a whopping social conscience.
Ageny.Asia: Consider your extraordinary body of work coupled with your tireless effort with charities. Is it true the Singaporean Government has secretly been cloning their most talented intellectuals and artists? Where do you find the time?
Dominic Khoo: I think whatever I do is just hobbies brought too far! I believe it is very important to be true to yourself. I have been doing something I like doing and I am looking forward to doing it very single day. Regardless whether is it photography or philanthropy, I have this urgent, pressing need that I just have to fulfil.
Ageny.Asia: Your philanthropy is widely known. Tell us a little bit about why you shot Pure – a book presenting many of the region's top celebrities baring it, wearing nothing but their emotions of joy and/or sorrow. Was there any performance anxiety?
Dominic Khoo: There wasn’t really a performance per say, it was more of a counselling session. These people that I brought into the studio with me are used to taking hundreds and thousands of photographs by countless photographers. So to get them to be used to me and to bring out their genuine laughter and sorrow is extremely difficult. The shoot became more like a shrink-patient relationship whereby we sit in the studio with chairs on two ends and we talked about our lives. Half the time I ended up crying first.
Ageny.Asia: How do you top that? By the way, with its S$10,000+ price tag and only 30 in circulation, we didn’t have a copy of the book laying around the office to double check our facts, but we’re informed that there was no nude self-portrait. Explain yourself, Dominic!!
Dominic Khoo: Sure! You see, it is a book for charity, the idea is to raise as much money as possible, if people saw me nude in the book the value of the book will go down and it wouldn’t be good for charity would it? Then again, if I threatened a nude self-portrait I could have gotten money raised to stop it from happening! Good point.
But yes, there were 30 in circulation and we were all sold out by the event, in fact we were oversold! Some of the bidders bid for it and they re-donated the book! The copy No.1 went for 52 thousand dollars after 3 rebids. And that becomes the world most expensive coffee table book and in fact it became the world’s most expensive photography book as well and it was all done in the name of a perfectly efficient charity fundraiser.
Ageny.Asia: Singapore isn’t renowned for being particularly tolerant of nudity in magazines. In fact, it is not uncommon to pick up international editions such as Vogue and Elle and find censors attacked a catwalk model’s nipples with a blunt black marker pen. Is art-nude seen differently? Imagine being the person who has to overwrite models’ bits all day.
Dominic Khoo: Well, you see, when it comes to art ,it is very difficult to define what art is sometimes. What is right art what is wrong art so as to speak when it comes to censor’s eyes?
But with Pure, part of the reason why we have a very discreet run of just 30 copies is because we are not trying to use skin to sell on a mass scale, and we don’t want people to be coming on the project from a “publicity whore” perspective. It is purely (pun fully intended) for a 100% efficient and transparent charity fundraiser and we are trying to put it in an angle whereby celebrities are coming out, wearing nothing but real emotions, for the first time in their lives for charity - even though they are celebrities who live in such a conservative society.
When it comes to nudity in magazines and such, it really comes down to what the public can actually take. While artists might be more open minded in such things, many people in the public might still feel a little conservative when it comes to nudity per say. I guess that is what we call art.
Ageny.Asia: You are a self-taught yet the first person ever to be accredited by the Masters Photographer’s Association simultaneously across two categories – journalism and avant-garde portraits. We rather think you were showing off when you won both 1st and 2nd place in the MPA Press/PR Photographer of the Year as well. You’ve shot campaigns for Baume & Mercier, Hermes, Chanel, Chopard and others. Without revealing too much, many of our readers who are aspiring photographers would love to know the secret to getting work and getting known, besides raw talent.
Dominic Khoo: Many of these companies used pictures that I shot, but my personal rule against use of photoshop doesn’t put me in the front slot to shoot big international campaigns. Today, fashion photography is dominated by extensive photoshop expertise; I want to change this back to the way it was done in the past. Purist beliefs, I would call it.
I also think you have to be very outspoken about what you do and be true to yourself.
As a result, I have shot very few covers, but many celebrities and personalities trust that I can make them look good without DI work. One such example is Chopard; I shot a picture of Caroline Gruosi-Scheufele (the owner of Chopard) and they have been reproducing it in magazines such as Prestige. No DI, and the Chopard team and magazines loved it. I will be flying up to Paris to shoot a series of photographs for Hermes next month, and that’s commissioned by them. Hopefully when people see the photos they won’t think my photos are DI’ed as well!
I also think you have to be very outspoken about what you do and be true to yourself. I mean, for every job I might get I would miss out on other jobs because different companies have different ideas on how the direction would be as compared to mine. My advice to photographers is that if you are a photographer you want to shoot pictures that people recognizes, you have to be true to yourself, you need to let your photography to be an extension of yourself and you can’t be afraid of it.
If you like journalistic photography Bruce Gilden style, go do it. If you like fashion photography David Lachapelle style, go do it. Just be true to yourself! I am quite sure after some time, people who like your photography will come to you.
Ageny.Asia: You reputedly prefer natural light and tend to go lightly on Photoshop. If you could only take three lenses with you on a fashion shoot which ones would you pack and using these next photographs as illustration, please tell us why?
Dominic Khoo: I am a very stubborn photographer, I insist none of my photographs use photoshop at all. I insist that all my photographs tell stories and I don’t like to shoot pictures otherwise. However, to allay any fears, I give a full money back guarantee with my portrait and wedding shoots – if you don’t like the way you look, you don’t pay.
For lenses, the three I use most are the Nikons. The 28mm F1.4, 50MM F1.4 and 85MM F1.4. I have always liked prime lenses and these 3 lenses – well I wouldn’t know what I would be doing without them. These 3 lenses provides me with the quintessential needs for shooting all my photos; 28mm is wide enough for me to shoot a journalistic picture, 50mm shoots what I see normally and the 85mm is brilliant portrait lens and it gives me excellent details on the subject. They’re the American Express of lenses – you can’t leave home without them.
Ageny.Asia: Dominic, you’ve kindly agreed to be the Chairman of Judges for our inaugural fashion & art photography awards coming soon. Actually, this is the first you’ve heard of it. Don’t feel pressured here, but would you please judge the DesignWeek.Asia Awards?
Dominic Khoo: Sure! However I can help.
Ageny.Asia: You are a genuinely cool guy. Thanks very much for letting Agency.Asia inside. Finally, tell us about your fashion week!
Dominic Khoo: I am a big fan of old school kind of arts, I like bespoke shoes, shirts and suits. My idea of a fashion week would really be a quiet week in London walking into certain shops along Old Bond street and Jermyn street “to speak”
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