It all began with a blog
I’d always been fascinated by the fashion industry from a young age — and it still intrigues me — and I was enrolled in a photography module while studying at Ngee Ann Polytechnic. Around the same time, I’d submitted my now-defunct blog, Aetienne, for a fashion blogging contest, and to my surprise, it clinched the first prize — a $2,000 shopping spree. I purchased a Nikon D90 camera with the money, and have owned only two cameras since: a second-hand Canon 5D Mark 2, which I used for nearly seven years; and a Canon 5D Mark 4. They cost me nearly $8,000, which I saved up for through full-time and freelance work.
I chose a different path
In 2013, I packed my bags and headed for Tokyo. I’d just worked with supermodel and actress Lily Cole on a resort shoot and naively thought it was my big break. But I realised on the shoot how inexperienced I was – a Singaporean youth who had never seen the world. My photos of Lily showed me I had a long way to go. So I toughed it out, living and working alone in Tokyo for three months. It was an incredible time: I snagged assignments with Elle Girl Japan and Bang & Olufsen.
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My life was so different
I got to explore the city. I developed a love for going to Yoyogi Park on Sundays for picnics with my friends, and exploring my neighbourhood in Tsutsujigoka. I had some of the best ramen there. Joyopolis is one of my favourite theme parks in the world because of how interactive it is — the rides make you feel like a character in an arcade game! Inspired by the movie Lost In Translation, I visited New York Bar at Park Hyatt Tokyo with my friends and it was a memorable experience.
Of my challenges, the biggest was…
Funding my career. During the first few years, my savings were so low I couldn’t even withdraw money from an ATM. But I’m lucky to have parents who chose to quietly support me instead of questioning my life choices. Photography is tech-intensive, so I had to save up for camera equipment. Having my own studio required me to invest in equipment and also to pay rental and utility fees. I wish I had learnt about investment and savings earlier. My financial goal is to set enough aside to provide for my parents.
Current base: La La Land
I’ve been in Los Angeles for a few months. It took me over a year to save for this trip. It helps that I don’t shop much. I use public transport and cook to save some cash. The payoff is that so far, I’ve shot for Vulkan Magazine, Local Wolves and FLOOD Magazine. I haven’t explored much of LA yet, but I love shooting around the beaches in Malibu, and the suburban vibe of South Pasadena. I enjoy nature, especially mountains, and LA has been great for that. The skies have a purple gradient at night that looks beautiful from the freeway, especially when it’s paired with city lights and cars glistening like beetles from afar. I’m lucky I get to do what I love for a living, and make my ideas a reality. I’m both excited and terrified to see how far I can go on this journey.