Charmaine Poh Singapore
Charmaine Poh is a Singaporean-Chinese documentary photographer and artist whose work concerns memory, gender, youth, and solitude. She has made work on class divide in Bangladesh, women in a transitioning Burma, and LGBTQ rights in Cambodia. Her latest personal projects focus on young adulthood in Singapore. Born in 1990, she graduated with a B.A. in International Relations from Tufts University in 2013, where she was also a student in the Program for Narrative and Documentary Practice. She balances her time between personal and commissioned work across Asia.
Charmaine Poh was chosen by photographer Christine Chung
Laatikkomo’s interview with Charmaine Poh September 8th, 2017.
L: Where are you from? What cities, and/or countries have you lived in – or what places have influenced you?
CP: I’m from Singapore, and am based here half the time. I did my undergraduate studies in Boston, and am doing my masters in Berlin. So I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Europe and the US, but the places that influence me most are in Asia. I’ve worked on stories in Singapore, Myanmar, Bangladesh, India… and I see myself continuing to make work around the region.
L: What is your earliest memory of photography?
CP: I remember my nanny taking pictures of me using an old film camera. I think I was about 7. Photography became real to me when I took a class in university, and started taking portraits of people. I was 20 or 21. The first story I ever worked on was on a Nepalese waitress who lived near my university. I remember the feeling of entering someone else’s life, and listening to their story. It was remarkable.
L: One of your series superimposes new images over older images from your childhood. You talk about letting go of one’s past. Poetically speaking, will the old photos fade away with time?
CP: I needed to do that project at that time. I had just returned to Singapore after a long time away, and I realized that there were many things that as a young adult, I hadn’t reconciled with. It helped me to cope. The past did occur, but I no longer feel so crippled by it.
L: Your series seem to be the product of very intimate photo sessions, once with a group of women and another with a group of people in an LGBT community, among others. Is there another specific group or community that you would like to work with in the future?
CP: There are so many. I don’t think my work in the LGBTQ community is done; I think it’s just beginning.
L: Your work is somewhat journalistic in that you write and tell stories through a series of images. For a story, do you personally hold a hierarchy between image and text, does one come before the other or are text and image equal?
CP: They’re each just different languages to communicate an idea, so it depends on the project.
L: Time and perspective have a way of distorting memory, having worked a lot with your own past, what do you think about the relationship between memory and truth as told through photography?
CP: Photography will always just be one truth. But as the image-maker, it’s the most important truth there is.
L: Could you list five or more words related to the work you are showing in Laatikkomo?
CP: Girl, Self, Scars, Remember, Seek.
Thank you so much Charmaine!