17 Oct 2014: One of the most well-known and sought-after performance photographers in Singapore today, Tan Ngiap Heng has long held a fascination with the human body. His next exhibition, aptly named Body of Work, comprises three series shot over three years. He hopes his photos ‘go further than just creating a beautiful image, like I have done previously with my dance photography work’. Among the three series, ‘Portraits in History’ especially caught our eye. The images here consist of portraits with a twist: Tan asked his subjects to bring their old, personal photographs, which were then projected onto their bodies.
‘I experimented with a combination of poses and photographs on the bodies until I was satisfied with the images,’ he explains. ‘I was exploring portraits not only by what the subject looks like, but also the events in the subject’s past.’
One of the resulting images is of actor Michael Tan, pictured above. ‘The picture projected onto him is from his youth and it shows his sister, whom he was very close to and who has passed away,’ he tells us. ‘I met Michael while I was documenting [Nine Years Theatre’s 2013 play] Twelve Angry Men. For most of my ‘Portraits as History’ series, I had shot relatively young people – dancers and actors whom I knew would be open enough to pose naked for me in portraits – but it was wonderful when he accepted my invitation to be in the series. He and his photographs are older than those of my other subjects, but his presence lends a gravitas to his portraits.’
‘Starlight Sonata’ and ‘Dancing with Light’ are the remaining two series. For the former, which he created in a workshop in Tuscany in 2010, Tan mounted the camera on a tripod, hit the timer and took ‘a long exposure of me prancing around in my birthday suit’, he recalls. Long exposures were again employed in ‘Dancing with Light’, but Tan didn’t feature in these shots. Rather, the photographer captured the whirl of dancers with LED lights in their hands.