My Leica Journey

Jan 22, 2020  By Rosalynn Tay

images by Rosalynn Tay

I came to photography a little late in life, I am a self-taught photographer, was a keen ballroom dancer (danced competitively in international competitions) and a former journalist. After suffering a knee injury, I turned my energies and passion to travel photography, which marries my love for travel and creativity. I love capturing different cultures (especially those fast disappearing tribes and nomadic people) and foreign landscapes, and to learn more about the beauty of other cultures while sharing them with others who might not have the opportunity to witness them in person. I also strongly believe that photography is a powerful way to document, present, and preserve the historical and cultural heritage of this fragile planet.

Five years ago, I purchased my very first camera, a Leica M240 with a Summilux 35mm lens. Since then, I have traveled the world non-stop with my camera. Two months after I bought my camera in April 2014, I visited Ethiopia for the first time on a near-month-long trip, during which I took over 13,000 photos. In May 2016 I was invited by Leica to exhibit my works it was the first time Leica has held a solo exhibition for a female photo enthusiast. I also released my first photographic book entitled “Ethiopia” together with alongside my solo photographic debut of the series with Leica of the same name at the Leica Galerie in Singapore.

Courage, humility, curiosity and empathy are some things I draw upon for my ventures into travel photography. I enjoy examining the curiosities of the world through the beauty of photography and this sometimes takes me to highly remote places with few creature comforts.

While each place is unique, my trip to Ethiopia left the deepest impression on me. It was also the most challenging photography trip. The one moment that I will never forget was when my 4×4 vehicle was stuck in the mud for nine hours in the middle of nowhere. I traveled through North and South Ethiopia for almost a month, capturing the customs of the Surma people, including their culture of tattooing and scaring their women’s bodies as a means of adornment. A sad fact I found was that the tribe, which welcomed its first foreigner just 30 years ago, “is fast succumbing to modernity and commercialism”. A clear sign of this is how almost every Surma man owns a Kalashnikov rifle, not a spear.

There are many other photographic journeys that left their mark on me which includes including the Larung Gar Buddhist Academy in Sichuan, the great natural expanses of Kamchatka, Siberia and the last surviving nomads of the world, the Reindeer Herders of Siberia. The Kumbh Mela, a spiritual festival in India is equally fascinating and captivating.

The Central government of China has demolished a big section of the buildings at Larung Gar, one of the largest centers of Buddhist learning in the world. I am glad I took some images before the demolition. These beautiful images of red box houses, where the monks and nuns resided, are a gem to me now.

To further hone my skill, I attended a one-year professional photography course at the Spéos Photographic Institute in Paris 2016, where I was a student of Dominique Issermann, a top French fashion photographer.

I feel so fortunate to be able to travel the world and to capture its beauty. So far, I have been to all six continents including the Arctic and the Antarctic and witnessed and captured the diminishing tribes and cultures of the world. At the same time, I tried to be in one with nature, in the wilderness, and to appreciate the best of nature.

My three-month-long exhibition in Leica Galerie Singapore just ended in mid-August, it was a collaboration with The New York Times Style Magazine: Singapore. My photo series was titled “Dream a Little Dream” inspired by soft, lyrical vignettes. It is a series that echoes the poetic hues created with the Leica M camera and the vintage Noctilux f1.0 lens.

I have the habit of always wearing my Leica around my neck and often see more interesting things with it around. When I walk, I just photograph anything that piques my interest, when I start clicking, my creative engine will start to warm up. And when I’m in the “flow” of shooting in the streets, I totally forget about everything else. Photography is both meditative and an adventure to me, the same as life itself, and every image that I take has an individual feeling in it which is worth expressing. I intuitively shoot scenes of everyday life with no preconceptions. To me, photography is the art of freezing instants that can never be exactly repeated. Nothing else (even painting) quite matches the veracity and longevity of an honest photograph. Photography is a lasting medium of expression, capturing a fleeting moment anchored in a well-composed frame.

Many of my friends commented that my photos reflect the nature of my personality, so there is lots of truth in “every photograph we take is a self-portrait,” reflecting them, because each contains information about the person who made it. Its visual contents metaphorically represent what was important enough to the photographer’s eye at the moment that they chose to freeze it permanently. I am drawn to humanity (its tenderness and wit) moody lighting, happy emotions, flowers, animals that are docile and elegant (horses in particular), beautiful landscapes, and some of the surreal effects of people walking in the rain, snow, and fog. Also, I love reflections on windows and water.

Most of all, I love emotions, colours, rhythms, patterns, and a sense of form. I am basically living my life through photography, or you might say the other way round. To sum it all up, I am the visual storyteller of optimism.

I have much to be thankful for and have been very fortunate to find my passion in photography and to own the most exquisite instrument: that is the Leica camera, known for its optics, and an array of its legendary lenses.

The Leica rangefinder is able to act and react fast, quicker to focus, less noisy and smaller than other cameras. Hence it has the non-intrusive, feminine touch, and it feels more intimate which I love as compared to other a bulky DSLR.

Lastly, the childlike wonder of roaming around an unknown place entirely on my own is invigorating. I can easily integrate into the banal, nondescript scene of daily life, which I am all about on the road. I love the moments with people along the way. I also love the element of surprise and spontaneity when wandering, and then stumbling on something unique and different, something that attracts me in a very sub-conscious but personal way. It’s always a voyage of discovery. My photography is about myself and expresses what I live.

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