When Alwyn Chong isn’t busy juggling different roles across his various business ventures (including owner and managing director of Escentials; managing director of Luxasia; co-founder of & Co.; and co-founder and director of Foreign Policy Design Group), the photography enthusiast goes on expeditions to Africa — and in particular, Botswana.
“People always ask me, why do you keep going back to Botswana? Why not see Kenya or Tanzania instead?” the 38-year-old shares with Prestige at the opening of his show, which documents his latest expedition to the Okavango Delta in Botswana. “But you know, I just feel there is still so much to see in Botswana and so much to understand about the place.”
When did you first pick up photography?
As with all my current hobbies, I was actually forced into it. I was forced to play golf; forced to scuba dive… As for photography, back in 2004 I was staying with a housemate in Singapore and he was taking photographs. He told me: “Hey, I think you have an eye for it. Trust me, just go and buy a camera.” So at that time, I bought a Nikon D78 kit. That’s how I started. But I’m not the kind of guy who goes for classes, and I don’t like to read, so I’ve never really properly learnt how to use the camera. I just go by feel. Till today, I still don’t know how a camera works.
You seem to have a penchant for taking black-and-white photos.
Colour distracts, so I feel without colour you are forced look at the subject; the textures — and you think a bit more about what is happening. In that sense, I really like black and white. I really appreciate the different tones and textures in the photograph, and I think it’s a bit more emotional and dramatic.
Odyssey — Picturing and Imagining the Okavango Delta is the first in a planned three-part series of photographs by you. What inspired this?
I went on my first safari in 2008 and during that trip I really fell in love with Africa. I realised that Africa is not just about wildlife. So the message I wanted to put across with this series is that there is beauty in many things, in Africa. Yes, there are animals, but there are so many other things to notice there. The landscapes, the people, the changes in environment… and each time you go back, it’s different.
I hear you are going back to Botswana again and shooting the second part of your series.
Yes, we are going to circumnavigate across the Makgadikgadi salt pans on ATV bikes this time. That’s the plan. Eventually I want to do a box set of three books on Botswana, all shot on a Leica. So we’re starting with this series and hopefully we don’t lose too much money. Then we will do the next two books.
Proceeds from the sale of these books will go towards giving sight to the children in Botswana. Can you tell us more about this?
I feel that Botswana has given me a lot as a person, over the last nine, 10 years. So I really wanted to give back to this place. And because photography is about sight, I thought it would be appropriate to base a charity project around this angle. My mother happens to be an eye surgeon, so I roped her into the plans as well. We will take the proceeds from the sale of these books to fund the initiative. We will offer children from all over around the Okavango Delta and its villages, eye check-ups. If these kids need glasses, we will prescribe it to them; if they need eye operations, we will carry it out.
Odyssey — Picturing and Imagining the Okavango Delta is on display at the Leica Galerie in Singapore daily from 10am to 8pm, until February 5, 2017
Leica Galerie Singapore
328 North Bridge Road
Raffles Hotel Arcade
Tel: 6336 9555