Fabian Ong is an architectural photographer from Singapore and partner for Global Architecture books. His works feature many renown buildings from around the world. He also went to Vietnam to photograph a21gallery (a21studio). Seeing that Fabian’s works display many same interests as ours. Handhome contacted the photographer to get the chance to know more about his career and thoughts through the interview below.
What inspired you to pursuit architecture photography?
Architecture photography comes naturally to me as a result of my architecture training and my photography hobby.
It is through the actual process of taking more and more photos of architecture (being in many different spaces, talking with architects and editors, and introspection) that makes me think that it is worth a lifelong pursuit.
To you, is photography an artistic expression or the means (should have “s”? I am not sure) to tell stories?
For me, photography is closer to artistic expression than the means to tell stories.
I find myself taking photographs of what I observe at a random moment, without any intention to say anything particular. When people look at photographs they add their own stories into the interpretation.
However, for commissioned work to shoot a particular building, i feel the responsibility to visually convey the design concept of the architect to the viewer as clearly as possible. Hence each photo will usually be composed to say something particular about the architecture.
What’s your definition of a place?
Somewhere where people have collective memories of.
On your photographs of Vann Molyvann’s buildings (that appeared on A + U Magazine), he’s one of the architects that we’re very interested in. What could you say about his architecture based on your experience?
I feel that his architecture stands very nobly in the city of Phnom Penh and among its people. There is a sense of national pride and optimism in his architecture.
I think Vann Molyvann has found a unique voice in that period of Cambodian history, in development of modern architecture, and in the regional conditions of Southeast Asia.
What do you think or feel when approaching Asian works of architecture, both modern and traditional in each project? What’s the difference between ours and Western architecture?
In terms of architecture as an enclosure and shelter, i think the main difference between architecture in the Southeast Asian region and that of western countries (eg. Europe and America) arises from the practical need to response to different climates.
Buildings in the west have to be protected from the cold yet allow maximum sunlight in. Hence there are monolithic blocks as well as glass boxes. Buildings in tropical climate of Southeast Asian region have to be well-ventilated and be shaded from the sun and rain. Hence the form is more open and there are overhangs.
There isn’t much difference in the approach, on my part, of photographing different buildings in different places. I will try to capture the geometric form, the relationship with the surroundings, the life within and around it, and the atmosphere. The difference, as an image, will somehow be evident in the photograph.
What’s your favorite kind of architecture?
I like architecture that is “free”. Architecture that welcome people, cats and dogs, light and wind to come and stay and pass through freely. I also find architecture that is free of any particular style or concept more interesting.
What was the impression when you went to Vietnam and took photographs of a21gallery? How do you think of this design of a21studio?
I stayed for a night and it rained in the middle of the night. I could feel rain all around me yet i was sheltered. I could also feel the night itself!
I see a21gallery beyond the typical architecture aspects of form, space, materials et cetera. It is a world in itself. The world and way of life of the architect, his team and family. It is the first time that I have such an experience.
If you come back to Vietnam, which aspect would you choose for your photography?
I am very interested to explore how public spaces and streets are used by the Vietnamese. One example might be how the mobile food stalls that is ubiquitous in Vietnam, occupy certain spaces and how they lay out their furnitures. I am sure there will be many such interesting things to be discovered.
What hobbies do you usually take up besides work? We see in your profile that you like reading books and enjoy good food, we wonder if culture is within your interest?
Yes i enjoy reading, both fiction and non-fiction books. I usually borrow them from the public library and return them after i have finished reading. I will forget the story after some time and didn’t practice what i have learnt from the books. They are just enjoyable experiences at that moment in time. I also like to look at art photography books on subjects beyond architecture.