Setting up a brand or an E-commerce website nowadays can be pretty simple. Within any industry be it retail, F&B, entertainment or design business, one important factor sets them apart from their competitors. The visual aspect of how the brand or product is presented. Photography is such a key aspect of any business and in this field of work, owning a Leica doesn't necessary mean that every snap will turn out stunning. Aside from mastering the technical aspect of photography, the art of photography is evidently, an art.
This week, we speak to a passionate and talented photographer who has an incredible openness to see things from the other perspective. Marc Tan aka Coolbeancake, who founded Studio Periphery continues to shoot and has shot a wide range of genres. During our last campaign shoot with Marc, we took sometime to understand his inspirations, desires and what it takes to be a photographer.
Bryan Teo: We have known each other for quite a while now but I still don’t know the story behind Coolbeancake?
Marc Tan: I can’t exactly recall how it came about but it was probably in high school. The kids used to say “cool beans” a lot and it somehow became part of my email address, so it just kind of stuck with me throughout.
BT: How did you get into photography?
MT: I started shooting while I was in National service just over a decade ago. I took photos for fun. It was right before I completed my NS that my friend and I planned a trip to Vietnam, making it a good excuse to buy a decent camera to document the trip.
BT: Was it film?
MT: I shot some film back then on Lomo Cameras but this was my first DSLR. It was the Nikon D90. It had just launched that year so it was the first time I ever spent money on proper camera gear with both still and video capabilities.
Darren Loke: You grew up abroad didn’t you? How has that shaped your aesthetic eye?
MT: Yeah, so from birth to the end of primary school, I was in Singapore before moving to South Australia for High school. My Mom was offered a role in Vietnam, so the family moved there for a few years. My sister joined them but I stayed in Adelaide, South Australia to finish high school. After which I returned for 2 years to serve NS and headed to Melbourne for university. At that time, I was blogging a lot. It was mostly lifestyle and what I was buying which were a lot of shoes. This was on Wordpress and Tumblr as Instagram wasn't yet a big thing internationally. I would write and share music on Wordpress which was basically my first ever portfolio. You could still probably find some images on my tumblr somewhere on the web.South Yarra, Melbourne 2013
DL: Who were your inspirations back then?
MT: There were certainly a few but off the top of my mind were some individuals who ran amazingly curated blogs. Edwin Negado of Gym Standard in San Diego, Vincent Tsang who now does work with Dime and probably Ryan Willms of h(y)r collective and Inventory Magazine. These 3 were great motivators for me. I would be doing the same thing when I bought shoes, shoot it and write about it as a journal.
BT: Almost like documenting your shopping?
MT: Yeah but it was just objects. I was documenting everything else that was around me. There were a lot of things to blog about when I was in school for music and audio engineering. I would upload stuff on soundcloud and share it with people. I was going to a lot of punk and hardcore shows, so I would shoot these shows and create a series on wordpress which sadly, isn’t around anymore.
BT: Would you by any chance still have these images?
MT: Unfortunately not. I was just saying earlier that the hard disk I had died with all the images on it.
DL: Do you have a favourite country or city?
MT: The vibe in Tokyo, Melbourne and Paris is great. I like cities that are not over franchised, but with thriving independent cafes, small eateries, and boutique stores. I really enjoyed the culture and history of Paris. Heritage buildings everywhere, people dress well and beef tartare, which I ate at least once a day when I visited.
DL: Of all the genres of photography, you seem to gravitate more towards spatial photography. What about your preferred genre that draws you in?
MT: With spatial, there is a certain amount of control. Unlike architectural photography where you can’t exactly move a building. But I find that in spatial photography, especially with a well designed space, it allows you to curate what is in frame from start to finish, at the same time not having full control over everything - working within flexible limitations. It’s somehow nice to submit to a well designed interior space yet still able to negotiate objects within to a very precise level.
BT: Is there a right and wrong way to photography?
MT: I don’t think there is because essentially photography is very subjective. Personally I always prefer a one point perspective for spatial. Everything is usually straight so we use a lot of shift lenses. We shoot everything with a certain focal length as well so we are quite against distortion. Simply put, there are many ways to do it but at the end of the day, a good photo needs to look good. I think the rule for me has always been to find the balance between documenting a space accurately but yet in a very beautiful way.
Brewin Design Office - Keraton
DL: Has there been any projects you would consider to be your favourite be it visual outcome, process or client?
MT: One of the projects with Brewin Design Office, features an extra large, luxury apartment in Jakarta with a varied collection of artwork. Locally, apartments by young designers with a balanced mix of high and low end pieces of furniture.
DL: What is your essential camera gear?
MT: Day to day right now I carry 2 cameras with me… Canon 5d mark 4, Sony a7r2, Canon shift lenses 17/24/45. Sigma 50mm 85mm 1.4 for long shots. 90 macro lens for extreme close ups. 6 lenses and 2 camera bodies. Gitzo tripod paired with an Arca swiss C1 Cube gear head for precision.
BT: Designer or creator that inspires you? Why?
MT: There are just so many. Dieter rams, John Pawson, Alexander Calder, Donald Judd, Axel Vervoordt, Ilse Crawford, Julia Noni, David Bailey. Peter Lindbergh. The list goes on. I guess all creative disciplines do overlap and one cannot say that he studies photography just because he is a photographer. There is so much more to learn from other disciplines that one can apply back into what they are good at.
DL: You definitely are a collector. Can you share more on your collections?
MT: I don't consider myself a collector as I don't obsess over backlog items. Every item I’ve owned has to represent or mean something to me. It has to have some value but not necessarily monetary. I’ve picked up quite a number of cameras but only because they serve a different purpose. When something interests me, I tend to do a whole lot of research which usually leads me into a totally different direction like…. Aquascaping!
BT: Tell us about your fish tanks. Is it about creating nature? Or perhaps playing god?
MT: So about 2 years ago I stumbled onto this Japanese guy’s channel,it was videos of him trimming plants in a tank that housed one of those pea puffer fish. So one day while I was at the market, I saw the exact puffer fish and bought 3 of them on a whim only to find out after coming home that they are territorial and aggressive creatures. They are also meat eaters and would eat one another if they are not given ample space which meant that we needed to get a larger tank than we anticipated. Amy and I are also plant lovers and with aquascaping, you have plants that grow much faster in water and you can shape them. So now, it really wasn't about the fish anymore but more about designing with nature within the confines of a glass box. It's definitely one of the most therapeutic things ever.
Toyota A90 Supra
DL: Any recent purchases?
MT: Not anything interesting as of late. Oh yes how could I have forgotten. The Toyota A90 Supra!
DL: What's on your current playlist?
MT: Christian Loffler, Tears for fears and John Hopkins. Strangely enough, I have also been listening to really hard techno mostly DJs from Berlin as well as this guy known as Phase Fatale.
BT: If your house was on fire, what are the 5 things that you would save? Other than Amy of course.
MT: Tough one. Watch box just because it can be pawned. Electronic devices, passport, Real McCoy’s M45 jacket and my Brompton so at the very least I could cycle around.
BT: Future steps?
MT: We are definitely moving towards more video. I think overall it's about setting the standard which is very important to me. We are hoping to do more authentic and less client driven work - so more collaborative work, rather than clients hiring us as photographers / technicians and telling us how a photograph should be. I really hope there is more trust and alignment in creative vision. We have been discussing creating another platform to show our non client driven work. This would allow us to have collaborative work with individuals or businesses that align with us as well as setting a particular tone and standard.
Vitsoe 606 shelving system at "The Bean Factory"
DL: What would you share to younger photography enthusiasts that are seeking a career out of their passion?
MT: I think understanding the business is extremely important. Sounds pretty straight forward but it’s not. I don’t think there is any harm or embarrassment in being a little money minded because it is the one factor that is going to make or break everything. Being authentic and daring to push your point within reason. Whether you like it or not, you are going to have to speak to clients and work with people which requires an incredibly important set of skills. It will almost seem like the most important thing is everything else but the image and that much is true. One would need a confident vision and provide more than just a skill.