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Documenting Life through Photojournalism

Starting out as a freelancer for The Straits Times in 2007, photojournalist, Joseph Nair, has captured some of Asia’s most exciting events, from the 2014 Asian games in Incheon, South Korea, to Singapore’s General Elections in 2011. Inspired by his father’s old Nikon SLR, Joseph fell in love with the craft despite a few missteps. “I remember him (my art teacher) dangling my first 20 rolls of film over the dustbin and telling me that was where they belonged,” he recalls.

These days, the bulk of his assignments focus on the sporting calendar where he regularly covers everything from golf to swimming and the F1 night race as a stringer for the Associated Press and the Business Times.


Shot with the Nikon D4S, AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G at ISO 2500, 1/500, f4
© Joseph Nair

I enjoy capturing fast movement. Photographing dance is a great way to train reflexes and build anticipation as I try to reinterpret the artist’s work in my frame. In this picture (From left to right)  Yarra Ileto, Wang Wei Wei, Sheriden Newman and Jessica Christina dance their work "Noted With Thanks", at a rehearsal for DiverCity, the opening show of the contemporary dance festival, M1 CONTACT 2014 on 26 Nov 2014, in Singapore.

Crafting a good story

“Ideally the image should have strong moments, a balance between visual information and emotion,” Joseph explains. While news photography usually demands drama or iconic backgrounds, he feels that this rarely reflects real life and sometimes seeks balance in quiet and unexpected moments.  Building a good story transports the reader into the news action, and evokes emotions as though the reader is experiencing the events first-hand.

In the age of digital journalism, pictures work in tandem with text graphics and video to create an immersive experience for the reader. Captions play a vital role in educating readers about the issues in the image, while providing some context. The way the photos are displayed can influence the way a story is told as well. Whether scrolling from left to right, up and down, or flipping through an interactive gallery, the layout ultimate shapes the flow of the narrative that builds in the reader’s mind. A great photo is nothing if the story ineffectively told, he states.


Shot with the Nikon D3, AF-S NIKKOR 17-35 f/2.8D IF-ED at 17mm, ISO 1600, 1/60, f3.5
© Joseph Nair

Being a photojournalist takes me to places I would never normally go. On an assignment on the cost of death in in Singapore for Esquire Singapore, we stumbled upon workers adding gold accents to a paper Mercedes-Benz at Chin Wah Heng Funeral Parlour at Sin Ming Drive on 6 Nov 2012, in Singapore. Elaborate paper effigies are burnt as part of the last rites at Buddhist and Taoist funerals for the deceased to take with them to the after-life.

A life of highs and lows

To Joseph, the best part of his job is its social nature. “I enjoy meeting people, the best part of my job is the myriad of conversations I get to have and the human connections, however brief,” he says. It is through these human emotions which he experiences and channels into his photos, which he hopes will trigger a connection with the viewer.

The industry however, is in a state of flux he adds. With falling news readership around the world, news budgets are shrinking, media companies have also made it the norm to take full copyright of photographers’ assigned work. This can often impact the income of photojournalist, forcing them to take on additional assignments in order to support their income.

Shot with the Nikon D3S, Reflex NIKKOR 500mm f/8, at ISO 1000, 1/4, f8
© Joseph Nair

I try to do less journalism in my free time. When Singapore’s population rose past 5 million, I embarked on a long-term personal project to tell a story of the “squeeze” in the 716.1 kilometre square city state. Using longer exposures, I was inspired by the chaos of Arshile Gorky’s impressionist canvases. In this picture a young man makes his way through the surging crowds at a pedestrian crossing along Orchard Road on 1 Jun 2013 in Singapore.

Photojournalism: A vocation not a profession

For the aspiring photojournalists out there, curiosity and plenty of reading, along with skills such as video and web design come in handy. “Don’t be afraid of failure and work hard. The pleasure is in the labour,” he says. Photojournalism is a calling, not a regular job or profession, and according to Joseph, “if you have been summoned, you better comply.”