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The Space Explorer

In tribute to architecture photographer Jeremy San, who passed away recently. This story first appeared in issue 58 of Cubes Indesign.

The Space Explorer


BY

17 June, 2013


Jeremy san shoots images of architecture for a living, but he is not really interested in photography. It is but a means for him to explore spaces he otherwise would never get to see. As the 37-year-old puts it, “I’m not interested in photography per se. My interest is in spaces and the environment; and the camera at that point was the most accessible to me.”

Jeremy San

Sharp shooter: San uses photography as a tool to explore spaces. Photo by Luo Jingmei

It was 2001 and the interior design graduate had left architecture firm KNTA after a year, in search of a new environment. At an opening of Villa O, a home at Hartley Grove done by now-defunct HAM Architects, San met Ling Hao, the co-founder of this studio. The unemployed designer was so impressed with the home that he volunteered to photograph it for them.

Jeremy San

Recording history: A photograph of HDB flats in Geylang Serai for the publication “Our Modern Past”

The shoot got San working with HAM on various design and interior proposals. The studio’s other founder Tan Kok Meng also introduced him to the Singapore Heritage Society, who needed a photographer for their book project about local modernist architecture from the 1920s to the 1970s. For the young San who loved this era of architecture, working on the publication Our Modern Past was an opportunity to see such buildings up close.

This project was pivotal in starting his architecture photography career. He also met the book’s writers and researchers Ho Weng Hin, Tan Kar Lin and Dinesh Naidu, and soon got involved in the magazine Singapore Architect. Between 2005 and 2007, both Ho and Tan were its editors, and as they were based overseas, San helped put the magazine together in Singapore. When the architecture pictures were missing or bad, San would shoot them, building a portfolio that soon attracted photography jobs from local architecture firms.

Jeremy San

Travelling eye: San also gets overseas commissions such as this church in Qizhou, Hubei by Leeko Architects

For someone whose only prior experience in architecture photography was an elective he took in university, these early opportunities made San realise he could do this for a living. It also helped develop his approach, which he explains as personal encounters of a space. Photography is but a way of remembering and translating what he experiences with his five senses while exploring spaces.

“A lot of photographers create lifestyle images or capture ’the moment’, which I have no interest in,” he says. ” I’m more interested in the sensorial experience of a space. The architecture is the expression of the user, the architect, and the client. So how all these converge into an image – that is what I try to portray.”

Jeremy San

Partners in crime: Among the many projects that San has shot for Formwerkz Architects is the Maximum House Garden

This personal approach also extends to his preference for working alone. This is why he shuns all other photography genres where he has to interact with people. But it’s not that he is a loner. Rather, what really interests him is the opportunity to interact with an environment. “I don’t like the studio because you have too much control. In an [external] environment, you cannot control – you have to react to it,” he says.

The result of these interactions are dense and layered images that get viewers wondering. He says, “For some of my images, it’s about posing a question rather than giving an answer. What’s behind the door? What’s beyond the wall? I try to create a question rather than be very direct.”

But there is no question that San’s pictures have gained a following among Singaporean architects. In over a decade, he has shot regularly for firms including FARM, K2Ld Architects, Formwerkz, and DP Architects, photographing projects in Singapore and the region.

Most recently, San was a runner-up in this year’s ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu, a competition that honours Singapore’s photographers. San does not read too much into it. After all, the only thing keeping him going all these years is a simple desire: “To be in a nice space.”

Text by Justin Zhuang. Images courtesy of Jeremy San unless otherwise stated

stzernstudio.com


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