Kevin Siyuan unites his love for local architecture and cinematography in a hit YouTube video series.
Anyone can turn on a filter and snap an ‘aesthetic’ photo nowadays, but it takes an artist with a keen eye to create something truly extraordinary.
Just ask Singaporean architectural photographer and filmmaker Kevin Siyuan, 32, who transforms beloved Singapore neighbourhoods like Tiong Bahru and Little India into stunning visual feasts in the iconic style of US filmmaker Wes Anderson, whose films are known for beautifully-framed symmetrical shots and pastel, dreamlike colours.
His ongoing video series, dubbed ‘A Wes Anderson-ish Singapore’, has racked up thousands of views on YouTube.
“I picked these places in Singapore to achieve a visual resemblance to Wes Anderson’s films but the bigger objective is to document and showcase how people interact with the physical environment in these iconic Singapore spaces in an aesthetic way,” he says.
Tiong Bahru’s “hipster yet authentic charm and the presence of animals (both live or in murals)” are reminiscent of Anderson’s Fantastic Mr Fox (2009), while Little India has a “cultural resemblance” to The Darjeeling Limited (2007). The outdoor scenes in Moonrise Kingdom (2012) also inspired the latest edition of the series, ‘Garden City Singapore’, featuring various parks and green spaces around the island.
Kevin decided to branch out into filmmaking after watching Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), which piqued his interest in cinematography and inspired him to explore videos as a medium of self-expression.
“Wes Anderson’s work has the magical power to leave an everlasting impression. His cinematography, colours, music and story altogether have a very distinct style that makes him an auteur in a league of his own,” says Kevin. “His films opened up my eyes to new possibilities in capturing buildings, interiors and spaces through videos.”
Kevin reveals that he initially planned to shoot the videos when the Covid-19 pandemic was over. But as the pandemic drew on with no end in sight, he decided to “just get on with it”.
He visited Tiong Bahru five times between December 2020 and January 2021 to record everything, taking the opportunity to indulge in some good food at the same time.
“Spotting one ‘Wes Anderson angle’ may not seem too hard, but putting everything together and still maintaining the ‘Wes Anderson’ feel is a huge challenge,” he says. “A high level of precision is required to execute the shot and find the right composition.”
At the same time, the COVID-19 situation brought a lot of uncertainties and made filming more challenging.
“Perhaps the only positive thing about filming now is that the streets and locations are generally less crowded. Maybe years down the road, I would find it a memorable experience to have documented the conditions of Singapore streets and neighbourhood during this unusual period,” he adds.
His key takeaway? “To be more appreciative of the places and people around you before they disappear in time. Some of the buildings I have captured are no longer around, despite my videos being less than a year old.”
After working as an urban planner for two years, Kevin decided to pick up commercial architectural photography, which he has been doing on a freelance basis for over five years . He shares that winning an architectural photography competition organised by his previous company in 2015 was the ‘lightbulb moment’ that gave him the confidence to pursue photography seriously.
“It was one of the first awards I won for photography and acted as a morale booster,” he says.
Naturally, he still faces moments of uncertainty and self-doubt once in a while. “I try not to worry too much by keeping myself busy and focusing on improving my photography skills. Confidence grows with experience and there are no shortcuts except continuous learning and practice,” Kevin shares.
“The wonderful thing about photography is that there are always new perspectives to explore, so I just keep creating and building up my portfolio over time.”
He’s also thankful to have supportive teammates who help share the load. “When I had my first major assignment to photograph a new hotel before it opened, I was really nervous. So I called my friend Leon who also loves photography to assist me. He is now one of my most trusted teammates who takes on assignments with me once in a while.”
Over time, Kevin hopes to eventually explore and document every neighbourhood in Singapore. For now, he is still juggling his full-time job and freelance projects, while working on the final episode of the ‘A Wes Anderson-ish Singapore’ series that will cover the heartlands. He hopes to pull all five episodes together into one short film.
“Through watching my videos, I hope to help people remember specific places of the built environment in Singapore during a specific time. I hope to evoke their memories of places they have been in the past.”
For young people seeking to pursue filmmaking, Kevin’s advice is: “Set a goal. Be patient, keep learning, practising, taking small steps and you will get there.”
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