Through the Looking Glass

Amanda Tan uses her camera as a tool for exploration, a medium for story-telling and an instrument for change.

Written by Fateen Ariff

Amanda Tan is the first participant to arrive for MS. READ's Cerita Kami shoot - and possibly the most nervous. A professional photographer since she was only nineteen years old, she's used to being behind the camera as opposed to the subject of focus. Combined with her body image issues, she's uncertain if she's the right fit for this project.

"You know how it is, growing up in this culture," she says as she's changing into her first outfit. "Because of how I look, I was always made to feel like I'm not good enough."

Her fears are understandable and we do our best to reassure her. Still, she remains anxious all the way to set. But when she steps in front of the camera and the light begins to flash, something almost magical happens. Her personality and her gorgeous smiles shine through, and Amanda begins to lose herself to moment.

It's safe to say that as much as Amanda takes comfort in the camera, it loves her back just as equally.

I've always loved telling stories.

Finding Her Passion

When she was in college, in order to support her interest for story-telling, Amanda pursued a journalism degree. To her dismay, she didn't have the love for it.

"So I decided to take a photography class," she shares, "and something inside me clicked. I suddenly found a burning fire for it in my heart that's never gone out."

And it seems as if that fire isn't going to be put out any time soon. Most of the time, Amanda labours on her own projects under the media label she founded, Cxpturing Souls Studios. She has also worked with several well-known brands such as Sony Music Entertainment, OCBC Bank and Kate Spade New York. Furthermore, she combines passion with altruism, as is shown through her collaborations with NGOs and animal shelters like Doctors On Ground, Women For Refugees, Rohingya Women Development Network (RWDN), My Pets Haven and My Forever Doggo.

One of Amanda's most stunning works, as she captures the life and love of a couple during their 57th anniversary.

The Purpose of Art and Breaking the Bias

As a photographer, Amanda's chosen career is not without its great challenges. Dwindling demands can be attributed to an increase in more efficient, more accessible technology - basically, anyone with a good smart phone and great lighting can take pictures these days. All it takes is a little bit of ingenuity.

But what differentiates the professional photographer from the everyday picture-taker is their story-telling ability. For Amanda, her passion projects include topics that are not normally spoken about - although they should be. Throughout her portfolio, you'd see subjects regarding depression, PTSDs, body dysmorphia and other mental health issues that have affected so many people.

Or in her words, "My purpose as a photographer is not only to produce art that I love, but produce work that makes an impact."

And how does she know they can create an impact? Because she's gone through these issues herself. "A lot of my projects are influenced by my personal experiences. For example, I'm More is influenced by my experience of being judged for having depression and being plus-sized. The Missing Piece is about missing something in your life that affects you from feeling whole."

"It can be really daunting when your confidence level is not at its best and the intrusive thoughts come in to tell you that you're not beautiful enough to be captured."

Leap of Faith

Lately, Amanda has been trying to challenge herself to step out of her comfort zone. She spent years battling depression and low self-esteem. Through her art, she's found solace and confidence but even with that, there are days that present difficulties, especially when she's regularly surrounded by so many beautiful models and talented creatives.

But she's given herself permission to be great and feel good. Slowly yet surely, she's allowing her authenticity and true-self to step into the limelight - behind and in front of the camera. "Today, I feel comfortable in my own skin, something I've not felt in a very long time. I feel allowed to be me."

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