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A Street Photographer's Poignant, Beautiful Realisation

By Guan Tan

Anton Lim pictured with his camera and Diesel sweater in the alleyways of eastern Singapore.
Reuben Foong
Anton Lim pictured with his camera and Diesel sweater in the alleyways of eastern Singapore.

Anton Lim turned 24 this year. Few know him by name, but 55.2k know him by his Instagram handle, @mellowedhigh, where Lim exhibits his painterly, carefully coloured photographs of street and youth culture. Avid fans will instantly recognise his works, but still refer to him as 'mellowedhigh'. 

The photographer shot to fame when he wielded his camera for Hypebeast years ago. Now, he's weaned off those projects and is occupied with ongoing collaborations with global brands like Adidas

I sat in a meeting room, awaiting his arrival. We were running behind schedule, but this is a time-stressed man. He shoved the door open, dropped into a chair and was ready to begin. "Hi," he said in a thick American accent.

Lim was born in Singapore. In his earlier years, he lived in Canada and the States. "I was kind of like, bouncing up and down," he quips. Back then, he was still schooling and swimming in the aimless hubbub of life. "I was basically just going with the flow – and not very well at that too," he chuckles. "I didn't do very well in school. I went to National Service. I did my thing." 

It was when Lim enrolled into design school that he discovered photography, "on my own after school hours". His photographs quickly gained traction and Lim started receiving paid projects. The teenager then decisively left school. "Then I dropped out because I found what I wanted to do."

Reuben FoongAnton Lim, or @mellowedhigh, pictured in Diesel sweater and jeans.
Anton Lim, or @mellowedhigh, pictured in Diesel sweater and jeans.

He describes his photographic style in broad breaths. "I think what I like to portray is always, a positive thing – even if I might not be feeling very positive or I might be feeling down."

I wondered how was that relevant to Lim's streetwear images and rappers' portraits – a genre commonly understood as mere reportage on reigning youth culture, and not empowerment.

"Photography and videography now is a very, very strong tool because I think it influences people in the way they think." In every waking moment, people are flooded by a deluge of images – emojis and gifs from our WhatsApp and Telegram conversations, videos and images on our Facebook and Instagram feeds. When we tear our eyes off our mobile screens, advertisements surround us. And every image is like a cajole, a call to action. These images are stealthily dictating our lives. "Unknowingly, everything that we see pretty much affects what we like and what we do," he adds.

Lim himself is part of the photography pack cooking up this complex visual diet that we gorge on. He feels that it's a responsibility. Images will definitely be consumed, so they shouldn't leave the viewers in poor taste or health.

If you were to browse through Lim's recent body of work on Instagram, you'll realise that they are significantly brighter. "I mean, colours are a really key component to a picture. And they also show positivity," he explains. It sounds like a painter brushing his canvas with primary colours – only it's different. Lim is painting with "colours that are not real". He pumps in strobes of neon orange, blue, and pinks. "That's why I like colours. Because I saw meaning in it." 

Lim may be changing his viewers' lives, picture by picture. But how has photography changed his life? 

"Interestingly, my dad used to be into photography," Lim slowly recounts. He requests for a pause, a moment to think. When he was ready, he looked a little vulnerable, but urgently had something to say. 

"He would try to involve me in photography sometimes. I remember he got me a film camera when I was very young, and encouraged me to take pictures." Later when Lim started school, he forgot about photography – for the next decade. "It was very fun taking photos. I remember I had this very cutesy camera with a lion on it – I still have the camera I think," he lets a wide grin.

Earlier in our conversation, Lim said he discovered photography in design school. But now it seems otherwise. He didn't stumble on photography, he'd merely forgotten about it. 

It seems that photography was a hanging thread between this father-son duo. Photography might have been a hobby his father wanted to share with Lim – to guarantee they will always have a common interest to converse about.

"Did photography improve your relationship with your dad?", I asked. 

"I was never a great student," he considers. "and to most parents, that is a very worrisome thing... But I was able to go out to the real world, do my thing, and now I have a career... I think yes, photography and making a career out of it has brought me closer to my family because now they trust me more, and see me as a grown-up rather than just a student who is still figuring out life." 

Lim's sentences were punctuated with an aching sense of poignancy. He reveals that he's never told this slice of his life before. And this was the first in a long time that he's consolidating his childhood with his current life. Maybe he has always known, in the back of his mind, that photography was a tether to his father. Yet, while on the job he invests more time thinking about the audience instead of his own relationship with photography. "I don't think about my childhood too much. In fact, now that you're asking me, it's probably the first time I've thought about it in a very long time," he solemnly adds. "Which is great."