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Person to Know: A Traveller Capturing Hazy, Dreamy Vignettes

By T: The New York Times Style Magazine Singapore

Rosalynn Tay at her ‘Dream a Little Dream’ exhibition at Leica Galerie, Raffles Hotel.
 
Tung Pham
Rosalynn Tay at her ‘Dream a Little Dream’ exhibition at Leica Galerie, Raffles Hotel.

“What does this look like to you?” asked Rosalynn Tay. She pointed up to a framed photograph of what looked like minuscule bubbles strung together into a net, precariously balanced from a tree twig. An impossibly tiny maple leaf dangling by its impossibly tiny branch on one of the net’s intersections. The image’s edges were faded, as if carefully smudged.

Tay and I were at the gallery space of Raffles Hotel’s Leica Store, where her photo series, titled ‘Dream a Little Dream’, was exhibited. At one corner on the wall, a blurb was printed, elucidating “the fleeting moments of nostalgia” Tay was inspired by and “the poetic hues” she captured with the Leica M system and lenses. It went on to introduce her as a “socialite and a passionate traveller”, who “explores the world to capture moments of beauty in a painterly grace.”

The tone of Tay’s question was light. Though a pair of reflective shades obscured her visage, I could sense her gimlet-eyed gaze, expectantly waiting for an answer.

“A spider web laced with water droplets?” I made an easy guess. It was rather unmistakable, really.

“Ah, yes,” Tay said, waving off an undercurrent of disappointment, perhaps at the fantastical imagination my answer lacked, and continued, “A friend of mine says it looks like a pearl necklace.” Shot during a trip to Nikko, a small Japanese city, last year, Tay said she took the shot during a particularly fog-engulfed morning. “It was the last maple tree hanging off the tree. The following day, the leaf was no longer there, probably swept by the wind. It felt nice that I captured it, immortalising that moment.”

Tung Pham“My teacher was Dominique [Issermann], but my portrait images are somehow more Paolo Roversi — more soft and always shot wide open, and there is a shallower depth of field,” said Tay.
“My teacher was Dominique [Issermann], but my portrait images are somehow more Paolo Roversi — more soft and always shot wide open, and there is a shallower depth of field,” said Tay.
Tung Pham“My teacher was Dominique [Issermann], but my portrait images are somehow more Paolo Roversi — more soft and always shot wide open, and there is a shallower depth of field,” said Tay.
“My teacher was Dominique [Issermann], but my portrait images are somehow more Paolo Roversi — more soft and always shot wide open, and there is a shallower depth of field,” said Tay.

Tay likes for her audience on their toes, not fully sure of what they are observing. Another image, taken from the shoreline of Nikko’s Lake Chuzenji, cropped the wooden boats by the dock — presenting only their silhouetted tapered ends, floating on the edge of the still body of water. A label underneath the bottom right corner of the frame likened the boats to “snails on a misty morning.”

“I prefer not to have stark clear images. I am quite humorous and I like to have humour in my photos,” she said, paralleling her work to her individuality. “There are layers to it; a sense of mystery and delicateness.”

It’s clear as day that Tay is not a run-of-the-mill socialite. An antithesis of the prim stereotype of the Singaporean upper crust, Tay, who in her early twenties left her job as a journalist to become a full-time mother (“I was a tiger mum. My daughter’s a dentist now.”), seemingly thrives on keeping the people around her second-guessing, not knowing where to box her into. The genial sanguine’s hair is cropped at earlobe-length with razor-sharp, angular edges. She dons prints and colours that jumble and clash.

“I can’t sit still, I have to constantly be doing something. Staying at home and rotting while playing mahjong is not my cup of tea,” she laughed.

Tung Pham“Normally, photographers would highlight more of the mountain when they shoot the Patagonia landscape, but I try to do it a bit differently. With my lens, I highlight the flowers,” said Tay. “I love flowers, and I am the type of person whose pictures have a very delicate beauty.”
“Normally, photographers would highlight more of the mountain when they shoot the Patagonia landscape, but I try to do it a bit differently. With my lens, I highlight the flowers,” said Tay. “I love flowers, and I am the type of person whose pictures have a very delicate beauty.”

This unswerving candour of being utterly true to herself extends to Tay’s way and method of seeing. It was just five years ago, that Tay decided to take up photography seriously. She bought her first camera, the Leica M with a 35mm lens, at the exact same store of which photo series was housed in, and at the age of 53, went to France to be trained by seminal French fashion photographer Dominique Issermann at Spéos Paris Photographic Institute.

“I shot with a virgin eye, I didn’t play by the rules,” said Tay. “But because of my journalistic background, all my photos tell a story.” In that sense, her constellation of ‘Dream a Little Dream’ imagery is a non-linear of preserving visual slices of her escapades, where viewers are invited to take a glimpse of her hazy-hued perspective.

“It is an accumulation of life experiences, what I have seen, the things that are all embedded in my head,” she continued. To Tay, immortalising her journey and rendering them through her romanticised, illusionist vision came naturally. Putting it simply, she said, “What I’m doing is chasing beauty. I’m shooting for myself.” 

Rosalynn Tay’s ‘Dream a Little Dream’ photo series was exhibited at the Leica Galerie, The Raffles Hotel.