Say hai to...Nicole Ngai

Happy Sunday Hai Society. Just in time  for  a  leisurely Sunday morning read, is a chat we recently had with London based photographer Nicole Ngai. Nicole grew up in Singapore, a place she sometimes struggled to find support for her creative outlets, and  made the move to London  around 5 years ago to study Photography at the prestigious University of the Arts London. In that short time, Nicole has managed to carve out an exciting career in the  forever competitive  London fashion scene, through  a combination of her distinctive style,  her unique perspective on capturing the feminine body and also,  put simply, through a lot of hard-work.  Nicole has had a busier pandemic than many, publishing a zine titled Threads; creating work that was featured on the cover of Bricks Magazine; as well as a host of other exciting photographic projects. 

For this interview Nicole turned the camera on herself  and her Puff Gina bag, and gave  us a  peek  into her world as a young photographer in London...

Hi Nicole....or should we say Hai!

Can you describe what you do?

I’m a freelance fashion and portrait photographer. I’m interested in themes of sensuality, empathy and interpersonal relationships, capturing the intimate exchanges amongst myself and my friends. My work also looks at representation and the body through a post-colonial gaze. I’m lucky to meet so many interesting, talented and beautiful people and to be able to create images together!

Where do you consider home? When do you know you are home? 

London is my home where my dream job, cosy room, amazing friends and boyfriend are. 

Where do you want to travel to when it’s possible? 

I grew up in Singapore but due to the pandemic I’ve not been able to see my family in a year and a half. I really want to go back soon! 

What was your dream job as a child?

My mum asked me this question when I was in kindergarten and I said that I wanted to be like my cool uncle. He studied at UAL in the 90s, now works as an art director for a fashion magazine in Singapore and wears exclusively Yohji Yamamoto. It was nice to have a role model as a kid! Especially growing up in Asia where creative jobs are frowned upon :( 

How, or where do you go to find inspiration? 

My friends are all creative as well. We all have different practices, we complement and work well together. I find inspiration just from talking to my mates about life, art, anything, just generally bouncing off each other and chatting shit.

Do you have a film that you keep coming back to?

Wong Kar Wai’s Fallen Angels. It’s my favourite of all his films, he’s always been a big influence in my work.

Which books are you reading, or rereading, right now?

I’m rereading Haruki Murakami’s The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, which is the loooongest book ever. The protagonist does absolutely nothing for the first two thirds, he just chills in a well. In between, there’s some really gnarly war flashbacks that are one of Murakami’s best pieces of writing. And I’m almost at the good bit, which is the crazy dream sequence that takes up the last third of the book. 

What’s the biggest risk that you’ve taken?

Nothing much. I am a practical Capricorn, so at the moment everything’s going according to plan.

Do you collect anything? What’s your most treasured possession?

I suppose I collect images, the energy of memories, meetings, people coming together. I find that shooting on film and hand printing my work in the darkroom helps add a layer of physicality and a sense of grounding to these ephemeral moments in time. My most treasured possession is my medium format camera, the Mamiya RZ67.

Is there any particular outfit or item of clothing you’ve worn that holds a special place in your memory?

My grandma’s made me wear jade pendants for protection since I was a baby.

Where are you going to take your Hai next?

To the pub of course!

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