A graphic designer by trade, Marcel Heijnen started thinking about his photography in a new way after a shot of a Paris window reflection helped him be selected for Objectifs’ annual ‘Shooting Home’ workshop in 2009. Taking his habit of photographing walls as a point of departure, he began shooting through a portable pane of glass, which captured both the texture on the walls and the reflection of the surrounding buildings. The resulting series, ‘Residue’, focusing on the HDBs and industrial estates around Eunos, was first exhibited in a solo exhibition at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts for 2010’s Month of Photography Asia.
This month, Heijnen presents ‘Residue 2.0’, his largest collection of wall photos yet, with 30 large-scale (120 x 150 cm) prints of new locations – including shots from Singapore that have never been seen before. He tells us about his latest adventures…
‘For this exhibition, I’ve chosen shots from four cities – Singapore, Hong Kong, Fuzhou [in China] and Jakarta. My work is more about urbanisation, so I wanted to focus on the cities. I want to capture the soul of the city, which sounds big, but I want to get different types of buildings and different types of walls. In Jakarta, there’s a big disparity between wealthy and poor – and they’re often right next to each other. There are old buildings being torn down, and modern buildings being built right next to slums. Singapore is more even in that sense, while in Hong Kong, you get a kind of messiness and a very grey type of quality. So I think you do get a type of identity in the works.
‘I’ve used this photo technique in other locations as well, such as Vietnam and Laos, but those are a bit too picturesque, a little bit too familiar, with temples and trees, things like that. I generally try to depict more residential areas and I want to steer away from the more recognisable landmarks – you’ll never see MBS in any of my shots, for example.
‘The new Singapore images in the show were all taken in Tampines, an area I hadn’t covered before. I hadn’t shot in Singapore for two years, so it was nice to return after shooting in other locations. My earlier pieces [of Eunos] were taken when I had just discovered the method. Now I’m very aware – I sort of view the world through that prism and I always look out for interesting areas that might be good to shoot.
‘In Tampines, I noticed there were canal drains, which have a natural residue from the drainage, a growth on the walls. So to get these shots, I actually climbed down into the well, and suddenly I had this whole new wealth of material to work with. It gave an almost terracotta type of texture…which really is just filth. I did get a bit dirty taking the shots, especially at the end of the shoot when it was getting dark and it was a lot harder to get out of the ditches. I almost panicked for a little while – the ditches are almost two metres deep – but luckily I found a rope to pull myself out.
‘These are all from the same canal – it’s almost the same scene, with different textures. I walked down about a kilometre, looking for the colours I wanted. It’s more about quality over quantity when I shoot now, which is different from how I used to work – I used to take as many shots as I could, such as when I was in Hong Kong and I only had a certain amount of time. But here I can always return to the spot and choose my shots more carefully.
‘In all my shots, I look for walls that have a little bit of texture to them and I always look for certain colours that work well with the buildings. There’s always something I have in mind, but I rely a lot on what I find, which can be a surprise – everything that you see is there, so it’s very much true photography. There are evenings when I come home with nothing – for example, I tried shooting in Clementi, but it wasn’t very successful. I really liked the colours of the HDBs, but I couldn’t find any texture on any surrounding walls.
‘But it’s not always colour that I’m looking for – some are like black and white, like in the Hong Kong ones where there’s only a little bit of colour. The best shots have good colour composition and texture happening at the same time. I notice that many people react very strongly to colours at first, but then you get into the textures and look deeper into the image. ‘When the two [building and wall] melt and merge, that’s when I’ve achieved something – when you can’t tell where one stops and the other starts, that’s where you can say I’ve succeeded. The story in this series is about how these things coexist, and that’s my whole underlying point.’
‘Residue 2.0’ is at Galeri Utama until 29 Jun.