They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but when it comes to fashion photographer Lenne Chai's works, I believe that may be an understatement.
Unafraid to explore topics that may invite differing opinions and clashing of perspectives, she captures the essence of her subjects with artistry and grace. Some of her recent works include dreaming up an 80s lesbian Chinese banquet wedding and creating a new religious cult - The School - for an interactive mixed media installation Salvation Made Simple™. Her pursuit of her own independent projects gives us a glimpse of her creativity beyond the commercial works for big brands such as Canon and Esquire.
Who is this woman behind these visual stories she gift to the world?
Raised in Singapore and currently based in New York, Lenne speaks earnestly about her recent works and what about fashion photography she prides herself in.
Your most recent work was inspired by the 377A Penal and previously you created a fictitious religion/cult - these are things that can be quite sensitive for your audiences - what was your thought process for it and doubts you faced in the process of producing them?
Both of the projects you've mentioned were inspired by extremely personal aspects of my life, and while it terrifies me that they're such sensitive topics, I try to approach these topics in a way that feels truthful (to my experience), respectful, and accurate, and hope for the best.
True stories are the hardest to distill, and requires me to reexamine my behaviour and upbringing in a very uncomfortable way.
I hate sharing such private things in public, but it's been rewarding to see how these sensitive and personal topics resonate with people.
Following on the previous question, your recent work seem to come from an almost journalistic space (culture appropriation, religion, patriotism, LGBTQA+), how do you marry that with something commercial and fantasy-driven like fashion?
While there's a lot of great art out there, a lot of high brow art sometimes don't reach an audience because of how abstract or contextual it is. As a result, my favourite artworks are the thought-provoking ones that a viewer can instantly "get". It's like a venn diagram - I like that intersection of simple and smart. How something looks doesn't correlate to the depth a piece may (or may not) have, and maybe it's a bonus that the genre my photography falls under - visually - is so digestible and familiar.
Hopefully it helps to make it easier for the audience to want to engage with the ideas I'm trying to communicate.
What do you value most as a fashion photographer?
If we're speaking strictly in terms of fashion, then how much value the image has in the context of fashion - is it interesting? Does it capture a style or a movement or a trend in a tasteful and timeless way? Does it sell the clothes or the fantasy? Is it beautiful?
But for myself, my goal is to create thought-provoking or witty images whilst hitting the marks listed above.
Having just moved to New York, how has NY been treating you? How have NY audiences been different from the other places you've been (e.g. Tokyo, LA, SG)?
New York has been kind to me so far! 3 months isn't enough for me to gauge what NY likes yet, but I think my recent work definitely resonates better with Asians, just because of very Singapore-centric topics I've been exploring lately. Someone told me that my work was cute in an Asian way, which made me cackle in a very uncute way.
How would you define your place in the local and global fashion-photography industry now? Where do you want to head (goal-wise) and how far away are you from that?
I am currently pond scum, and I hope it makes to a low hanging leaf or branch at some point. Whilst I'm grateful to be doing lots of commercial work, I'd like to shoot for more international titles and high fashion campaigns someday. Let's see if I'm lucky and persistent enough to get there!