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An Interview with FYi Photography: Juggling Between Being A Full-Time PhD Student and A Photographer

As young modern creatives, we know it can be difficult to find a good balance between juggling what we do full-time, work or studying, spend time in pursuing our creative passion and have a social life. Unless, you have the best of both worlds; turning your passion into your job which not many are able to think that they can achieve but it could be possible.


In this article, we had the privilege to interview a fellow local creative, Emmanuelle Khoo, from FYi Photography, to share how she is able to do it all - a self-taught photographer and a full-funded PhD student in Cultural Studies at the University of Nottingham Ningbo China (UNNC), specializing in ongoing Sino-British architectural collaborations among state and cultural institutions.


Emma also has a strong passion in showcasing the narratives of strong women and models of colour, and supporting local brands in her work. To further showcase that, she is having a mini exhibition 'Coffee with Emma' happening this Saturday, 24th August 2019 at GMBB KL.



Here's what Emma has to say:


1. How did you discover you had a passion for photography? Do you think it has helped you in any way when you were an architectural student and now pursuing your PhD? And how?

My relationship with photography started off as a form of therapy during one of the most challenging periods in my life. During my first year in architecture school, I was diagnosed with tenosynovitis, which rendered my hands useless for a long while. Considering how my love for drawing, painting and playing the piano centered around the use of my hands, I had an identity crisis for months.


Things started looking up again once I discovered photography in London during my degree in architecture.


My early interests in fashion photography started when I saw Chen Man’s portrait series which highlighted the beauty of ethnic Chinese women in a traditional-meets-modern take on I-D Magazine. At the time, I thought fashion photography was far removed from architecture, thus it was the perfect ‘wind down’ hobby for me. This is now a real irony because my interests in photography began to merge with my own PhD research interests (the culture and creative industries). It took me years to come to this ultimate sense of fulfilment, where my interests are no longer separate but interwoven. The organisational and social skills I learned from photography also become incredibly useful in all aspects of life.



2. Here at Crunch, we’re always encouraging and supporting our community to not only work hard in what they do full-time; but also consistently pursue their passions. As someone who is juggling both, could you share with us any tips and tricks on how were you able to do it all; and do you have any time management tips to share?

Having various interests certainly makes life worth living, especially if you can make a difference among the community. I try my best to juggle photography and academia but I must remind myself that I cannot have everything at times. Ultimately, the biggest challenge would be getting priorities straight, before my time management skills is put to the test. Having daily, weekly and monthly plans really helps in deciding the order in which I must finish my tasks. Setting long term goals also keep me focused on achieving them.



During this initial PhD year, I work a 9 – 5 for my research alone and, only work on my photos and other projects (modelling and singing) during the evenings or the weekends. Admittedly, I didn’t have much of an opportunity to organize my usual photoshoots in China until I was invited to start a creative photographic series on student life on campus by the Graduate School of The University of Nottingham Ningbo China (the full photo-series will be exhibited on 23rd September 2019).


Although that meant a tighter schedule, I felt that I was motivated to work harder and smarter. Of course, a lot of focus and faith are needed to ensure you are not too distracted from fulfilling your goals.



3. Everyone has to start from somewhere and that's what refrains most people to begin. With your amazing portfolio of work with working with different photographers and models, how were you able to build these connections?

The answer is simple: the more photoshoots you do, the more connections you build. Good work will also be noticed by the right people.


It certainly was not easy for me to step out of the box in the beginning so I started small; I started taking photos of my friends before becoming the fashion society’s assistant photographer and later photographer. I was able to experiment and work with models, clothing designers and makeup artists in this society. However, my aesthetic style and concepts really developed once I collaborated with more like-minded creatives in London. Slowly, I was able to work with agency models, stylists and designers in mutual circles, who run on the same passion to create content. My connections were more organic in the UK but in Malaysia, Instagram is the better platform to build connections with followers and collaborators.



In life, it is also your job to take the initiative by reaching out the people. Building connections really works both ways. Nothing will happen if you waited for someone to make the first move. You need to be bold but not arrogant. You also need to be realistic, but play to your strengths.

The other thing which I did to build connections was to model myself! In fact, modelling also helped me connect to more photographers and collaborators in the UK, Malaysia and even China. Because of this, I get opportunities which I would not as a photographer e.g. getting sponsored makeup, accessories, etc. Basically, everything can be turned into an opportunity, with the right mindset and optimism.



4. What was the inspiration behind this exhibition?

‘Coffee with Emma’ is a mini solo exhibition which celebrates my seven-year photography journey alongside my academic pursuits.


I hope to show that it is possible to pursue and excel in both academia and creative projects.

There is so much that I am grateful for. I also wish to share my experiences to a younger generation of Malaysia creatives and show that one can still pursue their passions if there is the will, discipline and hunger. Furthermore, as a Malaysian female photographer, I want to create alternative narratives that positively portrays the modern Malaysian woman as beautiful (inside and out), empowered and multifaceted.


I will be showcasing my favourite works in the last two years but I am dropping in exclusive photos from an editorial I did at Crème de la Crème and the University of Nottingham Ningbo China’s photographic series for the Graduate School so watch out for those!


Also, most of my sponsors: Red’s Revenge, Chinie’s, Boldea Creative, GMBB, Kohiyatta and Mavrica Cakes are all run or supported by superwomen who have the passion for the arts. For me, being surrounded by other superwomen also naturally inspired this exhibition. I am so extremely grateful to have the support of my parents, close friends, sponsors, the creative community and my university for this event.



5. What advice would you give to those aspiring photographers trying to enter an already saturated market?

Carve your niche and find your own voice. Whether it is a unique aesthetic style or concept, you want to stand out by being unique and artful. Create content that you want to create, not what others are creating. You want people to identify your work even without looking at the credits. The number of likes and followers also do not determine your worth so try not to get caught in that mentality, even though social media doesn’t make it easy!


Turning limitations into opportunities is also part of the creative process. Learn how to be flexible and resourceful. Never be discouraged because nothing ever starts off easy. Learn from your mistakes and grow. Have faith in yourself and believe. And finally, never ever give up.

*Photos by Emma Khoo (FYi Photography).

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