interview#18: Marcus Mok

From teaching himself the art of photography, Marcus’ work has been acquired by the Singapore Art Museum, The Kinsey Institute in USA, and other valuable private collections around the world.  His work has been exhibited in Singapore, New Zealand, Sydney and Melbourne and has been published in international magazines and books in USA, Germany, Hong Kong, London, Japan, Singapore, Sydney and Melbourne

After obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Estate Management from the National University of Singapore and working for 5 years in real estate, Marcus was able to realise his dream of embarking full-time on his love of photography.  He has specialised since in photographing people, and after being a successful wedding photographer, moved to stock imagery.  His work appears in publications and advertisements around the world through international stock agencies.

Marcus endeavours to reveal the grace and beauty of the human form without resorting to saccharine images on the one hand, or overly explicit poses on the other.  He has striven to show that beauty can be revealed – and even enhanced – using creativity and subtle techniques. Check out his works on his website here.

RAP spoke to him for our collaboration in March 2012 (do check out on this!) and also on his latest solo show Liberate which runs from 4-19 June 2011 at John Erdos Art. More on this showcase here. And check out RAP’s simple snapshot of the show here, in case you missed it.  

Question (Q): I’m sure this is somewhere in the book, but tell us why ‘Liberate’. Does it have any association with being free, very much a response towards the gay community here?

Marcus Mok (Marcus): 2 reasons really. I was “Liberated” when I left my real estate job 15 years ago to pursue my passion for photography. I was “liberated” yet again when I was starting to photograph the male nude, had suspicions about dabbling in the genre but my mother showed me her wisdom by telling me that as a photographer that I should shoot anything and everything and not be bound by restrictions. And hence I devised a way to photograph my male nude in a way that could be displayed to the public eye in a conservative society.

I would like to highlight though that the Liberate theme deals not just with the issues of freedom from suppression because of sexuality but also on a wider level with regard to skin colour, religion, social class and any form of marginalization the world faces today.

Q: Your works seem to focus greatly on aesthetic, are there any narratives behind them? 

Marcus: Some of the models are very careful about what can be “exposed” because of their background or sexuality and hence I had to photograph them in such a way that their faces and/or genitalia are obscured. Some worry that the act of being photographed in the nude may be interpreted as a declaration of  homosexuality.

I also realized from my researches and travels that there was a dearth of Asian male representation in photography and hence I set out to challenge myself to fill that gap. Plus I wanted to show the world that the Asian man is not always the stereotypical weakling usually typecast by the Western world. I wanted to show in my images that the Asian male body can be empowered, strong and self-assured.

Q: In your opinion, what makes you different from any male-nude photographers out there?

Marcus: I have seen many books and also websites and blogs featuring the male nude. I can safely say that majority of these images play up the sexual aspect of the models.

Some are sleazy while others are just purely pornographic. And many are basically portfolio type images of the model, merely displaying beautiful faces and bodies. I suppose they do that for the commercial value. I have, however, decided to take the path less travelled as I want to stand out from amongst the sea of images. I believe I have crossed into the realm of art with my images. Connoisseurs have said that my images are “beautiful and masterfully captured”; “you make me want to go back to sculpture”, “sensitively photographed, sensuous and inspiring”;one even said “I wish I was a boy!” My artform was validated when my work got acquired by the Singapore Art Museum in 2009 and again into the art collection of The Kinsey Institute in USA this year where they are considered  important chronicles of Asian photography.

Q: Looking into male nude photography, do you find it difficult to approach the models, to be photographed naked? How did you first start.

Marcus: I started off photographing friends, and friends of friends. As my portfolio grew and improved, I had a website done up to showcase my work. I also started doing exhibitions of my work which were very well received as exhibitions of such a nature were very few and far between. During exhibitions, some models either approach me or vice versa. It helps that you have an exhibition and a website with good work. The fact that my nudes are tastefully done makes it easy for a model to accept a proposal to capture them in the buff. I believe my easy going nature and professionalism gives me leverage as well.

Q: What is your take on LGBT art in Singapore? Feel free to bring in references from other countries.

Marcus: Sad to say, I am not well acquainted with LGBT art in Singapore. The only local gay artist I have seen an exhibition of is Martin Loh’s some years back. His drawings paintings of the male nude are bold and I applaud him for that. Of course the renowned film maker Royston Tan does really good films. I always enjoy his films. The one that really stuck in my mind is his movie 15. Raw and very powerful. I guess exhibitions and art don’t really excite me unless its provocative or thought-provoking, and there is a dearth of that in Singapore. I wish there were more talents coming forth with artwork that push the boundaries.

I lived outside of Singapore for 3 years and get exposed mostly to foreign artist’s work. Australian painters  like Ross Watson do great work. Also, I like Melbourne based, Thai ceramic sculptor Vipoo srivilasa, whose creations are playful and magical. And of course one of my favorite American photographers, the late Robert Mapplethorpe.

There are some really famous Chinese artists as well I love like artist&photographer Chi Peng whose works are very daring and creative.

Q: Apart from nude photography, tell us more about your general art practice.

Marcus: My core photography work is stock imagery. My Singapore agency Asia Images Group represents me, and through them, my images get distributed internationally through giants like Getty Images and Corbis.

I love travelling and shoot a fair bit travel images. One of my Beijing images got shortlisted into the top 40 last year in a travel image competition. I hope to some day do an exhibition of those images. I also dabble a bit in digital imaging, creating my own digital art which I turn into e-cards for special occasions for friends and family.

Q: Any future plans to share?

Marcus: Currently, I am taking film-making classes and hope to some day make a controversial short film that will hopefully be talked about. Long shot but I if I put my mind to it, I should be able to work something out! Haha

Of course there is also a possibility of combing stills and video in a future exhibition. That is something worth exploring.

Q: Last words for the LGBT community?

Marcus: Be bold. Follow your heart. If you never try, you will never find out what is achievable!

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