His Story: Mathieu Beth Tan

Tell us more about yourself?

My name’s Mathieu Beth Tan. Besides photography, I play rugby since secondary school, and am still playing in a local championship league. I love the sport and I love photography too – I picked it up when I was about 18. Beth is not my real name, it’s a nickname everyone in my rugby team calls me.

I’m 24 now, and have been serious with photography in the past 1.5 to 2 years. I started off with film photography (35mm and medium format), and have ventured into digital photography now. My whole family is in the finance sector, while I’m just the odd ball trying to be different. I also like beer. I like combing my hair and doing it up too, I have a collection of combs and pomades!

Could you tell us a personal experience that made you realise you have a good eye for photography? 

I wish I could say I have a good eye for photography (because I don’t think I do), but since you said it, I guess it could be people or strangers telling me that my photos and its concepts are interesting and different. Or maybe, I dislike photos that majority of people adore, and vice versa.

Complete the sentence: “People always tell me I look like…”

People always tell me I look like a brown bear.

What’s a quick fuel for you when you are hungry and out shooting?

Kopi ping sui dai and dao sa pau (iced coffee with lesser sugar and red bean bun). 

Do you have any countries that you dream of residing in? 

Hawaii or Iceland, because they have volcanoes and I love volcanoes!

We see that you have finished your tertiary education. Since you have recently graduated from university, what are your plans for the future?

For now, I want to get a job in the industry that I studied in university, get a little experience in the working world, save some money, and eventually turn my girlfriend into my wife. We are both interested to start an education centre that teaches children art and photography, simply because we love children! 

Describe your entire university life in one sentence.

50% photography, 40% rugby, and 10% studying.

Could you share some of your best takeaways from university? 

University really taught me how to work with people from all walks of life, and that people-relation skills are really, really important. A person’s EQ is more important than his/her IQ.

What was the biggest trouble you have gotten into, in university?  

I took a feminine geography module and found myself in a class with 19 girls and myself as the only guy. I got sabotaged to do everything and then got scolded by my professor, who is a female, for being “sexist” on the first day of class.

Any advice for undergraduates? 

No doubt that you should study hard, but if you love doing something, do it to the fullest extent! Don’t hold yourself back because you “need to study for exams”. Also, if possible, get a part time job and earn some extra money while studying so that you can lighten the load of your parents if you’re taking money from them.

Let’s say if you were to further your studies overseas, what would you most fear leaving behind? 

My comfortable Singaporean accent and Singlish (a distinct Singaporean slang), assuming I’m going to an English country lah.

In general, what do you feel about the arts, and the art schools in Singapore?

Singapore, in my opinion, underplays the arts and creative track, and tends to overemphasize academics and scoring good grades in subjects such as Math and Science. More can be done for the arts to remain competitive and to have a decent standard, especially for our children who will be the next generation. I feel that Singapore needs to expand its opportunities for the artists who hope to influence and promote their love for the arts, to creatively showcase their work. Well, even the arts schools are controlled and have to follow a system like other mainstream schools; but nonetheless, it is still improving.

In your opinion, do you think that students who were enrolled into art schools since young have an edge over creative individuals who were not?

Definitely. Children’s minds are the most creative between 4 – 10 years old and if nurtured to their potential, they can be really remarkable when they grow up.

Besides photography, are there any forms of creative outlets that you would love to explore or venture into next? 

I would be interested in moving pictures and cinematography.

Why do you have a stark interest in film photography compared to digital photography?  

I started off with film photography, so that was my first love. It gives a ‘raw’ feel, we have to control and work for our photos (i.e. light, focusing etc.) I appreciate the effort behind film photography, the ‘art of creating’ a photograph from a film camera based on pre-defined settings and environmental factors, that if not done properly, may ruin something beautiful. While digital photography is magnificent on its own, I think film has a value that cannot be replaced by digital photography. I also love the ‘grainy’ texture of film photos.

What is the key component in film photography that you love?

I love the tones and texture of the different types of film that can be used, and its grainy ‘effect’. Its medium format picture quality is also outstanding 

How many years have you invested into photography thus far?

2 years and counting!

What equipment do you use to shoot? 

I use a Hasselblad 500cm and Canon 5D3. 

As with your portraiture and human relation photos, who are usually the models? Why so?

I feel that the word ‘model’ can be really tricky. Many would say that a model is someone who is good looking (or probably looks good in front of a camera). But how I see a ‘model’ is not whether they are good-looking, but one who looks unique as compared to everyone else. He or she may not be the most good-looking like Kim Kardashian or Justin Bieber (apologies for my poor choice of examples), but he or she has a really interesting, if not, quirky look or features. Most importantly, they look the most comfortable on photographs.  

Thus, many of the people I shoot are my friends whom I feel has a really interesting look, one that sets himself/herself apart from everyone else.

How do you decide on your shooting locations and where do you go to find them? 

Locations have always been a headache for me, because Singapore is so small. We don’t have the luxury of great mountaintops and valleys. However, I really enjoy urban structures with textures, stone and grid. When I’m driving, I keep a lookout for malls or buildings that are publicly accessible. It would also be great if those places have a nice old look to it. Old carparks, rooftop carparks, flora and fauna etc. are what I look out for. Other than shooting in public, I love studio photography too.

We noticed that you have a swell VSCO grid as well – how often do you use the VSCO app for editing, and when do you decide that VSCO filters would look good on your photos?

The VSCO Company is my favourite! In my opinion, it is the most awesome company that portrays the true idea of photography and the concept behind a photograph. They have excellent content, great selections, great products and a powerful platform to connect with likeminded people around the world.

However, while most of my photos are taken by my digital camera and uploaded on Instagram or my VSCO grid or journal, I do most of my edits on Lightroom using my Macbook Pro. I don’t usually use VSCO filters as I create my own filters based on the colour schemes in Lightroom.

As to using the VSCO app for editing, I use it for minor adjustments before uploading to my Instagram or VSCO grid. The minor touch-ups will ensure that my photos look just right on the phone! 

Who are the photographers who have given you inspiration for your current style of photography?

There are a few!

The one-and-only Christopher Hainey from Chicago, the brothers Chris and Jonathan Schoonover from Brooklyn NY, Neil Bedford from UK who supplies photographs to Kinfolk, and finally, Gladys Soh from Singapore.

What is your motto that you live by as a photographer?

(Referring to my own photographs) “If you like it, it definitely sucks so badly that you have to change it.”

Tell us about an easiest shoot and a toughest shoot you have done before?

They are all tough, there’s not yet an easy one.

What is the most gratifying thing about working with each other?

We are both experts in our own ways, and this is good for us because we complement and fill in each other’s gaps.


Share a few favourite moments from working together!

I love making Gladys do things she doesn’t like and I can get a photo out of it. I tend to ‘bully’ her a lot and I’m not sorry about it!

How do you and Gladys motivate one another?  

We always come up with new concepts and share them with one another, because we see things differently and we open up each other’s eyes to different beautiful things.

In the face of conflicts, if any, what is the best way to resolve them?

To learn to put down our pride and see the real deal. 

If you could go back in time, is there anything you would change?  

I would go to photography school in NY.

Any tips for young aspiring photographers like yourself?  

Do not settle for less and always improve yourself! Never let an obstacle stop you from achieving your end goal.

Share a favourite quote!

Shut up and do it  -Mathieu Beth Tan (2015)