“I’d rather make my work (get) talked about in the Singapore fashion industry, rather than just stay normal.”

So says Fadli Rahman, one photographer the Singapore fashion scene is keenly casting its watchful eyes on. From photographing for magazines such as Men’s Folio Magazine to Oxygen Magazine, to styling for various local and regional fashion editorial spreads, Fadli has proven his mettle in the fashion world, all at the relatively young age of 20.

Showcasing his years of work in a culminating exhibition …And God Created Man at LASALLE recently, Fadli’s works are startling proof of his provocateur take on fashion photography: from exploring gender roles to nudity and bondage, Fadli does not hesitate to provoke and he does so with good reason.

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“Sex, definitely sex. It’s all about sex. That’s the main topic (of the exhibition). I mean sex in Singapore is always a taboo, so I wanna be different. Definitely,” says Fadli to Popspoken editors Sadali and Shah during the exhibition.

Fadli, who is also part of fashion collective Runway Addict, may come across as the shock artist of the next-generation photographer and he says to Popspoken that his future work is engineered in that direction.

“From now on? (I’m going to do) a lot of provocative photography work, for sure. If people can’t take it for themselves, fuck it. I’m there to do my own work and my passion. People will talk about it, and people will remember.

Like today’s exhibition: if there are no naked photos, people are gonna come and go and like (say) “who’s that guy?” But if you do penis and ass, people will talk about it and they will remember,” Fadli references to a series of photos taken just for the exhibition which shows a male model naked and kneeling in front of a female model.

His works may be deemed shocking, but does Fadli see himself as a shock artist, a force who exists purely to stir controversy but may be dismissed all too quickly as a gimmick? In this exchange between Fadli and the Popspoken editors, Fadli surprisingly leaves much to interpretation.

Fadli: Yes, maybe. I mean, it’s up to you guys. What do you guys think?

Shah: (Looks to Sadali) Are we allowed to comment?

Sadali: I guess it’s quite a strong term.

Shah: It can come to a point where it’s shock and merely shock.

Sadali: At the very least, it should be shock with substance.

Shah: (referencing Sadali’s comment, to Fadli) What do you think of views like that?

Fadli: I’ve been doing this for a long time. I know my ways of going about my work.

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Garcon Seb! by Fadli Rahman (Credit: Fadli Rahman’s portfolio blog)

For someone whose photos revolve a lot around sex and its persistency, it is an antithesis to the conservative society we live in today. Movers and shakers are largely known for breaking societal norms and shaping new ones. With his anti-conformist work, does Fadli think Singapore will slowly desensitise to topics such as sex and not get all up in arms at its mere mention?

Fadli strongly claims: “Never. We’ve been trying to do that since years ago. Like, (if) there’s a naked photo, you can’t (show it). This magazine wanna show armpit, you can’t, you know? It’s very difficult, since last time. Even though Singapore is liberal or the 8th fashion capital (in the world), I don’t think it’s gonna happen.”

He is quick to state that his aim in challenging societal norms may not be that of other photographers in Singapore. One distinct aesthetic in Fadli’s work is his treatment of male and female subjects by flipping their roles: females are now dominant forces, males are now submissive objects.

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I’m Methified by Fadli Rahman (Credit: Fadli Rahman’s portfolio blog)

When asked to comment on his role-flipping ideal, Fadli says he “gets that a lot from people”. “I like my men to be more feminine, and my women to be more masculine. It’s all about alternating perception. Men have to be men, women have to women: that’s bullshit. That’s why you need fashion right?

His sheer bravery alone should be causing waves in the magazine industry, which has been very sensitive to overt sexualisation of editorial spreads to keep advertisers happy and bank accounts full. Fadli’s exuberant nature suddenly diminishes when the subject of magazines is broached. After all, his work does revolve around it for as long as the immediacy of online media fails to make way for such features.

He declines comment on the state of the magazine and fashion industry recognizing provocative work. When prodded further, he alludes a tad bit: “Everybody’s a critic, so different people have different opinions of my work, and (so do) different magazines as well. In the magazine industry, different things (are viewed differently by) different people.

If people come to me to do this and that, they should come to me and know how my work is and how I’m gonna direct the shoot. If you can’t do that, then you shouldn’t book me.”

He further evidences a photographer’s true worth: “People come to you for your talent and what you can portray in your image, not because “I paid you, so you do this”. No, it’s not about the money. It’s all about knowing clients and photographers and how they connect.”

Our discussion slowly proves one thing: Fadli’s in it to win it. The grit and determination is his tone belies the conviction and commitment we see in his photos. He’s even started to branch out to fashion films, with a recent one for British label KTZ. Video and audio prove his aesthetic even further: whimsical rewind spilt-cuts and frame bounces are timed to the beat of silly-yet-infectious ditties in his KTZ film.

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Fadli Rahman for Oxygen Magazine, Issue 8 (Credit: Fadli Rahman’s portfolio blog)

When a lot comes rolling on one’s door, surely that is a strong sign of a “rising” status. Fadli remains cautious and humble when we try to call him a “rising” photographer.

He aptly remarks: “No, I have no right to say that for my own self. I don’t know, because I still have a long way to go, definitely. I mean, I’ve been doing this for 2 years, but anything can happen, so I won’t know. I dare not say it now. Or maybe never.”

As we wrap up the interview, Fadli’s friend taps on his shoulder and his exuberance returns almost instantly as he welcomes his friend to the exhibition – replete with the customary hugs and air-kisses fashion events are notoriously perceived to have.

It’s somewhat ironic that the public judges the fashion industry as pretentious and filled with no substance or intellect. Some use guns, others use policies, a select few use contracts and PowerPoint presentations. Fadli uses photos as his weapon of choice.

What’s wrong with that?

xx Shah