Featured Photophile No. 018 – the Visual Diary of Hern Tan

Featured Photophile No. 018 – the Visual Diary of Hern Tan

3000 2000 James Tocchio

Hi there – please introduce yourself.

Heyo, I’m Hern Tan. I’m nineteen years old, and hail from Singapore. Great honour to finally be on Casual Photophile!

When did you start shooting? What’s your favorite camera, and why do you love it? What type of film do you use, and why?

I bought my trusty Leica M3 when I was thirteen years old, with money saved from months of petty cash earned from household chores and an unexpected scholarship. As I had no scanner nor a developing set up at home back then, I would shoot very sparingly, taking a month or two to finish a single roll of Kodak Gold. Twenty dollars for a scan and develop service was a lot to a kid!

Over the years, I picked up black-and-white developing, due in no small part to the thriving local film community (shoutout to the man known as RayToei!), and got myself a capable and affordable Plustek 8200i  scanner. As the costs of shooting went down, my shooting rate went up significantly, especially after I picked up bulk loading. 

The M3 is no doubt my favorite camera, as it both holds sentimental value to me, and after all these years of use I can focus a 50mm on it almost as fast as my Nikon F5, making it a very handy tool on the street indeed. It has proved to be hardy as heck too, taking about 600 rolls in between its trips to a repairman, and for those who still believe that a rangefinder is easily knocked out of calibration, I can assure you that a tumble from eye-level into a ditch is still not enough!

Ilford HP5 and Eastman 5222 are the main film stocks I shoot now. They are both hardy emulsions, with the HP5 pushing easily to EI1600 where I mainly shoot it, and whilst I shoot 5222 at its nominal speed of EI250, it has done EI1600 in a pinch, with satisfactory results. I buy film in bulk, and I like to keep at least 400ft of each emulsion in the freezer at any one time.

What are your favorite subjects, and why? 

Seeking out the interesting in the mundane. Interesting faces, interesting settings, interesting interactions. The same street can yield something new every day. 

Why do you shoot film? Do you also shoot digital? What do you think about the differences between film and digital?

To put it simply, I shoot film because that is what my M3 takes. I’m used to shooting with it, and have been for so long that the clichéd “extension of the eye” saying comes to mind. I don’t see HP5 or Eastman 5222 going away anytime soon as well, so it is great as I want to maintain my current workflow for a long time to come. 

I rarely shoot digital, but I am not against it. I don’t shoot film with the intent to keep it relatively untouched during post processing either. I crop, I send it through Lightroom and Photoshop, and I edit until I reach the result that is closest to my original vision. In that sense, shooting either medium would likely yield the same result for me, assuming I have equal proficiency in each workflow. 

The main difference and benefit that film has over digital, is that I am left with physical negatives at the end of the day. If my hard drive and all its backups ever decide to go kaput, I can still recover most of my work even if it means many hours in front of the scanner all over again.

What is unique about your work?

That my work is my perspective. That’s the beauty of photography, that we can see through the eyes and the minds of others, and that one may try to emulate another, but he will never be exactly the same.

How do you achieve your results?

Consistency in workflow. Two film stocks, one developer. Two cameras. Two main focal lengths. And putting in the hours on the street. My walks take up to two hours at a time, any more than that and I’ll start to suffer from mental fatigue, my compositions become sloppy, and my shooting rate drops drastically.

Where do you hope your photography goes from here?

To produce meaningful work. It may be documentary, journalism, or merely a self-diary. I have started on a long term project early this year, but I can tell it will be months, or even years, before it reaches any sort of maturity. Meaningful work for me does not have to be popular, but I want it to resonate with some people, especially if they are people involved in some way with the subject of my work.

Do you have any advice for new photographers?

Be a sponge. Absorb all you can. Experiment and explore with different workflows so you can pick one that best suits your intended style. Get a camera that you feel will suit you best. It doesn’t have to be the most expensive. Most importantly, get out there and shoot!

Where can people see more of your images?

I have a diary/visual steam of consciousness going on at my Instagram.


Many thanks to Hern Tan for sharing his work.

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio
5 comments
  • Thank you for this impressive article. My main reason in following your site are articles like this one.

  • What are the two main focal lengths you use?

    • The 50 and 28! I found the 35 a little too tight for crowds, and too wide otherwise, a no-mans-land of focal lengths for me.

  • Great piece and very nice pics! I wish I had the good taste at that age to get an M3! But I wanted the latest plastic fantastic! Sheesh….

    • Thanks! I have got to admit my decision-making was very largely influenced by Ken Rockwell’s article, Best Camera Ever and all that hyperbole. That’s not saying it doesn’t fit the bill though!

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio