When Straits Times photographer Alphonsus Chern entered the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information more than a decade ago, specialising in photojournalism never crossed his mind. In fact, he picked it up only in his third year of studies. His late start, however, has not hindered him in any way from carving out a successful career in this field.
The 36-year-old executive photojournalist bagged three awards at the Singapore Press Holdings’ awards ceremony in March.
“I believe that if I am doing something I enjoy, it will naturally translate into a good product and people will tend to like it.”
Chern won Best Video of the Year and Feature Picture of the Year for his story on the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) Black Knights’ training regimen, as well as the Best Interactive Infographic of the Year for his virtual tour of National Gallery Singapore.
His feature photography Black Knights also scored him a Bronze title at the Asian Media Awards held late March in Manila.
Despite his recent wins, Chern remains grounded. “I don’t look forward to awards, I just want to enjoy the job I want to do,” he shared. “I believe that if I am doing something I enjoy, it will naturally translate into a good product and people will tend to like it.”
With a strong personal interest in defence issues, Chern is no stranger to military reporting.
In 2013, he photographed scenes from a grueling three-week training session of Singapore Armed Forces’ combat parachutists, and in 2014, he documented the Republic of Singapore Navy combat divers’ journey while they underwent a five-month intensive training regime.
The latter earned him a Gold award at the 13th Asian Media Award and Best Video of the Year at SPH’s awards ceremony.
Chern’s Black Knight’s feature last year required him to undergo four months of practical and theoretical training before conducting the final shoot.
Despite the excitement and privilege of working with the fighter pilots, he shared his concerns while working on the feature.
“The original plan was to fly in one of the fighter aircraft throughout the entire routine to understand how it is to feel like to perform aerobatics. However, it did not happen last minute due to security concerns,” he said.
“I was kind of disappointed, but at the same time, relieved because I have serious motion sickness. I don’t like rollercoasters and [the plane ride] will be much worse. Hence, my concern was to not throw up on them and mess up the whole ride,” he added.
Recounting his photojournalism journey, Chern said it was former Associate Professor Cherian George at WKWSCI who opened the door for him.
“One day, I was sitting at the benches [on campus] minding my own business. Cherian George came by and asked if I would like to join the Going Overseas For Advanced Reporting (GO-FAR) programme. I said no, as I was not interested, but he went on telling me more about the programme. When he told me it was sponsored, it caught my attention, so I applied and went for the trip,” he recalled.
Chern said it was the overseas exposure of the GO-FAR programme that ignited his interest in photography, which later led him into a career at The Straits Times photo desk.
“I like what I do because I get to understand the different facades of life. As a photographer, the things we see are unvarnished and real.”