This Student Photojournalist Made Sustainability His Art

In Personality feature, Sustainable Consumption, Sustainable Lifestyle
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His decision to create art that portrays environmental issues in the everyday life has won our hearts, including UNESCO.

One of our Panda Ambassadors, Kai Xiang, recently returned from Portugal and Paris as part of the Young Reporters for the Environment (YRE) programme. Not only did he gain invaluable lessons on environmental reporting, he came back with a new conviction on sustainability as a lifestyle.

When we first met 19-year-old Kai Xiang, he was reserved, gentle and polite. He also seemed to be more mature than his age.

It was the Circle of Hope Eco-Schools Art Exhibition 2018, and he was our official photographer of the day. Wearing a Panda tee, and armed with a camera in hand, he exudes a quiet confidence that comes with occasional clicks of his DSLR camera.

It was 9:03am in the morning, and we asked him if he has a few minutes to spare for a quick interview. He said, “Sure! But I’d need to take pictures when the storytelling session starts.”

So we delved into a quick-fire Q&A session with the up-and-coming multi-media journalist:

How did your journey towards sustainability begin?

“I first met WWF when they came down to my school, ITE College West, to conduct an eco talk to help young people to know more about the environment.”

Share with us more about your winning video entry for the National Climate Change Competition (NCCC) 2016! 

A screenshot from “What does it take to go to heaven or hell?”

“I took part with my seniors from ITE College West and we won 4th prize. It is a thought-provoking (yet light-hearted) video on “What does it take to go to heaven or hell?” The three-minute clip also discusses and weighs environmental deeds as sins affecting your fate in the afterlife. Thinking back, it was such an enriching experience!”

Watch the full video here.

How did you pick up photography?

“Since I was 13, I have always been interested in photography. But I was only introduced to it in Secondary 2 when my teacher was looking for a photographer for an event. Then I joined a CCA (to hone my interest).”

What are you working on now?

“I am currently in Polytechnic studying film.”

Oh! We’d expect you to pursue photojournalism. Why film?

“I am now experimenting and dabbling with both photography and film making. Videography is, after all, somewhat the subset of photography?”

What about your art focusing on sustainability that set you apart from others?

‘There are a million videos on sustainability out there but I want to produce a video based on everyday life. That makes it important and that is my target. Some of the things that we use everyday make a big problem. I am planning to do a silent movie on it, when time and budget allows.”

Tell us more about your first Young Reporters for the Environment (YRE) Mission experience in Portugal in January 2018?

Kai Xiang took this picture two years ago while the sun was setting over the Changi Boardwalk.

“I get to learn what is sustainability and how to be a good journalist and interact with others. There is field training and they provide us with topics (to report on).”

What was the turning point?

“The conference in Portugal inspired me to lead a more sustainable life. There was a screening on a documentary by Israel-based writer/sailor/environmentalist Christopher Slaney which opened my eyes to how much a film could portray. And that sparked something in me.”

How has it changed your life?

“When YRE wanted us to do a public sharing on how we can be sustainable, (I realised) and believe that change needs to start with me before I share with others. I have been using metal straws since then, too.”

Wow, we also heard you were one of the eight participants selected from Portugal to take part in the UNESCO-organised Youth Conference “Youth Saves the Planet” in Paris! How did you feel? 

“When we were in Portugal, we heard that some YRE students will be selected to go to Paris in May. I didn’t think it should be me at all because I am not good in writing as I am dyslexic.”

“But someone told me I might have a chance because of my attitude, unique style of taking photos and ability to make human subjects smile. I returned to Singapore and it wasn’t long before I received a private email to go to Paris! I was shocked and jumped on my sister’s bed (plus, it was early in the morning).”

What was your biggest takeaway from the four-day conference in Paris?

Kai Xiang is one of the eight YRE participants who were selected to take part in the conference, whose aim was to bring together youth leaders and journalists around the world on education for sustainable development.

“How we can do something for Singapore.”

If you can describe your signature photography style, what would it be?

“Bright and smooth. I want (my art) to inspire people to dream.”

Who inspires you?

“One of my favourites is Osaka-based photographer Hideaki Hamanda. He captures people, nature and landscapes interacting in the most beautiful perspective.”

What is your dream job?

“I am trying to be a Director of Photography (DOP) by opening my own company and make videos that touch people’s lives.”

Get in touch with Kai Xiang here and see how you can be part of the WWF Eco-Schools (and YRE) Programme here.

Read more about our volunteer of the year Nicholas Son, Panda Ambassador Wesley Poh’s op-ed on climate change who recently covered from COP24, and this biology teacher who seizes any teaching moments by bringing an insect or animal to class.

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