Through Artist Frances Berry’s Lens: You’ve Never Seen Singapore Like This

“Like most things I’ve ever made, it didn’t start with an idea, but a mistake. This series is no different. It started out with me making a mistake on the computer and instead of undoing it, I just kept going,” says artist Frances Berry. Countless mistakes later and Berry was exhibiting her work in the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art.

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Berry’s studio in Memphis is as vibrant as her works. It features a hodgepodge of mismatched discarded furniture, amini trampoline hidden away under the stairs, plus an eclectic array of typewriters, projectors and boxes of slides piled high on every spare surface. Each of her “treasures” is arranged into its own mini still-life-an organised chaos, like Berry’s works. “I rearrange every couple of months as I have found that changing my surroundings often helps me create,” says Berry. “I like to think of my studio as a laboratory and all of the things in it as specimens to be studied.”

Berry captures her thoughts on anything from her smartphone to cocktail napkins and sketchbooks. “I got into a great habit of keeping a sketchbook [when I was an] undergraduate. However, I used to tear pages out that weren’t perfect. It wasn’t until a very good friend and fellow artist, Dabbs Anderson explained to me that tearing out pages defeats the purpose and that they contained the most useful information. It’s a place free of the judgment that a finished work faces.”

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Berry works in the digital and real worlds, but while she enjoys both, she appreciates the benefits that modern technology offers. “I’ve been working on an installation project called ‘The Memory Machine’ for the past several years and I still have quite a way to go before I finish it,” she says. “Shifting my mind from working in a digital space to the real world has proved difficult; the most difficult adjustment being that there isn’t a ‘Control-Z’ option when I mess up in the real world.”

Fittingly, it’s her digital shots that have brought her international attention, fromThe Guardian to the Italian online newspaper, Ilpost. Up until now, Berry has worked on ’50s-
style Americana images, but to celebrate the digital focus for BAZAAR Art, she created a series of exclusive works featuring vintage Singapore. “The architecture was my favourite element in these images because it so greatly differs from the structures in the images I normally gravitate towards,” says Berry.

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Berry’s favourite shot from the series is the image of Haw Par Villa. The 1930s theme park that features more than 1,000 statues and tableaus from Chinese folklore gave Berry instant inspiration-but it also made the editing process more difficult. “Selecting the image is the hardest part of the process. It can sometimes take weeks to find the right one,” reveals Berry. But once she finds the perfect image, she moves quickly. “Manipulating the image takes anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours,” she explains.

With a specific commission to meld nostalgia in these vintage images of Singapore locales and institutions like Raffles Hotel, Berry found it refreshingly new. At first glance, the images look like old postcards of Singapore. But on closer inspection, the idea of repetition, graphic lines, symmetry and colour give the whole iconography a distinctly modern vibe. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to shift my focus from the images I typically work with,” says Berry. Working on the Singapore series has also encouraged her to explore vintage photographs from other countries. “I’m now researching mid-century images from all over the world and am greatly enjoying my findings,” says Berry.

Go inside the artist’s studio in our exclusive video below.

By Claire Turrell

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