Natsuko Teruya is a Singaporean-Japanese photographer, who is best known for her surrealist fashion images.

Fashioning The Future: Natsuko Teruya On The Art Of Image-making
Photo: Frenchescar Lim

Why does fashion matter?

As a photographer, fashion works as a kind of catalyst for the narrative I’m trying to convey. Modifying what people wear or do not wear can change the narrative completely. Which is exactly why I like using it as a conduit to get a message across. Fashion has a strong influence on how people view one another, and that’s a very powerful thing.

How do you see the relationship and intersection between fashion and photography?

I really like what British art director and graphic designer Peter Saville said: “Fashion is a photograph. When we think of fashion now, we think of a photograph. It all comes together as a photograph”. It perfectly encapsulates the idea that imagery is the most vital part of how we show and remember fashion. It is also how our mind works, because we retain memories in still forms. I think this relationship between photography and fashion will remain even with the introduction of videos and moving images. They are not mutually exclusive; rather, they bring the best of both worlds together.

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Fashioning The Future: Natsuko Teruya On The Art Of Image-making
Photographed by Natsuko Teruya for local jewellery label State Property.

How did you get your start in fashion photography?

Growing up, I collected magazines such as The Face and i-D, mostly because I was interested in the visual language that came with music and cinema, rather than fashion. During the 2008 financial crisis, I decided to temporarily move back to Singapore from New York City to assist a few photographers, who happened to be working in fashion. That was how I got into fashion photography. It was not something I considered doing professionally until recently but I’m glad it all happened very organically. 

Tell us about your creative process.

Most of my inspiration comes from a folder I keep, filled with a bunch of images I have found or taken, and stories and articles that I thought were interesting. That folder is usually where I turn to for that seed of an idea before brainstorming for any project. 

The biggest change in my creative process came about when I started doing more commercial work that involved the business side of the industry. The responsibilities shift. It was no longer just my vision because I now have to take into consideration what the client wants. Which made me think about how to take a brand’s pre-existing archive and create something that is new and modern without losing the brand’s identity, but strengthening it instead.

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Fashioning The Future: Natsuko Teruya On The Art Of Image-making
Photo: Frenchescar Lim

What are the global trends or shifts that will make an impact on the fashion industry?

Perhaps the biggest trend I have noticed so far is the amount of content that many brands think they need to produce for their social media accounts in order to stay current. I personally do not believe that to be an effective strategy in the long run. My philosophy is less is more, quality over quantity.

The coronavirus also has had an impact. In the short term, the local fashion industry will likely face a significant financial loss, especially for brands solely relying on physical retail stores. Maintaining brand image and integrity during this time should be the biggest priority for brands in the long run, which means diverting resources for more efficient online advertising. The quality, consistency and messaging of their visual vocabulary will be paramount to how they can retain loyalty and stand out at a time where visibility online is at its highest. Brands need to be prepared, so when consumer confidence recovers, they can be the first to capture them.

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Fashioning The Future: Natsuko Teruya On The Art Of Image-making
Photo: Frenchescar Lim

What qualities or skills does a fashion photographer need?

You do not need to have a lot of technical training in order to be a good photographer. I think the most important quality to have is a distinct and personal point of view. Ask yourself: what are you trying to say with the images? Today, when anyone who owns a smartphone or a DSLR can become a photographer, it is more important than ever to go beyond a pretty or well-lit photograph. I think there is a huge value in making a unique imprint in your own work.

What are your hopes for fashion in Singapore?

My hope is for us to be willing to adopt a more nuanced way of thinking. By that, I mean creating an identity that is not necessarily rooted in culture or tradition, but rather, in philosophy and ethos. Take for instance Japanese designers Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo who carved their way in the global fashion industry in the ’70s and ’80s. They deconstructed silhouettes when the West was embracing form-fitted clothes, and created innovative fabrics. They stood out by doing something different and people took notice. So it is not always about making something traditional look contemporary; it is sometimes about making clothes that do not follow trends, period. That is something to think about.

Fashioning The Future: Natsuko Teruya On The Art Of Image-making
Photo: Frenchescar Lim

Location: LASALLE College of the Arts
Hair & Makeup: Greg’O
Producer: Navin Pillay

Fashioning the Future
is a four-part series where we speak to four women in the fields of education, design and photography to find out how in their respective disciplines, they are contributing to shaping the fashion landscape in Singapore.