Kelvin Lim spends much of his day surrounded by nude bodies twisted in various artistic forms.
Breasts and bottoms exposed, oil paintings and still images of naked men and women line the walls of his workplace, decorating his mid-sized studio housed at Ark@Gambas, an industrial building located along Gambas Crescent.
Describing himself as a portrait artist, the 48-year-old award-winning photographer specialises in boudoir, sensual and nude photography for both individuals and couples since venturing into the art 13 years ago.
They’ve always been seen as an ‘odd’ couple
A sensual shoot package ranges from $1,000 to $5,000—expensive because of the skills and experience required, said Kelvin.
His wife of the same age, Elaine Lai, doubles up as his assistant, and her support has been integral to the couple’s success in the industry—they’re one of the pioneering studios in Singapore to openly do nude photography.
Jealousy has never been part of the equation in their relationship but they’ve always seen themselves as somewhat of an “odd couple”, according to Elaine herself.
The secret to their marriage, even when her husband looks for beauty in naked women other than herself, is the unyielding trust she has in her partner.
“If you’re in a relationship and have different directions and mindsets [from your partner], it’s hard to build and sustain the relationship.
“We share what we do and understand each other. That’s how I don’t feel jealous or upset when my husband looks at other ladies because I know that’s part of his vision for [his] art,” Elaine added.
They felt so comfortable, they started making love
Due to the nature of his work, the couple keeps an additional rule in place to always involve another female assistant during sensual shoots.
In fact, Kelvin usually stays hidden in the beginning of such shoots, keeping a safe distance until Elaine gets the clients in a comfortable pose and gives him the green light to start.
Although it doesn’t happen often, there have been occasions where couples get so comfortable around Kelvin and Elaine, they start copulating during the shoot itself.
“There was a couple who came [to us] without the intention of [doing] anything sexual. They had just met, they had just started a very intimate relationship and they just wanted beautiful memories while they’re still so passionate,” said Kelvin.
“As the shoot progressed, they felt so comfortable they started making love. The shoot was both passionate and intense, it totally wasn’t choreographed,” recalled Kelvin.
Was he affected?
“Definitely. I was both emotionally and sexually affected, deeply moved as well because I’ve been through relationships. An experience like this made me cherish what I have and it reminded me of the people I love,” he said.
Clear line between art and porn
Despite the sexual nature of his shoots, Kelvin draws a clear boundary between his erotic portfolio and pornography.
“Porn is catered for the gratification of third-party viewers. It’s supposed to be shallow. There is no love involved and it’s not meant for the couples themselves,” he said in a previous interview.
But because he is a male photographer and his subjects are often naked females, people often relate his work to porn and Kelvin has faced rejection from potential clients and business partners.
“It was very difficult in the beginning and it still is very difficult,” he maintained.
“If we only did sensual shoots at the start, we’d [have] starved to death,” Elaine chimed in.
People who doubted his abilities and judged his character based on the genre of photography he chose to pursue made it very uncomfortable for him to continue sensual shoots, but he decided to persevere after a life-changing encounter with a terminally-ill client.
A woman had sought his services, coming into the studio with her husband, children and a life support machine.
One of her last wishes was to take intimate photos with her husband, seeing as they never had the chance to do a pre-wedding shoot together.
However, she couldn’t do more than a few shots without becoming breathless and having to be hooked back on the machine for oxygen.
Forever etched in Kelvin’s memory, it was the most heartbreaking session he had to conduct.
“It was difficult and painful (to watch) but I can’t forget how happy she was when we went to the hospital and showed her the photos. A few weeks later, she passed on.
“That was when I realised my work meant something to people and I shouldn’t give up no matter what happens,” he recounted.
At the end of the day, he hopes clients can find beauty in themselves. Not in the makeup they have on their face, what they’re wearing or by trying to be someone else.
“I believe the human figure is the most beautiful, sensual and unpredictable thing that has ever been created and because of this, it should be respected. Women, men or couples that choose to remove their clothes should not be treated as sex objects.”
Text and images: Joey Lee / AsiaOne / September 2019