Skype family portraits reunite separated kin (pictures)

These families live thousands of miles apart, but still manage to pose together for family portraits, thanks to a Webcam, video-chatting software, and some creative wizardry by N.Y.-based photographer John Clang.

Leslie Katz
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John Clang and family

John Clang (left) lives in New York, while his parents and younger brother reside in Singapore. But that hasn't stopped him from posing in family portraits from afar.

Using a Webcam, the photographer and visual artist made live recordings of his family, transmitted the images via Skype and projected them into his New York living space. His wife, Elin Tew, then photographed him next to his virtual clan for a modern-day take on an old tradition.

Formal family portraits, often snapped in a studio, are common in Singapore, and Clang says he wanted to find a creative way to preserve the practice for the many Singaporean families separated when members, like him, go to live and work abroad.

"This is how families, dis(membered) through time and space, can be re(membered) and made whole again through the use of a third space, a site that is able to reassemble them together within the photographic space that we call a family portrait," Clang says in an artist's statement.

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Leong family

After trying his new long-distance portraiture method on his own family, John Clang sought other separated Singaporean families online and through embassies and friends. He and his wife then set about traveling the world -- London, Paris, Tokyo, and more -- to shoot the portrait subjects in their living spaces while their Singapore kin stood in front of their Webcam-enabled computers and beamed in via Skype.

Here, Jessie Leong, her daughter Megan Marsh, and pooches, all based in Hong Kong, pose with family back in Singapore. They are (back row from left) Brandon Wong and Jessie's sister Belinda Leong, brother Donald Leong, and (front row, from left) Donald's daughter Jeanette Leong and parents Helen Ang and Robert Leong.

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Chua family

Chua Ghim Sin, located in Seattle, poses with Lee Siew Tin, his mother miles and miles away. John Clang and wife Elin Tew left their tripods at home as they traveled for the project, opting instead to use household items to steady their equipment.

Clang -- who has shot commercial photos for clients including AT&T, Boost Mobile, IBM, eBay, and Nokia -- often focuses his personal work on themes of proximity and distance. The complete "Being Together" series of 40 images will be exhibited during Clang's solo show at the National Museum of Singapore in early 2013.

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Tye family

In her Paris apartment, Alexia Wai-Chun Tye appears to be leaning against her daughter Stephanie Chi-Weng Tsui in this "futuristic family reunion" -- a phrase The New York Times so aptly coined in regard to Clang's series.

Alexia, an investment adviser, has lived in Paris since 1999. Her daughter was educated in Europe but moved back to Singapore to take a job as an account executive. Also pictured is Alexia's partner, Pierre de Fouquet.

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Tan family

Peiqi Chen, who works for Bloomberg in Hong Kong, poses with her family back home in Singapore: older sister Raquel Tan, dad Richard Tan, and mom Vivien Hong. The portraits in John Clang's "Being Together" series will be exhibited at the National Museum of Singapore early next year.
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Lim family

In their London home, Jacqueline Lim, husband Simon Milward, and son Oscar Milward pose next to a projected image of Lim's sister Gwendoline Lim and parents, Irene Lim and Cheng Hoe Lim.

"Drawing upon my own experiences of being separated from my family as a New York-based Singaporean," John Clang says, "this work documents and examines our condition of new-wave diaspora -- Singaporean families of various races and ethnicities grappling with the same predicament of separation through time and space."

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Krishnan family

Veeramani Krishnan, a master's student at Keio University in Yokohama, Japan, learned about John Clang's "Being Together" photo project from a fellow Singaporean student.

Here, Krishnan poses with (from left) his sister Maligah Krishnan, mom Anjemmal Krishnan, niece Maya Nirasawa Thevar, sister-in-law Tokiko Nirasawa, nephew Asuka Nirasawa Thevar, and brother K Veerapandiyan.

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Clang and mom

We're betting John Clang's mom, Ng Gek Choo, would rather sit next to her son in the flesh. But Clang's long-distance family portrait at least puts them in the same frame.

"Being Together" doesn't mark the first time the New York-based photographer and visual artist has focused on his Singaporean family, and specifically themes of memory, identity, and the longing of a son living overseas. In the series "Erasure," for example, Clang painstakingly fades images of his aging parents "as a graphic portrayal of how life quietly empties itself from them."

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