Eleven years ago, when people browsed through their photos, they would be asked: “Are you sure those were shot by you?”
That was what The Studio Loft‘s managing partner and head photographer Maryann Koh, 43, and her former business partner faced then.
She said: “At that time, 90 per cent of photographers were male. We worked very hard to overcome the (prejudice) by producing even better work.”
Today, the studio in Ubi Road 1 has five female staff, including Ms Koh.
“It was always our idea to set up an all-female photography studio after my first pregnancy,” said the mother of two boys, aged nine and 12.
“I wanted to take photos of my pregnancy then, but I realised the photographers out there were all men and I didn’t feel comfortable.”
Ms Koh, who specialised in film and TV production in university, bought her first DSLR camera 12 years ago and took her own photos, which her friends found simple and tasteful.
After talking to a former colleague, they decided to start their own studio to cater to pregnant women, babies and children.
But it was difficult for the two, who did not have any marketing or business background.
Ms Koh said they “stumbled a lot” and had to accept every gig.
“Even if it meant we needed to work on Sundays or until 8pm on weekdays,” she said.
The last straw for her partner came 18 months later, when the studio’s first location at Devonshire Road was burgled and they lost about $18,000. She pulled out of the business.
Ms Koh started managing the studio by herself.
But in November 2014, she was diagnosed with a brain tumour near the pituitary gland.
“When I announced I fell ill through our monthly newsletter, many clients came by to give me flowers, and sent encouragement messages,” said Ms Koh, tears welling in her eyes.
“One client even bought me Australian beer to drink together when I got better.”
Thankfully, the tumour was benign and she was ready for work after a four-hour operation and three weeks of rest.
On the perks of working in an all-female environment?
“I think we don’t have to be very mindful about what we talk about – from make-up to menstrual issues,” said Ms Koh.
“(Me and my staff) even discussed the design of our toilet, making sure it was convenient for our female clients and ourselves.”
A version of this story first appeared on The New Paper.