Attitude’s Bachelors of Year 2017 is brought to you in association with Blued.
Tommy Ga-Ken Wan is a professional photographer based in Glasgow. His parents gave him his first camera aged 14. Three years later his work was being published and exhibited internationally. From working on film sets in Hong Kong to documenting nightlife in Glasgow (where he lives), Tommy is one talented photographer.
At number 10 on our Bachelors of the Year list, he’s about to become in demand for more than just his skills behind the camera.
Find out more about Tommy below, including how photography has helped him express himself, his experience on television in Singapore, and a particularly awkward group date.
Growing up gay, was photography and art ever something you used to help express yourself and your sexuality, or escaped through?
Absolutely. I think that when you grow up with the feeling that you’re different and when society makes you feel ashamed of talking about or even acknowledging that difference, you turn to art for answers. In my case that was literature: I read a lot of other people’s stories, hoping I would find answers to my questions there.
I was a shy and awkward teenager, and photography was particularly valuable to me then because it allowed me express myself in a quiet way, and it provided a literal, physical defence from social awkwardness: whenever I was embarrassed, I lifted the camera to my face and hid it. When I grew older and came of out of my shell, the camera then became a tool to engage with other people rather than to hide from them.
You’re based in Glasgow but have worked all over the world, and you appeared as a judge on Singapore reality TV show The Big Shot from 2010-12. How did the fact homosexuality was illegal affect your time there, both professionally and personally?
Any concerns I had about that before I visited Singapore for the first time were soon dispelled. Although homosexuality is technically illegal, it’s not a law that’s enforced, and Singapore has a fairly vibrant gay scene in which I quickly made gay friends. Despite this, I decided to keep it to myself professionally, but that turned out to be unnecessary too: some of my colleagues were also gay, and on one of my first days of work one of them suggested I check out Pink Dot, Singapore’s lovely equivalent of Pride.
How long have you been a bachelor?
For almost four years. I think that if you meet someone when you’re young and you grow together, that’s easier than meeting someone when you’re older, when you’re both set in your ways. On the other hand, you’re both wiser and can take the lessons you’ve learned separately and put those to use in building something valuable together.
How was your coming out experience?
I was 14. I told one person, who told one person, who told one person, and by the end of the summer holidays that year everyone knew: my parents, my teachers, everyone at school. It was terrifying, and there were awful times, but my friends and family were supportive and things slowly got easier. I look back on it and I’m thankful that I was outed, because I might never have had the courage to do it myself. There’s never a right time to come out.
What are the top three qualities you look for in a man?
Humour: someone who makes me laugh and finds me funny, from French puns to farts. Confidence: not overbearing or arrogant but, to quote Gore Vidal, “knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.” And niceness; a hugely underrated virtue. We all have mean and cruel thoughts about others sometimes, but to be able to recognise them as such and rise above them is a rare and valuable quality.
Best date you’ve ever been on?
I don’t know that I could pick just one, but the best dates are adventures, full of smiles and surprises, alive with possibilities.
…and the worst?
I once went group speed dating and, based on the feedback forms we had filled in, another man and I were awarded “most compatible couple” and won a voucher for a meal for two. I wasn’t that interested in him, but I felt we should enter into the spirit of the thing and go for the meal. I told him to text me and we could arrange. He never did, and he kept the voucher for the free meal.
What’s your favourite part of a man’s body?
How could a photographer not say the eyes? Of course almost every part of the body can be beautiful – I have a particular affection for that part of the lower back between tshirt and trousers – but the eyes retain all their depth and beauty even when stripped of context.
I’ve met enough people to know how incredibly and beautifully complex and flawed we all are, so it feels wrong to dismiss a whole person based on one thing. On a superficial level, I could say bad breath, but that’s nothing regular flossing won’t fix.
Do you have an *ahem* ‘three date rule’?
I haven’t much respect for traditions and arbitrary rules.
Who’s your celebrity crush?
What’s your hidden talent?
If I told you, it wouldn’t be hidden anymore…