“In hindsight, had I known how to better support my then-partner who was an alcoholic, maybe things would not have escalated the way it did. As a Singaporean, alcoholism is not a topic that we usually talk about. And so growing up, I had no exposure to it.

We met while I was taking my photography diploma in London. While I was there, I assumed it was a social and cultural thing for Caucasians to get drunk, and so, by their standards, it is a norm to drink heavily. But for over two years, I learnt the hard way how untrue that is.

My then-partner was jobless back in London, and I thought out loud, ‘Hey, how about you move to Singapore and be with me while finding a job?’ And so shortly after, he moved and stayed here with me and my family.

In the beginning, he lent a helping hand when my business was starting up. I was doing Groupon photography shoots for 500 families, and this was the opportunity for me to build my portfolio and establish myself as a photographer.

But overtime, I became very puzzled with his lifestyle. ‘How is it possible for someone to be drunk consecutively for a whole week? This is not normal, right?’ It spiralled from there. I became more reactive, which led to physical fights and arguments.

Between being emotionally and mentally tortured, I had to financially support him too. I felt a sense of responsibility towards him. I invited him to move to Singapore and he had nowhere else to go, so I could not just kick him out. I felt obliged to take care of him.

But it was difficult. Everything that I earned, I had to put it back into the business. For every Groupon shoot I did, I only earned $7.50. So on top of having to support him, I was basically living from hand to mouth, anything it took to keep my photography going.

During those two years, he was sober for only six months. Yet everyday, being sober was a mental battle for him, and I wasn’t aware of it. Whenever he was on edge and I triggered him, it took everything within him to restrain himself from drinking his problems away.

It finally came to a point where he acknowledged his wrongdoings and we both mutually decided that it was best for him to leave. When he left, I remember feeling so lost and crushed to the point I would just lay flat on my bedroom floor and cry for days on end.

While he was sober, he would go for group meetings with Alcoholics Anonymous (Al-Anon). His friends recommended that I sought support, but I was apprehensive. I’m not the one who needed the help. But after he left, I was encouraged by his friends again to reach out for support.

And I’m glad that I did because I received amazing support while at Al-Anon. I connected with friends and family members who knew the struggles of caring for an alcoholic. As much as my family loved me, they could not relate to what I went through, and I always felt alone.

The support group boosted my morale and gave me the strength to move forward and find my new normal, without my then-partner. It also meant that I could completely dedicate myself to building my photography business.

When all the 500 Groupon shoots ended, so did referrals that were previously streaming in, along with awareness about my photography. I knew I had to keep going, so I took a leap of faith, moved out of my comfort zone and into a niche market – baby photography.

Challenges? Well, contrary to what you would see online, newborns are totally not peaceful during a shoot. I remember how fragile and small my very first newborn client was. I was so afraid to touch him, I would ask his mummy to move or carry him between shots and poses.

But this very first experience led me to specialise in newborn photography. I was so interested in how newborn photography had a completely different narrative in comparison to shooting older babies and children.

Mastering baby photography was a constant routine of flying overseas, attending many trainings, then returning to Singapore to apply what I learnt. Confinement nannies that came during the newborn shoots were a vital part to understanding my newborn clients as well.

Now, holding a newborn is a piece of cake, only because of the knowledge I gained over 10 years of ‘mothering’ countless newborn clients. I had to be perceptual to their behavioural and bodily cues and what their unmet needs are, only then can I capture them at their best during the shoot.

Looking back, you could say it was a blessing in disguise because the entire ordeal with my then-partner actually motivated me to be a better photographer. I’m definitely one of the more fortunate ones compared to many who have been in an abusive relationship.

I remember telling myself, whatever happens to us, I cannot let it affect my career. Outside of the abusive relationship, I had gone through so much, from being $40,000 in debt to gain my diploma to waiting tables in London to barely cover food and rent.

I told myself that I just had to make it. Returning to Singapore and starting from scratch, my dream to be a photographer was one I held onto with grit. I’m glad I made it, and the best of me is still yet to come.” – Ashley Low

Interview by: Nur Hidayah Abidin

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