Jean Loo of Logue tells me what it's like to be a full time Storyteller

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If I could sum Jean (the lovely lass behind Logue) up into one word it would be: Storyteller.

She tells beautiful stories, the kind that clenches at your gut then lifts you higher than you could imagine. Tales of human suffering, but also of joys and triumphs. She takes impossibly difficult situations, and turns them into something we can all understand. There is so much power in the ability to tell a good story, and she’s using her skillset to improve the lives and shine a light on others.

The owner of a boutique creative agency that specializes in photo and video documentary, Jean is a prime example of how it is possible to do good work (i.e., creative work that's good for corporates) that is also good work (i.e., good for mankind kind of work). She's brought her own unique viewpoint to the likes of HSBC, the Lien Foundation, and the Four Seasons hotel, all the while maintaining a beautiful balancing act between the corporate-commercial and her own creative spirit.

So here's my attempt to tell the story of a great storyteller, and I do hope her journey and life's work inspires you as much as it has inspired me. Here's to living our passions through our talents for a purpose.

  Born Free (Sri Lanka, 2008) 
Born Free (Sri Lanka, 2008) 

A journalism major who graduated from NTU a few years ago, she decided to take the road not often travelled (and in fact, in her batch, she was the only one) and strike out on her own immediately – she was just 23, but she knew what she wanted, and she knew the corporate world could not offer it. Here’s her story.

1. From what I can gather, Logue is a creative agency. Could you tell me more about the work you do, and how it all started?

Logue is a reflection of what I love doing --

to tell stories and create social dialogue. 

I studied journalism and dived into the adventure of working as an independent photographer and writer fresh out of school. It was a big decision back then in 2007 shaped largely by the experience of my final-year project -- my teammates and I were blessed with an opportunity to travel across Southeast Asia to produce a book on children growing up amidst rapid change in the region for ASEAN's 40th anniversary. It was a pretty huge deal as I had to balance school work, plan travel logistics, photograph and interview like how a photojournalist would. That was probably where I caught the travel bug and discovered my passion to make the world a better place through photography. 

 M ajestic Mahoe (Puerto Rico, 2010) 
Majestic Mahoe (Puerto Rico, 2010) 

I knew I didn’t want a gig in the corporate world – I’d experienced it for myself during internships and came to realise that a company’s culture won’t change for you, so if you don’t fit, be brave and find somewhere else or create something else. I’d encourage every young person to do as many internships as they can, in as many different areas as they can fit into their summers, it’s the only way to know which way you want to go.

It was very tough in the beginning. They don’t teach you commercialism in school. I had to learn that on the job. It was very challenging living project to project, in fact, it can still be very challenging but I can’t imagine myself doing anything else, and I enjoy the freedom and ownership of my career and life too much to ever give it up. Plus, it’s really starting to pay off, so I’m glad I got started young, and I couldn’t have been more grateful for supportive friends and family who didn’t frown upon my dreams to wander and to wonder.

As for the work we do, it’s a great mix of things. I get to work on a wide range of media projects from travel and hospitality to social advocacy and current affairs, that reflect our interests and who we are as an agency, in that sense we are very, very lucky. 

 I celandic Glaciers (Iceland, 2009) 
Icelandic Glaciers (Iceland, 2009) 

2. What was, in your view, the worst experience as a young entrepreneur?

Not getting paid.

The first gig I did was for a magazine that eventually went bust, it’s hard to live from project to project when those projects sometimes don’t pay you. That’s when I learned (through an extremely painful experience) that it was very important to know my rights as a vendor, get a contract in place, assert yourself where required because otherwise you’ll just get pushed around by the big (corporate) boys. Really, know a lawyer (Jean is lucky, her sister happens to be one), know your rights, and get those contracts written. They really should teach people that in school.

3. You travel a lot for work, can you share a little bit more about the destinations you've been to and what you gained from the experience 

Travel is a great teacher.

I am thankful that work has taken me to places like Tanzania, Iceland, China, Australia, Bangladesh, Mongolia, Taiwan and Puerto Rico. Being able to travel for work is a blessing as I often end up with experiences in places that I would not encounter as a regular tourist. The process of interviewing, photographing and filming allows a deeper interaction with the locals as I really get to go beyond the touristy experience. They have all definitely impacted me in one way or the other and are (what a friend calls) "character-building exercises."  

 A  Simple Life (Tanzania, 2012)
Simple Life (Tanzania, 2012)

Nothing can replicate the sinking feeling of getting lost in a rainforest in Puerto Rico with 10kg of gear in the rain and crawling alongside scientists who spend years geo-tagging trees. Interviewing a farmer on how water has improved his family's life in a mountainous village in Yunnan taught me to better appreciate the blessings of city life. In Myanmar, I became friends with a group of seven child monks who gave me more than the smatterings of English I could teach in return. Spending time in a railway community in Jakarta where I had to ask kids in a crumbling makeshift school under a highway what their ambitions were made me rediscover dreams. Hours spent on a safari searching for a pride of lions in Kenya against the vast African landscape were precious humbling moments that will stay with me forever. 

4. Logue is actively involved in Social Advocacy - could you give us a brief on how your business helps these organizations, and tell us about how you've managed to strike a balance between corporate (HSBC, IDEO) and social (Lien Foundation) responsibilities?

I take on a variety of assignments because it exposes me to different circumstances. There is always something to learn from everything – whether it’s a lighting challenge during a corporate portraiture session or planning a year-long advocacy project. 

 C hildren of Mekong (Cambodia, 2010) 
Children of Mekong (Cambodia, 2010) 

Sometimes, those dream jobs come along.. like photographing and documenting the safari experience for the Four Seasons in Tanzania as part of a branding and marketing exercise, creating short films that help NGOs spread their good work. It's impossible for me to detach myself from my work, as each project becomes an extension of my personality. You have to put your heart into it, though selectively at times. That's when having assignments of varying nature works to balance things out as I get to enjoy the process and learn about anything under the sun through photography, word and film. 

Of course it helps when you have wonderful clients who respect your hard work and show it through a healthy budget, regardless of the nature of the project. 

5. Top three things to remember when starting out on your own. Go!

Plan well 

make sure you always have something in the (to use corporate speak) “pipeline,” even if it’s something small. The momentum will help to keep you going. Normally, I will have smaller pieces of work in each “quarter” of the year and one year long project as an anchor. It keeps the cash flow coming in, it also keeps me moving so there’s never any inertia to start new projects.

 W eight off her Shoulders (China, 2010) 
Weight off her Shoulders (China, 2010) 
Be willing to "bao ge liao" 

when you’re on your own, it’s best to know the basics of even the most remote things that relate to what you do. In a company, it pays to specialise, out on your own, being a generalist can sometimes be your best bet. Say for example if I have to work with an external vendor for videography, if I know something about his craft, I can better direct the work. It also makes me less reliant on others for a full suite of services, and increases my value to the client as I can not only do the creative work, but help them project manage other aspects of the campaign as well.

Shamelessly self promote 

always remember that you are your greatest proponent, and your best brand ambassador. You can afford to be somewhat mediocre in a major company because you have a big brand name to back you up, you can’t do that when you are on your own. You have to be the very best version of yourself, you have to show the very best version of your work, and you have to shamelessly self promote till others do it for you (a process that takes time) but will happen if you do the first two well.

5. What are you excited about these days?

The public launch of my latest project which I had the privilege of working on with the Lien Foundation. 

After Cicely is a film and web campaign about palliative care in and around Asia. Named for Cicely Mary Saunders, the woman behind the birth of the hospice movement, the campaign looks at the lives of five women in five different countries (Mongolia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Singapore and Taiwan) who turned their own personal tragedies into a well of willpower to drive palliative care movements to benefit others in their community.

jean_lf_ac_02.jpg
jean_lf_ac_01.jpg

Young people always forget that in order to die well, you first have to live well. Though this campaign is about end of life stages, I want to reach out to a younger audience and remind them to live well. There should be as much dignity in dying as there is in living.

I also feel strongly compelled as I’ve seen it first hand, it’s my responsibility to share it with others.

5. If you had to sum everything up into a sentence (or two)?

Plan your passion and expand your skill sets, a good dose of courage and faith will help to tide over the dark days. Positivity and hard work go hand in hand and you always have a chance to turn things around, no matter how tough it seems. 

If you would like to learn more about Logue or After Cicely, please follow the links below:

http://logue.sg | http://aftercicely.com/