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A separate written note and photo of Nick, explaining his interests, passions and, least importantly, his diagnosis.

Nick Teo – creating 'I AM NOT MY DIAGNOSIS' and studying Commercial Photography at AUB

Photos by Nick Teo


  • Student Journal
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  • Commercial Photography


Although filmmaking was the original goal, I realised that commercial photography offered me so much more creative control and ability to explore deeper, more intimate stories. After giving it a try and creating a couple of photo books, I was hooked!

I've always loved storytelling from a young age. It started out with me watching The Lord of the Rings every morning before the school bus came, progressing to me making my own YouTube skits, and then studying four years in film school to make it all official.

The idea for I Am Not My Diagnosis came when I first sought treatment for my mental health in 2016. I hail from Singapore, where mental health conditions are incredibly stigmatised and I remember feeling ashamed to see a psychiatrist. It felt like I had a dirty secret to keep and I certainly didn’t embrace my diagnosis. In this wave of emotion, I thought about an idea for a film where people just spoke about who they were on camera, describing the quirks of their personality and the things they love to do. After that, they'd reveal that they each have a mental health condition, showing that people can live wonderful lives despite having a diagnosis. Although I loved it, I kept the idea in the back of my mind for the longest time because I was still figuring out my own mental health and I didn’t think I was ready.

Throughout the project, my process always put the people I was lensing first. I told myself that I wanted to make sure these people who were trusting me with their life stories felt comfortable and also respected. The photography actually took a back seat because of this and I focused all my attention on showing genuine care for the subjects and listening to their stories. Once we formed a close bond, everything else fell into place easily.

I'd ask each subject what they loved and how they wished to be seen, then I would suggest scenarios where their personalities could shine. This approach led to some truly unique and wonderful shoots! Some highlights include doing a shoot with the giant tortoises at Cotswold Wildlife Park, shooting portraits in the beautiful Montacute House, and a quirky but certainly memorable one was doing a shoot in a bathroom full of Lush products.

This extended to both the short film and the notes in the project, where I always allowed my subjects to be spontaneous and I told them to do whatever they liked!

Collaboration is one of the highlights within AUB and that has been the way I’ve been able to explore other genres within my work. Even though I am in the documentary genre group on my course, I can still work on other genres through collaboration. Since coming to AUB, I’ve already photographed 16 collaborative fashion, fine art and beauty projects so far.

My experience has been incredible. I love how social the university is and how much the courses collaborate! I think that's the true selling point of AUB – the network of students you can meet within the campus, not to mention the friends as well. My lecturers and the photography technicians have supported me every step of the way with my crazy ideas and massive equipment bookings. The amount of creative freedom I get is amazing as well; I have never been able to artistically express myself as much as on this course.

My final major project is going to be a massive piece on migration that represents my transition from Singapore to the UK. My motivation for tackling the topic of migration comes from the struggles I had during this transition. I felt like people hardly talk about how difficult the process is, as the highs of the journey always overshadow the lows. Although most migrants, be it international students, high-skilled workers or asylum seekers, ultimately live better lives if they're successful in their transition, there's so much hardship that comes with it and that's what I want to help shed light on.

My ultimate post-graduation goal is to become a photographic entrepreneur and to start my own studio and equipment rental service, complete with analogue facilities as well. But because I have to gain more experience and save enough money for a seed fund, becoming a successful freelance photographer is the first thing on my agenda post-graduation.


Watch Nick's film, I AM NOT MY DIAGNOSIS, which was awarded GOLD at the AOP Student Awards 2023, below.

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