Two students meditate at a kungfu school in Qufu, China.
I’m usually immensely uncomfortable photographing people, usually because I feel overly self-conscious. From the back, however, the problem disappears – no figure is visible, no face to identify with, and instead I can focus on composing the image properly, though usually not well. This coffee plantation worker was heading home after a long day in Coorg, Karantaka.
Note: this post is scheduled.
So, yes, I don’t just do nature. (Despite the name of this blog. And pretty much everything else on it. Ignore it… temporarily? Please?)
Sometimes I do people. They’re a lot harder than birds, let me tell you: though there isn’t the danger of them running away, people are, quite frankly, for the most part… boring. There’s no thrill in finding them (look around you; I bet there’s one right there); there’s no satisfaction in – wow! – you got a picture of it. Wonderful. Congratulations! You have seen one of seven billion individuals on the planet of the species Homo sapiens. A rare accomplishment, indeed.
But on the insistence of Topaz Winters, I yielded for one afternoon in order to hold… a photo shoot, that rare and most dreaded of things. (Seriously, when on earth will a bird or butterfly ever willingly surrender to position themselves for you?!)
It was an… interesting experience. But it was made easier by the fact that, contrary to popular belief, the person behind the blog (which is *cough cough hint hint* absolutely amazing and beautiful) Six Impossible Things is not actually a person. She’s a kitten, pterodactyl, and puppy alternately, or sometimes all at once. (It depends on which fictional character(s) you mention.) This made things a lot easier for me: animals, I can deal with. And so, like most animals, I tracked her to green places across Singapore (or at least in a half-kilometer walkable radius, because despite Singapore’s tininess, it is not walkable within an hour’s space of time). And took photographs. That much, I believe I am capable of.
She ended up selecting two to use on her blog – the one at the top for her sidebar and the one above for her about page. I’m putting a couple of my other favorites from the shoot in a gallery below – please do go and pet the dragons over at her blog. I promise they don’t bite.
An excerpt from the journal of my cousin, Preetu (a fantastic writer who gives herself far less credit than she deserves*), about her experience in the Maasai village we visited in Africa to accompany rare evidence of my forays into portraiture.
“I remember, as a child, opening up on of those massive geography encyclopaedia things. On that page was a picture and a few words about a tribe called the Maasai. They were wrapped in bright red shawls and wore layers and layers of beaded jewellery. One can’t help but be intrigued by them.
I read what was written on the page, thought – Oh wow! – and then shut the book and went on with my life. Little did I know ten years later I’d actually be in their village singing along with them!
The sun beating down on our backs as we stepped out of our jeeps onto arid land. The glint from this woman’s necklace caught my eye. Strange faces surrounded us. Unfamiliarity and curiosity painted on their faces, as was on ours. We scanned the milieu and found about ten to fifteen small huts arranged in a badly shaped circle and dung. We manoeuvred skilfully past all the dung as the vibrantly dressed woman led us to centre of the circle and their little settlement. The head of the tribe saw our discomfort as we walked on the cattle excrement and tried to put us at ease by telling us that stepping in cow poo – to put it plainly – was good luck. Not that that really changed much.
We were told that this was where all the cattle was kept. The cattle were now out grazing with most of the men as well. Soon our family was divided into smaller groups and each group was escorted into a hut. The smell of smoke stung as we walk through the narrow passageway. It led to a rather small unassuming room, the only one in the hut. With our heads bent we looked around, bewildered yet amazed at the dark cramped room. This was the residence of four people and two goats. The darkness was attributed to the one hole of a window that might as well have been absent. One thought that was on everyone’s mind was – How?! The sunlight blinded us as we re-entered the central area.
On our way back to the camp my mind was filled with smiles on the children’s face as we spoke to them and shook their hands, the sound of their voices as they chanted in unison, and the quiet jingle of the beads they wore with so much pride.
The book hadn’t even come close to explaining what they really were.”
Ghim Moh market is a familiar name for food lovers in Singapore. But it is on their lips (and in their bellies) no longer: in May this year, it closed for scheduled renovations… due to open again in 2016. The timing of renovations also coincided with the expiry of the lease for many stands there. This man coming to clear our table may as well have been clearing it for the last time.
Everyone who reads this blog regularly will know that I don’t do people. Like, at all. I’m a birds and butterflies kind of person – my mother commented to me, seeing the photographs from my school trip, I focused more on the nature than what was actually happening.
Occasionally, however, I make attempts. It was those attempts I submitted to the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards last December. These awards aim to ‘recognize the vision, ingenuity, and talent of our nation’s youth, and provide opportunities for creative teens to be celebrated’. I’d submitted last year as well, but only writing. This year, I decided to venture out of my comfort zone and submit some of my photography as well. And last Monday, I got the results of the regional competition back.
I had submitted two photographs to the awards. One, of my friend Kira, depicted her on her iTouch in the dark. I entitled it ‘Nighttime Messenger’.
I quite liked the idea of it – the whole concept of only our technology lighting up the night – but I’ll be the first to admit it wasn’t the best depiction. At all. Still, it was an attempt. Last Monday, I was surprised and delighted to learn it had received an Honorable Mention at the Awards. This is the equivalent of a bronze medal, and while this photograph won’t go on to be judged at the national level, I’m surprised it got any award at all.
The second photograph I submitted was a self-portrait of sorts, taken with a tripod and timer set.
I’m still not entirely sure what this photograph means, or even if it’s any good. I called it ‘The Slumbering Dark’ and sent it off with little hopes.
So I was even more surprised to learn it had gotten a Gold Key – the equivalent of a regional gold medal. This means two things: firstly (and arguably most importantly) sometime next month I’ll get a shiny little pin in the mail. And secondly, it will go on to be judged at the national levels to see whether it’s worthy of an actual medal.
It’s such an honor to be counted amongst the upper echelons of some of the amazing submissions to the Awards. And it’s interesting to note some trends in my own photography – the fact that most of it involves experimenting with the interaction of light and dark, and what gets caught in the middle. Painting with light, as it were.
So I may not ‘do’ people, but I look forward to continuing experimentation with them. Because in the end, that’s what photograph is – one big experiment, one long journey.