During my secondment to Rolls-Royce aero engines in Singapore (2010-2011) I spent many of my non-working hours and weekends walking about and exploring new places. As a photographer my camera was my constant companion and together we saw and recorded thousands of moments, perspectives, emotions as images.
As the time approached to return to Cambridge, UK I just wanted to have a go at one small project I'd set for myself - to capture the 'faces' of Singapore. I deliberated a while and decided to call it Facing East! The objective was simple enough - to photograph a representative cross-section of the faces of people in Singapore. How nice!
It didn't take long to realise that that was a mammoth task and, in any case, how would I know if the photographs would be truly representative? The truth is that unless I went into all the shops, offices, cafes, HDBs, private residences, highways and by-ways and so on and took enough photographs, it wouldn't be!
Scaling down the project objective was easy and instant! I didn't want to be overly-prescriptive, but I still needed a framework or some terms of reference within which to work, otherwise it would not really be a project! So, this was the very simple plan:
As for the 'objective'; within these terms it would be the product of the outcome of the photographs - a collection of portraits of people who 'agreed' taken on the street during the hottest and sunniest part of a very hot day! Saturday, 26th November 2011 - my eldest (of three) daughters' birthday.
I had absolutely no idea how this would work in practice, but the inhabitants of Singapore seemed such lovely people. To bolster my confidence I asked colleague and fellow photographer, Jessica (right) if she'd assist me by just being there. To my astonishment, she accepted! To give some credibility or authority, I even got us a couple of Nike neck straps with hook things on the end to which I attached a plastic holder containing one of my business cards. This could be thrust under the noses of people I approached. A bit pathetic when I look back! In the end we worked close-by each other, but independently taking our own photos.
To kick-off the process I shut my eyes and promised that when I opened them I would approach the first person I saw.....Be BOLD. Be CONFIDENT. I said:
"Hi, would you mind helping me with....err, a personal project I'm doing, called...umm, Facing East?"
"I'm making a record of the faces of randomly selected people in Singapore, and I would like to take a photo of you." :)
"Just do what you want to do - give me a smile, look serious, look thoughtful, snarl, smoke a cigarette....do whatever you want."
"Thank you. Have a pleasant day."
You know what?, try that on the High Street in somewhere like Grimsby and you'd probably get endless refusals, blank looks or a knuckle sandwich. Somehow, in the UK, I always get the impression that one is, to a stranger, first of all a weirdo or a pervert and only then, after a lengthy explanation of what you're up to (which totally kills the spirit of the exercise) you're deemed to be 'OK, but a little strange'. In Singapore, it was easy. In fact so easy that you felt the people wanted to help you! In fact one of my subjects took a photo of me (above, top) with my camera. Well, the sun was shining and, I'm sure, it helped!
It was a thoroughly enjoyable time. I wish I'd thought of doing it much earlier on during my stay and more extensively over time. Only a handful of people didn't want to participate. On average, I introduced myself, obtained permission, had a little chat, took a photograph, said thanks and goodbye every two minutes, non-stop. That's quite tiring, but no less effort than I'd put into photographing a wedding. We, Jessica and I, did stop for lunch at the Peranakan Place 'Outdoors' bar - a wonderful bar located at the bottom of Emerald Hill amongst a cluster of other wonderful bars, and only a 10 minute walk from my apartment.
Here's a link to my photos (best viewed as slideshow)...I've not even seen Jessica's!
The Techi Bits
It would be very remiss of me to completely ignore the photographic techi bits:
I'd love to do this (sort of thing) again and I hope you've enjoyed sharing a little of the experience with me. If you have any photography requirements - weddings, corporate, headshots, portfolios, parties, gigs, blogshots, website pics, please contact me or give me a call and I'd be happy to have a no-obligation chat.