Facing East

October 06, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

During a secondment to Rolls-Royce aero engines in Singapore (2010-2011) I spent many of my non-working hours and weekends walking about and Andrew Wilkinson Photographer 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 'faces' of Singapore so set about to create Facing East! The objective was simple enough - to photograph a representative cross-section of the faces of people in Singapore during a short window of time. For me, this would serve as a pleasant memory of the time I'd spent in Singapore.

There were a few things to think about, before starting heading out into the city, particularly would the images be a true cross-section? 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!

I still needed a framework or some terms of reference within which to work, otherwise it would not really be a project! This was the very simple plan:

  • Go to a location somewhere about half-way along Orchard Road, close to where I lived;
  • Stand there for about 4 hours and photograph as many individual people as possible within that time, who agreed to be photographed; 
  • Having taken the first photo then, as randomly and as quickly as possible, select the 'next' person (trying at best guess to exclude westerners and tourists) to come along, regardless of who they might be, their age, sex, look, and so on;
  • Repeat...

The day came. Saturday, 26th November 2011 - my eldest (of three) daughters' birthday. The hour...well, for whatever mad reason it just happened to be the hottest part of the day!

I had absolutely no idea how this would work in practice, but the inhabitants of Singapore always seemed such lovely and friendly people. To bolster my confidence I Jessica asked colleague and fellow photographer, Jessica (right) if she'd assist me by just being there. My thought was that she add some credibility or authority, rather than it be some weird, middle-aged western bloke randomly confronting passers-by and asking them for a photo! In the end, Jessica and I worked close-by each other, independently taking our own photos.

To kick-off the process I shut my eyes for half a minute and when I opened them I would approach the first person I saw.....Be BOLD. Be CONFIDENT:

"Hi, would you mind helping me with a personal project I'm doing, called Facing East?"

"I'm making a record of the faces of randomly selected people in Singapore, as a momento for me when I travel back home, and I would like to take a photo of you." 

"Just do what you want to do - give me any expression you wish; a smile, look serious, look thoughtful, snarl, smoke a cigarette....do whatever you want."

CLICK

"Thank you. Have a pleasant day."

I wonder how this approach would go down back in UK?

It was a thoroughly enjoyable time. I wish I'd thought of doing it much earlier on during my stay and more extensively over my time there. As it turned out people were remarkably willing to cooperate, interested in and supportive of my project. 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.  Jessica and I did stop briefly for lunch and a drink at the near-by 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.

The camera type really matters not one jot, but I was using a Nikon D700 with a 50mm f/1.8. Jessica was using an x100 a great little camera for street photography.

Photographing portraits during the middle part of a sunny day is always a challenge and usually best avoided. I had to be careful not to blow out the highlight areas, as well as avoid harsh shadows across the subject's face. 

I wanted the same look and feel for each portrait, so I used a 50mm lens and set the camera to Aperture Priority, using f4. The only other requirement was for me to have each person generally occupy the same area in the frame.

 

 


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