In a talk I gave recently, a member of the audience asked me for my assessment of the state of photography in Singapore.
His question was followed closely by a related one, which was whether the fear of getting into trouble has discouraged people from attempting to tackle some of the more controversial issues.
My view, blunt as usual, was this:
In terms of technicality, Singapore photographers are high up there with the best in the world. But in terms of content, or to be more precise, subject matters tackled by Singaporean photographers, I would say there is nothing much to crow about here.
And I was quick to add that I am worried, very worried.
Of all the Singaporean portfolios that I got to see in the past five years, I would say less than a handful made me sit up and ask, “Hmmm, just who is this photographer?”
Most, I am sad to say, were forgettable mixtures of pretty travelogues masquerading as social documentaries; and I also saw a lot of “big” projects that I didn’t (and still don’t) understand.
Many are the so-called psychological portraits where the only thing remotely close to psycho was me, or rather, my reaction, when told of the methodology.
I have heard this enough time – Singapore subjects/topics don’t sell in the world stage – and that means, they will receive no recognition.
Therefore, it is not “worthwhile” to pursue such projects.
So, I am concerned.
Because if every photographer here only cares about the fame and recognition he stands to receive if he works on a project that has a big market appeal, then who is going to reach deep inside them (assuming there is something in there to begin with) to find stories that are close to the heart?
We don’t have social issues worthy of our Canons, Leicas and Nikons?
Come on, you got to be kidding.
And please don’t tell me the authorities will hunt you down if you work on something controversial.
I am 44 and I have yet to hear one incident of a photographer being arrested for taking a negative picture. (no pun intended)
I am still very worried.
That in 50 years, if we have an archive of imageries, it wouldn’t be one that is meaningful or reflective of our living condition.
And who are we supposed to blame but ourselves, the people with the power to make a difference.
Sure, we all can use some encouragements – whether it is winning international award or getting published – but is that all one should care about?
Nobody believes in the power of photography to tell personal stories anymore?
Maybe, just maybe, a reminder that history is actually a ‘big’ word made up of two smaller ones – his story – is appropriate here.
Really, it is not too late to believe your pictures of void decks, of corridors, of hawker centers, well done or not, are as important as winning that international award.
Try using your lens to write the first draft of history.
I care, and many people care.
But most of all, you should care.