In approaching Little India as my subject, I set out to show a slightly different side than that put forward by most travel magazines. Little India has a vibrancy that is palpable at night. You could consider that most of Singapore is nocturnally similar but I feel in general it is more homogenised than Little India which retains something of it’s colonial and Indian character and heritage. The smells, sounds and sights make it a sensory experience for the traveller which other parts of Singapore are lacking in due to their sanitisation. The whiff of urban decay and traditionally bright colours show a different hue under fluorescent light and engender a transformation of the environment in contrast to daylight hours.
As a vehicle for the project I used, as discussed with my tutor, the colonial history and names to evoke another era. After this discussion it also occured to me that another major influence over this heritage area was cattle. Therefore these seemed like two good vehicles to transport me around the specific area I had selected.
I have got to know Little India reasonably well over the years and this I think leads to two differing takes on the successful nature of this project. My familiarity meant that I could identify the connections and areas of interest to complete the work. I knew that the areas I selected would take me on a fairly succinct journey around the area and that there were a variety of interesting images to be made in each of them. I enjoyed the use of the very bright lighting. It can be quite a challenge but the harshness and directional quality of it also throws up differing colours and contrasts on the people and places.
On the other hand my familiarity may also be seen as a stumbling block. It could be that I write about and photograph the place with cliches. Indeed this appears in my notebook as a side note. How do I avoid photographing preconceptions and cliches? Possibly I am still seeing it very much as a tourist and as such am not giving the review I felt I was. I am still very much a Westerner and ‘tourist’ in the country and region. So, very difficult to tell what eyes I am seeing through for this assignment and could be a comment on the current amount of time I’ve spent in the country. Almost truly living here but, certainly not local. This last comment makes it sound like I would rather have given a ‘locals’ point of view which I don’t think is true either. So maybe my narrative needed more work to decide where I was coming from (quite literally). This will only be born out by the feedback from my tutor.
With no end result, my narrative (which is open to discussion) would have been non-apparent and the images would have wound aimlessly around the streets. This would probably have resulted in a confusing narrative at best and probably not a terribly interesting one. With the constraint on images numbers, the narrative needed to be quite succinct.
Having enjoyed the preceding exercises I was keen to move on to the assignment. As I stated in the assignment body of work, I found the remit quite sprawling and fairly difficult to nail down. Of course I understand that this is in order to try to get me to find my ‘voice’ photographically and get the best of me. Stifling my creativity could possibly lead to me making a poor example of my work. I went through a process of various thoughts about what subject to take up for my assignment; public smoking, cooking in hotel kitchens, department store counters, food making at markets, people alighting trains buses and taxis etc. vendors selling mooncakes. However, none of these lent themselves to fulfil my remit. The reasons behind this were various. I either couldn’t see the narrative, couldn’t work out how to translate the ideas to narrative images (public smoking) or practically work out how to shoot without my subject being aware of me.
This lead me to the night market, which I felt, lent itself to narrative and visual interest.
- I started with a lead in photograph of an overview of the street I would be photographing in that evening. I had tried to leave space at the bottom, as I knew I would want to put a description of what the viewer was seeing and about to see. I am not too happy about the woman’s back in the foreground, which I have had to put the text over. It would have been more pleasing to just have the road in view. If I had put the text over the left hand side it would have been lost in the ephemera of the stall. I do like that you can clearly see the green pomelo, which are the mainstay of the assignment. The fluorescent lighting, while not to everyone’s taste, is indeed very much a part of shopping at night in South East Asia and as such should not be ignored. It also gives the green of the fruit an extra punch and is quite easy to white balance.
- I was very happy with the second photo. It shows the enjoyment mixed with the serious nature of picking the fruit. In the background the narrative gets an early start with uncle peering at the $1 stall from his own. It is almost a set up shot for the proceeding narrative to begin properly.
- Image three is a favourite as it captures the buoyant mood of the vendors that night and clearly shows that this is the $1 stall. I like the framing of the customer and vendor, her looking at his hand and the produce while he explains the virtues of his fruit.
- In needed a shot which continued the narrative. It needed to show both $2 and $1 stalls together for comparison. I maybe could have used more space in front of the stall (although I do that in a later photo) to demonstrate the lack of customers. What I was trying to achieve, though, was the idea that the stallholder was wondering why he was getting no customers and casting a sideways glance at the other stall. It was a snap photo and caught the moment well although I would have liked better focus and framing on the man as the main subject.
- The aim here was simply to show money changing hands to explain how well things were going for the $1 stall. Fortunately I also have expressive faces in camera as well. The lighting really picks up on the lurid colouring of the bag.
- This is the ’empty street’ shot showing the stall with no customers. However, I couldn’t show this image without first putting the stall in to context with its rivals. The large $2 signs make it clear to the viewer which stall they are looking at. I like that the man on the left is looking away from the stall and is physically so far from it that he is almost in shadow. I am tying to give the impression the he could not be less interested.
- Another favourite shot showing the general interest and exchanges of various types at the stall. It keeps the pomelo as the main focus. Again the signs indicate we have moved stall. I am also consciously staying with the same vendor as he has an expressive face and is easily identifiable for the viewer for narrative purposes.
- I left the street for a while to give the night some natural progression. When I returned the narrative had moved itself on and I was presented with a rapidly emptying stall. This suited my purpose well. At this point I thought I was coming to a natural conclusion in the story.
- A fortunate break here, as I had no idea it would happen, although hanging around for longer than anticipated certainly paid off. I had no idea what was going on but it seemed prudent to shoot it. I have several shots of this going on but this one showed most promise. I had to make sure it was clear in the photo that he was on the $1 stall with the $2 one behind him. He also appears to be glancing furtively over his shoulder giving more grounds to doing something he shouldn’t be. The look from the woman behind him is also slightly odd as though she suspects he is up to something.
- The final shot unfortunately doesn’t show the man who took the fruits from the other stall, but is made up for by showing the character I have followed for the rest of the night. It is also possible to just about see the $1 sign behind the vendor’s arm. I had to wait a while for the stall to fill up with shoppers to complete the story.
I think the “telling moments” are strong in general with some stronger than others (images 3,4,6 and 9 stand out for me) I think without the punctuation of the ‘stall switch’ it would not have had the impact that I would have wanted. If that had been the case though I may not have submitted it. My only slight worry was whether it was clear enough as to what had actually happened in the narrative. Will the viewer be aware of what has happened regarding the pomelo swap?
I stated at the outset that I wanted this to be a ‘truthful’ representation of what took place. With regards to the timeline then it is. Each photograph is in chronological order. The slight untruths are told in the fact the $2 stall wasn’t always completely empty (although there were never many customers for obvious reasons) and that I hung around for the $1 stall to get busy before photographing it. However, that is the truth. It did get busy and the other was not busy.
The wide-angle lens worked well for this project and gave a pictorial continuity, which hung the series together well. I feel I have got close enough to my subjects to bring the viewer in to the story without feeling like they are left outside looking in. I have also used it to exaggerate the space and darkness in front of the $2 stall without needing to resort to manipulating the image in post-production. I have thoroughly enjoyed using this lens as a way of telling the story so it will be on my agenda in forthcoming exercises.
I felt that although it was a strong series the viewer most certainly needed leading through it so the format suited the purpose.
Overall I was very happy with this assignment from both the look and the story telling.
The original photographic assignment can be found here.