I happened to chance upon a quote in the movie, “Up”:
“Sometimes, you will never know the value of a moment.
Until it becomes a memory”.
It coincides with what’s on my mind in these recent times as I cope with illness, ageing, people I care about ageing, climate change, covid. My journal app regularly serves me memories of the past, and almost everyday I see old photos of before. Before – when walk through crowds and eat indoors without fearing for your life, when we did not wonder if that was the last time we’ll ever get to see our friends living in other countries again. What of now will be the “before”, in our future?
The other day I visited a neighbourhood I grew up in, and I was excitedly telling my partner what a rare huge open air carpark it still has. Only to find out that they are probably demolishing it soon, replacing it with a multi-storey carpark. I get that land is scarce here so we don’t have a choice, but I cannot help but feel a sense of loss over the remaining open spaces. Is this what our parents and grandparents felt when they were “encouraged” to move out of their kampungs and into high-rise apartments?
Over the past couple of weeks I went around taking pictures in older neighbourhoods. I felt the pre-emptive grief as I took in the nostalgia and beauty.
I submitted to a local street photography community for feedback, and the couple of feedback I received was that the subject was not big enough, the background was too distracting, the photo should be in black and white, the subject is not interesting enough, that if I had to explain it then it is not good enough, etc.
It was a very interesting internal experience for me. I didn’t agree with the feedback, and I worried that I was being too defensive. But I thought about it for an entire day, and I realised that while I may agree that the composition or crop or colour editing could be better, I really felt deeply that the particular photo was beautiful, at least to me. I love the blue skies, the arching tree, the unexpected pastel beauty of the neighbourhood, the gravitas of the person.
I realised in that moment that with regards to my photography, or to any creative output really, the philosophy is the same as my writing:
I submitted the photo in the first place because I am new to photography and was curious about people’s perspectives, yet I learnt from that experience that I don’t want to necessarily get better in the classical sense, I just want to take pictures as me. To share the beauty I see through my eyes. I cannot make people agree that everything I see is beautiful, but I can honour my own creative vision, no matter how obscure (if you’re reading this post, thank you for appreciating my equally obscure writing). I also do not want to argue with people over the definition of street photography. I just like taking photos and want to continue taking them in a free, joyous, lighthearted manner.
Upon deeper introspection, I also realised that I have an unconscious desire to document things that seem ordinary. To me, clear blue skies are a luxury that we should really enjoy and appreciate now. People walking around freely even with masks is something that is precious (think about what is happening elsewhere in conflict-ridden zones). Shops that are essentially an outward expression of the shopowner’s personality are so hauntingly beautiful. People, seemingly ordinary people – people who carry a lifetime of memories, experiences, trauma, happiness, this is the invisible yet tangible energy we see and sense with the way they carry themselves. If we’re lucky enough, we could capture that in a photo.
I am developing a respect for the way people are going about doing their things/jobs/chores despite the harshness of this world. I am starting to find people beautiful (albeit from a distance).
There is a commonality in both of the things I love to do these days: cycling and photography. They both take me out of my regular autopilot semi-zombie mode, expanding the opportunities for me to notice the depth and width of the world. I just want to hold on to every ordinary moment I can possess, for as long as I can, before everything only exist in memories.