I am not a critic, I am not a writer, and I have very little expertise in photography. But I have feelings, and I felt I had to do something after I read the book from Marie Dailey about daily life in Singapore. So I wrote.
Being far away from your country, family, friends, in 2020, has been a complicated exercise. I recognize that 2020 has been stressful for mostly everyone in the world. But for those “abroad” or “far away from home”, it has also put us back again in front of what “distance” really means. Some — like Marie — had to see people pass without the chance of a last goodbye. A simple plane ride is off the cards. Traveling for business, for fun, or for life and death has become insurmountable. And stuck in our homes, our island here in Singapore, we make dramatic decisions for our life.
It is now time to resign, to leave, to stay, to create, to think. It is about clinching back the time that Covid-19 stole away from us , make it ours again. Reclaim some of what the pandemic has taken.
And this book is Marie’s project to do just that. Her pictures struck me by the intensity of daily life they convey. These are all snapshots of this closed world, surrounding us on this little Island-Nation so far away. It is a melting pot of very diverse culture, that cohabit and reinvented themselves in a new environment. Chinese, Malay, Indians living here are not in China, Malaysia, India. They reinvented themselves as Singaporean Chinese, Singaporean Malaysian, Singaporean Indian. It is somewhat what all expatriates have to do to benefit from the experience — reinventing ourselves and let some parts of our lives being reshaped by the culture and the environment surrounding us. Try to be less French, or whatever, and let ourselves soak into how locals actually live, and chose to respond to their environment day by day.
And it’s the beauty of these everyday moments that Marie managed to capture so well, the spirit of the instant, the movement of life. In each of these scenes I am there, with her, behind the lens but also somewhere in the frame, with the people on the other side of the camera. On the opening page I feel the sadness and solemnity of this boy mourning Lee Kuan Yew. I smell what is in the air when this lady gets her hair done later in the book — reminding me of my Aunt’s hairdressing shop. The food is omnipresent, as she says “a physical embodiment of Singaporean culture”. The indoor-outdoor life of Singapore put on paper.
You don’t have to have been here in Singapore to appreciate the book. The book is an invitation to mindfulness. We see everyday through our eyes scenes, big and little, that make our lives what they are. And we forget to pay attention — to be present. To feel. To interiorize what Peter Handke calls “die Stunde der Whare Empfindung”, the hour of true sensation.
Marie makes it obvious for you. These pictures cover the last 6 years here, a place of the world where speed of change is higher than anywhere else, capturing however the temporality of these daily acts. Those little details that we take for granted and thought they would be here for ever, but we know we might never be able to experience again, as progress destroys our memories.
That was a bit to protect what we are experiencing that we got couple pictures done here, during this Covid-19 semi-confinement, and we were simply taken away by the beauty of the shots that a photograph made of us. We could read through the pictures love, intimacy, intensity of the feelings and the moments. And I thought a lot about this experience, that was intensely personal, and quite upsetting. Going through Marie’s book helped me actually make more sense of it, helping me to realize what differentiates a picture-taker from a photographer. A picture taker manages to freeze time, in one print. But the freezing process — even if beautifully executed- removes all richness from the moment. It’s cold. A photographer makes each shot quintessential. By choosing the moment, and what goes in the frame, the photographer brings in one picture everything that happened before, and everything that happens afterwards. It’s hot, as life — a concentrate of movement in a still format. A scent of life.
Hemka, Singapore, November 2nd 2020.
To go further:
Marie Daily — Daily Singapore
Peter Handke — Die Stunde der Whare Empfindung