Going door to door and asking for old printed photographs might be one of the least expected activities for secondary school students of a photography club. Some students might find this activity rather remote from the regular doses of photographing school events and exhibiting their photographs for a school exhibition. What do old photographs from communities have to do with photography then? Possibly everything!
The Singapore Snaps team were delighted to welcome the photography club students of Fairfield Methodist Secondary School to join us for 3 sessions of their photography club program with the initiation of their insightful teacher-in-charge, Mr Larry Loh.
Kicking off the program in the first week, participating students started off getting to know a little more about the value of old photographs and how to handle them with care. The project orientation session with the students on was held in the cozy activity room at Geylang East Library. The students’ knowledge on photography was wide, but it was one of the first time they had come into close contact with photographs created from the analog era. Some students had even brought their personal family photographs from home to share with the group.
Following which, we accompanied the students straight into the neighbouring blocks across the road from the library to begin the door-to-door photo collection. For many of the students it was their first time in a door-to-door community involvement program like this, but all of them certainly had the courage and tenacity. Most of them started out shy whilst a number of the students were very forth coming with introducing the project to the residents.
On the second session, the students continued going door-to-door speaking to the community. From the feedback session that we had with the students, disappointment from being unable to receive a single photograph from any resident was common:
“I felt pretty disappointed as we did not have a single contribution and most of the neighbours turned us down. (On what can be improved) Our communication skills. We need to improve on our mandarin (our mother tongue) and other dialects” – Hagen Li
The students recognised the value of being multilingual so they can communicate with more people in Singapore because of the diverse cultures here. Comfortable with a single language used amongst their families and friends, the students quickly realised the value of dialects in understanding people from the earlier generations.
But some of the students took the rejection in a very positive light. C.S Chan a student wrote:
“Through the collection of old photos and speaking to strangers publicly, I realised that photos are more than just memories. They are precious milestones (of individuals) in their golden years. Many were reluctant to offer (their photographs)… Perhaps that is how priceless the photos are to them.”
Chan also drew the connection between photography and biography in his reflection.
“One’s photography is another’s biography.”
Audrey, another student from the photography club gave us new insight to our project:
“I learned that stories are meant to be shared and the power of voicing our inner thoughts… This experience allowed me to treasure the community even more especially when there are so many stories waiting to be shared by them! Their fascinating stories bring Singapore’s past alive, so that us, the next generation could appreciate its beauty and see through its growth.”
We were extremely heartened to receive handwritten reflections like these from the students. They were very honest and we were glad that this community involvement from the students were beyond simply achieving the project’s goals. The students took home with them new insights about the local community, and of themselves. The younger generation’s interest and participation are necessary and important for us because the observation and writing of history is a continuous task for us to gain insight of the present.
Singapore Snaps would like to thank the students of the Photography Club from Fairfield Methodist Secondary School and teacher-in-charge Mr Larry Loh. They had travelled far to join us and we have learned as much from them as they had during their journey with us.
All photo credits in this post are Chan Wen, Hagen Li and Larry Loh.
Written and edited by Samantha Tio