6 months ago, since the day we had received our first photo contribution, it has been nothing but hard work for everyone in the SG Snaps team. Going through the thousands of beautiful memories that we have collected from our trusting contributors now brings us wonderful experiences from our collection drive. We cannnot say this any less: All the photographs that we have collected will not be possible without the efforts of the participating students who have stepped up to go door to door in the neighbourhoods with us.
For this blog entry, we recollect one of the best days with a group of 12 volunteers joining us at Redhill. The participating volunteers were the staff of the Halogen Foundation, teamed together with students from CHIJ St Theresa’s Convent and Hwa Chong Institution. It was daunting, thinking how to coordinate 6 pairs of volunteers scattered in the neighbourhood, but we knew one thing for sure – that each of their participation will be unique with every resident they meet.
The volunteer experience at Singapore Snaps means a lot to us. We believe, for an individual who shares our vision and comes forward to work with us, every precious minute of their time counts. The best returns of volunteering will always be the learning and interaction in a social sphere where the public gathers to do good. Because of that, before we head out to the neighbourhoods to interact with the local residents, a warming-up briefing session with our volunteer team would be the key to a rewarding volunteer experience.
Each volunteer gets to introduce himself or herself in the quirkiest of ways – by recounting his or her first memory; the first thing you remember consciously. This is SG Snaps’ unique way in getting to know everyone better. This part of the session is always filled with comical moments that even the shyest volunteer would join the conversation and have a good laugh.
Simply because SG Snaps is one project which is interested in excavating memories, being acquainted with our volunteers means learning their memories too. First memories are significant to us, because it is intimate and it signifies the beginning of our consciousness as an individual. We also had the honour of some volunteers bringing their own photo albums to share with the group. Looking through old photographs is one definite way of knowing a person better.
Most certainly, the most important aspect of our briefing session is appreciating and handling the old photographs. We prepare our volunteers to receive the photographs in an array of formats – from the ones pasted into adhesive albums, to the ones inserted in sleeves or even piled up in loose sheets. SG Snaps team member and photographer Samantha Tio, shared with the student volunteers the technicalities of handling photographic prints. She also shared her views on why images created during the era of analog cameras are important and relevant to us even today.
The students started out with great energies, and with positive attitudes they had managed to encounter some amazing finds. During this particular door-to-door collection drive in Redhill, we found our first hand-coloured photographs. For many of the young participants, it was the first time seeing anything like that. Read more about studio portrait trends from the 1950s-80s in our previous post.
What was also remarkable about that photograph was the handwritten message on the back in Chinese characters in calligraphic style, dating and addressing the portrait to a beloved. The photograph was taken and developed in 1967, and was addressed to the sender’s aunt. We later noticed more photographs with such personal messages. It was a trend then, to give a copy of the photo with accompanying text to relatives and friends, just like a postcard.
One of our youngest volunteer, Edison recounts how he was so delighted when an elderly resident had invited his group into his house. He described the house to be filled with incredible antiques and the series of portraits that he had kindly contributed for the project seemed to be dated to the early 20th century.
Unfortunately not all the students managed to interest a resident to participate and contribute old photographs. Rejection is part of this learning process and it pushes us beyond of our comfort zones, humbling and motivating us continuously. We truly hope our volunteering students had learned beyond the textbooks, and benefited from their unconventional afternoon with Singapore Snaps.
Written by Samantha Tio
Edited by Tan Wei Keong
Photographs by Khee Shi Hui