After seven weeks in New Zealand, Flemming and I returned to Singapore in early December, to the brand new Downtown Line on the MRT (metro) system. The best part? There’s a station right down the road from home. A five minute stroll from Mum’s front door, and I main-line it into the country’s urban heart, with a minimum of interruption and cross-over.
Driverless trains sweep into swanky new underground stations anchoring a vast web of tunnels. We’ve come a long way from the 30 year old lines that run overground on elevated tracks, giving passengers a lofty view of the city rushing by. We’re now cushioned from the world above, plugged into our pocket worlds and chilled until we’re ready to be poured into the rapid glitter of Singapore.
I’ve been making pictures of course, much like the ones in this post.
But I am not as prolific with the camera these days. Despite my best efforts, I’m unnerved by the uber surveillance that is slowly making its way all over the island. Little round CCTV globes are spread all over the ceilings of tunnels, train platforms, and entrances in close grids. Outside stations, they sprout in bouquets of steel.
If it hasn’t already been for a while, I’m sure my presence is now flagged in some national security register.
I’ve been questioned several times by MRT staff about what and why I’m doing. To their credit, they’ve been incredibly pleasant about it – it’s been nothing more than “why are you taking photos?” and “I’m a photographer, it’s what I do.” I even had the pleasure of watching one light up at the picture on the camera’s back. “It looks like a butterfly.”
I continue to make pictures in stations, and trains, attempting to remain undeterred for the particular beauty of transit. But it’s hard to shake the sense of being continuously watched, and that HAL will decide some day that my continued photography is wrong.
My mother said it most succinctly the other night: “Lone brown person with a camera taking pictures in MRT stations. Not a good look!”
Photography is contentious these days, when we’re so aware – consciously or otherwise – and disturbed by imagery’s power in our private lives. There is some irony in this, and perhaps a lesson for the photographer. Whatever else the surveillance does, it keeps me thinking. And it’s hard not to, knowing that each person sucked into the field of that artificial eye’s view, is only valid as a risk assessment – Terminator style, I imagine, with traveling rows of vital statistics – nothing more, nothing less. Humanity must be measured to be managed.
But should it one day learn about the human heart, perhaps it will understand that this human:
… Photographs to remember where she comes from.
… Photographs to understand how it has changed.
… Photographs to understand how to move through a city she is still a stranger in.
… Photograph because she finds an ineffable beauty in the way we travel unconsciously to our inevitabilities.
… Photographs because this is her home, and all of these are her memories too.