Passenger: A Journey with Raffles Photographic Society

By Nicki Chan (18S03C)

“I believe that photography is about storytelling. Photographs tell a thousand words, and can be used to reveal truths, connect with people’s emotions, and promote greater social consciousness.”

– Natasha Zuzarte (18A01B), Chairperson of Raffles Photographic Society (RPS)

Photography is not just a tool, but also an art. Like other artworks, good photographs inspire, enlighten, and move people, and require careful planning and production to induce such an effect. Through Passenger, Raffles Photographic Society (RPS)’s end-of-year exhibition, our resident photographers bypassed the mere displaying of photography skills, aiming to deliver insight and emotion through photo-taking instead.

When asked about the selected theme, Natasha said, “We chose the theme “Passenger” because it’s a very relatable concept to JC students. Literally speaking, we travel to and from school every day. Figuratively, ‘Passenger’ prompts us to consider other ideas like transience and journeys, which encouraged introspection and reflection.”

Nearing 4pm last Tuesday, the normally deserted area outside the TSD began to liven up, with Rafflesians and non-Rafflesians alike waiting to enter the venue and support their friends from RPS. Excitement was palpable as members of RPS busied themselves with welcoming visitors and preparing snacks.

The TSD itself was scarcely lit. At one corner, the live bands of Raffles Rock and Raffles Jazz took turns playing various songs throughout the duration of the exhibition, keeping the atmosphere relaxed. Meanwhile, the photographs of the exhibition were blown up on canvases placed along the walls. A spotlight was placed above each photo, and the soft lighting gave the place a peaceful ambience despite the many people milling about.

Visitors to the exhibition examining the photos.

At first glance, every photo was beautifully captured, with well thought-out angles and lighting, which prompted me to linger at each one in admiration. A plaque below each photo contained a writeup by the photographer, unveiling the inspiration behind the photo and its connection to the theme Passenger. Every single photo was different and its inspiration unique to the photographer, and pictured was everything from people to ordinary objects to landscapes. Many of these were  familiar to most, such as a park bench, passers-by, and the stocked shelves of a supermarket aisle. The exhibition was an eye-opening experience nevertheless as the intent and meaning behind each photo was made clear, giving visitors glimpses into the different ways each photographer interpreted our shared world.

Tan Ting Wei’s (18S03J) installation.

One picture that stood out was Tan Ting Wei’s (18S03J) photo of a desk. While many other photos were centred around people and things in public spaces, pictured here is the unruly desk of an ordinary student. The focus of the photo, however, is not on the state of the desk, contrary to what one might initially think – instead, the viewer’s attention is drawn to a Polaroid resting on the closed laptop. This, Ting Wei explains in his plaque write-up, was a photograph of the owner and his brother who have not seen each other in three years. The “sporadic reminiscence” of their times together keeps the owner going through the trials of a hectic student life, and the underlying message of the photo is that the things that keep us grounded, human fellowship and familial ties, are the very things we take for granted in the strenuous pursuit of a brighter future.

“We are all but passengers of the train of life – our existence transient, insignificant; our eventual fading in the cards – and what we all need, perhaps, are occasional breaks to cherish these qualities.”

– Tan Ting Wei (18S03J)

The desk is barely visible with teetering stacks of books covering every inch of it – a common sight in students’ rooms, no doubt – and a bag of McDonald’s takeout. Ting Wei’s photo draws on the familiar, using a scene that hits close to home – that of cramming for tests with barely any time for a proper meal. As such, it served as timely reminder for those who visited the exhibition, to pause and contemplate the true significance of what we value in our lives.

Nadya Bhandari (18S03Q)’s installation.

On the other hand, Nadya Bhandari (18S03Q) and Kristy Lim (18S03K) approached the theme from another perspective, choosing to include photos of animals instead. Nadya’s installation is an extreme close up of a cat. The cat (named George, with a laid-back personality) looks into the distance, seemingly perceptive enough to be human – and Nadya’s photo captures that, as it shows human expression in an alternate subject.

“Perhaps we aren’t so different after all? For are we all not mere passengers, riding the journey of life?”
– Nadya Bhandari (18S03Q)

Kristy Lim (18S03K)’s installation.

Kristy’s installation was slightly different: a series of two photographs, one of a bird standing still and the other of birds mid-flight. Kristy explained, “Even though birds expend energy during their flight, they seem to be so restful, as if they were passengers of their own wings […] Perhaps humans can glean from how birds pilot their own wings, restfully.”

Different though the two photographs may be, the message they convey is clear: humans and animals may have more in common than we think. Yet there is one difference: while humans rush through life, constantly in pursuit of something better, George and the birds choose to take it slow. By comparison, humans tend to miss the small blessings life has to offer, not living life to the fullest. Certainly, these photos allowed visitors to view the idea of being a passenger in a different light.

When asked what RPS hopes others take away from Passenger, Natasha replied, “We hope that visitors gain a better understanding of how RPS members view the world. All members sought to tell a story or make a point, and we hope that visitors have a better insight into the passions and concerns of our members.” Many outstanding works were displayed, and if one previously considered photography ineffective as an art form, Passenger could very well have dispelled that mindset. A deeply thought-provoking exhibition, it is unlikely that visitors would leave without having gained new insight and perspective.

“Ultimately, being a passenger is about the journey itself and the memories made. We hope visitors are satisfied with their ride with us.” – Natasha Zuzarte (18A01B)

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