By Huang Beihua (20A03A) and Ng Jing Ting (20A13A)
It took us all of two minutes to locate the Visual Arts Centre. Located just a stone’s throw away from the entrance of Dhoby Ghaut MRT station, the glasshouse exhibition gallery was this year’s venue for Raffles Photographic Society’s (RPS’s) annual photography exhibition, Kalopsia 2019.
‘Kalopsia’, a rather wistful word referring to ‘the delusion of things being more beautiful than they really are’, aptly, if somewhat mawkishly, encapsulated the evocative sentiments of the exhibition. As chairperson Brendon Loo (19S03H) explained, “the state of delusion” the word captured succinctly reflected the vision behind this exhibition: to showcase photography as “more than just taking aesthetic photos”, but also an art form to “conjure a deeper significance and meaning”.
The Year 6 members, bolstered by their year (and often several more) of experience, were at the forefront of this endeavour. What drew our attention as we entered the room was a photo rendered in iridescent technicolour, bearing the distorted reflection of a fashionably dressed woman—a filter, as RPS members on site clarified, rendered by the coloured windows along Orchard Road. More than just an exercise in special effects, however, the surreal colours of “Our Manufactured World” is a stunningly visual expression of Zheng Huijun’s (19A13B) reflection on the meaning of happiness. The photo’s reminiscence of the candy wrappers from an innocent childhood is in fact bestowed by an epitome of commercialism. With this, Huijun makes a powerful statement on the corruption of an “untainted, simple idea of happiness” we could have had by a material, “inane need” to “reach the highest echelon of society”.
That deeper meaning, however, needs not always be profound
and mildly terrifying philosophical musing: it might just be “uncovering the simple stories in our everyday lives”, as Ku Cheng Yong (19S06G) told us. His own work, for example, was a duo of pictures shot skyward, a reference to his own love for aviation.
A collection of Polaroids on the same wall stood in further testament to the intimacy and emotions expressed through photography. Bearing the title “67” with little pretense was a candid story of Jynelle Ong (19S03B) and her 67-year-old grandmother, and of them “laughing with each other for the wacky poses and ideas that [they] thought of.” Though unremarkable at first glance, then, the vintage charm of the photos in fact served to witness and immortalise that simple, sweet, sincere, yet priceless love. The cloudiness of the Polaroids only served to further crystallise the meaning behind them—“the inability of these prints to capture the true value and magic of the moment,” as Jynelle concluded her photo caption, “is what makes it so special to us only”.
“I wanted this project to be more than just a set of photos, but something we could both remember.”—Jynelle Ong, explaining her exhibit in a write-up
Some members chose to take the idea of a collage one step further. Sitting patiently for visitors’ perusal—or, indeed, admiration—were photo books painstakingly collated and curated by photographers. While less noticeable as they rested on their stands, these books, each page carrying a different take on the same theme, and sometimes even decorations like dried flowers, were pieces of art all by themselves.
Of course, they, too, centre themselves around stories. Jiang Jin Liang (19S06N), for example, chose to make the plight migrant workers often face the focal point of his collection. His poignant street photography painted a sombre picture, in cool and unsaturated colours. Themed “Life”, they cast the spotlight on the dire conditions many workers were forced into despite drastically altering their lives to help build a country far from home. The process of creating this book, however, was more than just social commentary. For Jin Liang, it was also “a self-questioning and realising process”. “It made me wonder about my own life and what I should do,” he confessed, reflecting on witnessing the subjects of his photoshoots firsthand.
Meanwhile, the works of the Year 5 batch of RPS took up an entire wall at the far end of the gallery, tinting it with varying shades that made for a vivid, almost garish, effect. Gesturing at the photographs, Fallon Thng (20S03B) quips, “They’re all heavily edited,” before hastily adding that that did not negate the painstaking hours spent on the field capturing the perfect shot. Indeed, her own photo, depicting a man riding a motorbike alongside the Old Hill Street Police Station, took no less than half an hour to shoot, and another three hours to edit. The rest of the works, with their poignant depictions of Singapore’s street life, proved equally prodigious in both finesse and artistry. Fallon adds that “[they] were originally going with [another] theme”, but the batch had unequivocally voted for the alternative option of street photography after their instructor had deemed their work with light painting unsatisfactory. And, as expected, they had come through exceedingly well.
Members of the Year 5 batch were not alone in their experience of serendipity. Their seniors, likewise, had encountered various mishaps during the process of editing their photographs. While the exquisite final products, curated with utmost perfectionism, failed to convince visitors that they were anything but, the flawed outcomes of previous attempts were collated in a book for the sake of posterity. Visitors scribbled down encouraging notes to the creator: comments along the lines of “You go gurlie!” featured heartwarmingly alongside the accidental products of over-saturation and under-exposure.
Despite it being a photography exhibition that promised to engage visitors’ visual senses, enthusiasts of philosophical ideas reflected in deep, introspective prose found themselves delighted as well. Captions accompanied the framed exhibits, ranging from whimsical musings to intimidating, metaphysical arguments. In her accompanying caption, a particular member of the Year 6 batch wrote, “Happiness is a labyrinth, and maybe the only way to win is to look within, as cliché as it may be”.
Having completed their revolution around the gallery, several visitors milled around, alternatingly refreshing their Instagram feeds and congratulating their RPS friends. Some, however, chose to gravitate towards the photo booth that had been conspicuously set up next to the entrance. Against the backdrop of a large black cloth, friends and family members took it in turns to pose before a camera. The patient few who remained for a little longer received miniature printouts of their photos, free of charge. Even though the printer broke down unceremoniously halfway through the day, RPS members’ professionalism took over as they broke from their scrambling to fix it in time for the next influx of photos, precipitating a warm display of comradeship and fervent hope that was the real highlight of the afternoon.
We left the exhibition, hearts full and minds “shookt” with the satisfaction of an afternoon well-spent hanging over us. Ultimately, the whole motivation behind this exhibition and, indeed, the ethos which underpins the very being of RPS itself was, as Lim Yu Tong (19S06F) puts it, “not… fancy equipment or large aperture, but rather a duplication of truthful emotions”. Noble aspirations, yet Raffles Photographic Society has managed, once again, to prove that they could achieve it all.