LongformSocial Issues

A telling of gratitude through the imperfections of instant film

With the press of a single button, a piece of film slowly makes its way to the world from the inner workings of my camera. It is exciting, the brief 15 seconds that follow.

As I wait for the image to develop, I take the time to try and create a connection with the person I’ve just photographed. I crack up a short conversation. Within 15 seconds, I establish an easy doorway to a potential friendship. That is the power of an instant camera.

Having my picture taken with some children

There is beauty in the imperfect nature of processed instant film. As the world in 2019 raves about the newest gear and its high-quality results, instant film appears to take a backseat. Yet, not everything is about the end result. Instant film comes with its own intangible benefits, where it reigns with a high pedestal. 

Instant film has the unique ability to produce a captured moment in an instant and in its physical form, create an emotional connection between the photographer and the subject.

My friends and I posing
Using a mirror, my camera captures my friends and I
My friends and I posing at the playground

It is with great joy that I share my personal documentation through instant film. I documented my life with an instant film camera for a year — as a personal project —  and I hope to inspire individuals to see more meaning beyond a simple piece of film. 

My Kopi Life

A blur image of kopi, captured by my camea

With the clang of a teaspoon, a rich, familiar aroma wafts around the room. I always feel a pang of nostalgia and a surreal feeling whenever I drink a cup of Kopi. It is the boost of caffeine I need to rouse me up from my morning state of “burrito rolling” tiredness.

Kopi has become an essential part of my life. I cannot imagine a world with no coffee, no beans, and no cocoa plantations. A world without any of those would probably not be worth living in. I exaggerate, but merely to address my undying love for Kopi, so please pardon me. In all seriousness, I am grateful whenever I get a cup of Kopi.

My relationship with my migrant friends

Migrant Friends and I in front of a lorry

Located in a small alley that connects Little India and Rochor, lies a cardboard collection point. This collection point is where cardboard collectors would go to offload their cardboard and earn some money. Had I not been walking through this area with a friend, I would not have chanced upon this otherwise obscure cranny at Clive Street. This was definitely not just another common alleyway in Singapore — not one of the thousands of pristine “concrete jungles” that make up the garden city — I decided to stay a little longer. This place had managed to capture my heart in just a matter of seconds, and would move on to become an even more significant part of my life, as I document its happenings for the next five months. 

As I move up and down Clive Street, I forge many friendships with the different migrant workers that pass by routinely. I start to interact more with them, and our topics became more intimate, going from typical “How’s your day”s to more personal inquiries. “What’s your dream?” “How’s your family?” I begin to ask and learn more about their lives. 

Me and some migrant workers

The stories of their dreams and sacrifices are worth sharing. These migrant workers have big dreams! Some of them are bound by circumstances, mostly from back at home. Many of them face restraints that have led to them coming to Singapore to look for better work opportunities to fuel their dreams. 

Migrant Workers posing for my film

I learnt that showing appreciation to these migrant workers mean a lot to them. When I had some spare dollars in my wallet, I bought a few bottles of drinks for my migrant friends. It’s not a lot in the grand scheme of things, but knowing that the drinks can keep them hydrated under Singapore’s crazy hot afternoons makes me feel happy. 

Sincere love — a mother’s sacrifice

My Mother relaxing on her bed

Since young, my mother has always been on the lookout for me. She’s the one settling matters I pay little attention to — the usual household chores and bills. It was not until she was hospitalised for a month due to her medical conditions that I learned to take responsibility for the house. It wasn’t easy.

My Mother washing dishes
My Mother reading the news

My mother’s most significant acts of sacrifice are the ones she made in love. Her time, her devotion, and her concern when it came to my well-being. All of which I am grateful for. Time, sickness, and death exist to remind us that regrets can be a painful lesson if I were to not honor love with respect. We are always so busy growing up; we often forget our loved ones are also growing old. I treasure the time sharing a meal or conversation with my mother. As much as adulthood is robbing precious seconds away, I feel the need to prioritise spending quality time with my mother. 

“I was assailed by memories, both good and bad. Most were in a mode of gratitude — gratitude for what I had been given by others, gratitude too that I had been able to give something back.”

Oliver Sacks — Gratitude

If there were a piece of advice I could give, it would be to carry a heart of gratitude in your life. Even for the small things in your life, as small as a cup of coffee. Living a life of gratitude has allowed me to transform my heart. A grateful attitude brings forth joy from the inside, taking us from self-centeredness to a sincere love for others. 

As human beings, we are all full of flaws; imperfect, just like each piece of instant film. Yet, we are all capable of creating beauty around us. So, I implore you — take your first steps today and start creating beautiful connections with the people, along with the things around you. It all starts with the press of a button.

Photos by Soloman Soh from the DANAMIC Team.

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