Faces underground

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

  • This photograph wasn’t going to be today’s picture. I had visited a Chinese Buddhist temple and had at least three good pictures from there that would have been great. But then this picture presented itself to me.

    I snapped the picture while on the MRT here in Singapore. I’d just boarded the subway at Outram Park and as I sat down I noticed the old man with the grumpy expression staring into nothing, just rocking slightly with the motion of the train.

    I’ll be honest here, I thought his expression was funny. He looked like the grumpiest man I’d ever seen, so I decided to take a sneaky picture so I could share it with a friend via email. It was as simple as that, no great thought, no careful set up or composition. I just placed the camera on my knee and tried to take the picture without anyone noticing. As soon as I had done that the train reached Tanjong Pagar where I got off.

    Later on, after preparing the photographs of the Buddhist temple, I quickly grabbed this picture to send it to my friend. Only then did I really look at it. What at first had been a simple throw away snapshot for giggles, now seemed far more intriguing.

    Of course the old man looks interesting, leading me to wonder if he really is grumpy and what he might have done for a living. But then there are the other people, all looking away avoiding eye contact in the way people do on public transport.

    What had initially been a throw away photograph, headed for email then the trash, now seemed much more interesting than those pictures from the Buddhist temple. They were appealing enough, but this scene invites you to do more than just look, because it doesn’t so much tell a story as much as it suggests one.

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