I know little about photography, but I do know it’s a battle between darkness and light. Darren Soh’s new series-sequel, In the Still of the Night, brings this desperation to the surface. He responds to Mrigaa Sethi’s question (“What was the hardest shot to get?) quite matter-of-factly:
One of the hardest shots to get was this – MRT Line and Green Corridor, Kranji, 2015. When I made this image, it was completely dark save for the lights from the cabins when a MRT train would pass. This part of the rail corridor in Kranji required some trekking to get to as it was far from any road and the undergrowth was really thick. So access-wise it was fairly tough and trying to compose the image in near complete darkness was also quite an experience.
On one hand, I know that my own eyes will not allow me to see what the camera saw. Kranji looks nothing like what Soh’s viewfinder captures. On the other, isn’t there something defiant about overexposure, about a man making a mechanical eye drink up every last scrap of light so we would have more than merely pure and total blackness?
Perhaps serendipity gave me a connection to Darren and his wife Melanie, through Dawn. Dawn, singer-songwriter, homeschooling mother-of-two, was reading my book, and came across the poem I had written after Darren’s While You Were Sleeping—the 2005 starting point for In the Still of the Night. She recorded herself reading the poem, and messaged me over Facebook, sending the recording and revealing that she knew Darren’s wife, linking us up.
Melanie told me Darren was prepping a book and exhibition, a follow-up to While You Were Sleeping, and was experiencing low morale trying to get his project up and running, and could I share my poem with them? Of course I said yes, and looking back, maybe this was my way of drinking up the light. Although I won’t be able to make it to the exhibition opening tonight, maybe someone reading this might be moved to.
In the face of geopolitical turmoil and deep personal hurt, I wonder if after all art cannot, does not heal. In reality, that patch of Kranji is dark, and infested with mosquitoes, and forgotten, and most of all doesn’t look anything like the photograph. Some kind of lie?
Maybe art can’t do anything in the face of suffering. At its best, it might point to something beyond itself. At its most mediocre or tolerable, art is less a candle in the storm, more a band-aid over the bullethole.