In December, I broke journey in Singapore for about a day and a half and spent most of that time on foot, exploring every nook and cranny and trying to take as many photographs of the former British colony whose shores I have been familiar with since I was just eleven years old.
I was walking down Mosque Street, shooting as I walked, I was about to turn around when, in the distance, I noticed this man. Normally I would not have given him a second glance, but there were a few things that attracted my curiosity.
First, he was pushing a large cart. Second, he had a distinctive gait because of a very pronounced limp. Third, he was pushing the cart on the street, not on the pavement. He was a long way away, but for some reason I waited and watched. I saw him stop occasionally and ring a bell above his head.
Obviously, it was some sort of signal to local residents that he was doing his rounds. Then he would begin his journey again. I was intrigued. The thing about photographing people is that it can sometimes be construed as extremely intrusive. When you do so in a foreign land, where you do not speak the local language, this can become a real problem.
I walked towards the little old man and I began to realise just how short he was (check out his height, in relation to the parked cars beside him) and just how easily he was pushing the large, cumbersome cart. I had my Pentax around my neck and caught his eye, pointing to the camera. To my relief, he nodded solemnly, and I quickly took a couple of frames because I didn’t want to delay him.
I thanked him and he continued down the street. I remember thinking how expressionless his face was and I wondered what sort of day he was going through. Again he stopped and rang his bell - and I realised I simply had to run after him and take some more shots of this combined ritual of determination and commerce and the way in which he earned a living, despite his disability.
Let me tell you, catching up with him was not as easy as it sounded. When I did, I used sign language once more to ask if I could photograph him and yet again, he graciously nodded. This time he took out his bell and rang it, just as he had done before, above his head. And then, for the first time, his expression changed. It lightened and the beginning of a smile began to light up his face.
Then his brown eyes began to sparkle. His face took on an impish expression. I didn’t have time to change the camera settings, so you’ll notice that the speed was not quite right and that the motion of his hand has caused a slight blur.
But I managed to capture the capricious expression on his face. Then I saluted him, thanked him once more and off he went. So small when viewed in the totality of his environment, but such a big man when it came to pausing for some stranger with a camera.
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