Singapore can be a strange place to make pictures sometimes. As someone who’s lived here for nearly 5 years, on occasion my job as a photographer is affected in unusual ways.
Singapore is a place where rent-a-cops often don’t know the rules, other than “you’re wrong”. They’re really good at overstepping the bounds of their legal authority, and even though you know for a fact they are wrong and should just let you go about your work, no amount of reason or logical argument means anything to them. They are like the daleks in Doctor Who, out to exterminate photographers. Their authority as gatekeepers is final.
Every few months, this results in something I like to call the “Bank Picture Ballet”, where usually 2-3 security guards and myself get involved in a ridiculous dance around each other as I try to make a perfectly legitimate picture to match an economic story.
I’ll be doing something straight and legal. Approaching a bank building while walking on a public pavement – carrying 2 camera bodies and lenses to try and illustrate an earnings story – as soon as I stop to frame a picture, dudes in black with radios in their ears and stern no-nonsense faces will be on the scene within seconds. I’ll insist I’m doing nothing wrong, that I’m on public land – yes, you can go ahead and call the cops, you’re the guys harassing a member of the public for no good reason — but the dance continues as I try to move and they try to block my picture. Sometimes, I end up sending these pictures to the wire — in anger, because they’ve left me with no other choice.
A few months ago, I was photographing another event which turned into a real song and dance. An arts group was performing in the financial district as part of the annual arts fest, dressed in black suits carrying boomboxes disguised as suitcases. The idea was to make fun of corporate culture. They briefly wandered under the canopy of a large office building as I was taking pictures. Predictably a hapless security guard hits the scene within 30 seconds and seeing me as the ringleader of a security threat starts to argue with me about things like filling out forms and seeking permission from building management. I tell him I have nothing to do with this, hello! this is an arts performance!, and can you please go away, but he hangs around abusing me, pushing my camera into my face and calling me all sorts of names until the performers start to think this is pretty funny and dance around us. Five people dressed in black suits, dancing to music around a silly argument, with a lunch time financial district crowd watching – there are times when you stop arguing despite your anger, and start smiling at the absurdity of the whole thing.