University life can be pretty bizarre.
We were given a strange assignment in an educational philosophy course. No rubrics, no sources and no academic writing. As a student – you wonder, “well, how is this going to get assessed”. At some points, it was painstakingly frustrating to start, because you’re generally given an idea about what people expect from you. Sometimes, that’s one of the perks of being a perpetual student; you’re cloistered up into an environment where worst consequence is expulsion – but the stakes of your actions are limited to assessment.
However, where your freedom lies in the time and lack of personal responsibility involving others – also lies the prison in which you’re beholden to the whims of your assessor. The master of your fate in which, if beguiled by their emotions, are the dictators of your own. Still, the comforts lie in the fact that most of your quandaries lie whether you pass or fail in a rather safe space. Education is a cushion of theoretical possibility, but so far removed from the realities that it tries to represent.
It had gotten to the point where so many different things were said, I became increasingly frustrated. But dear reader, you may ask that such a task is incredibly suited to your skills. You are a creative writer after all, and are a prisoner of reflections. But therein lies the problem; the reflections are my own. How does it stand against the vacuous, bureaucratic assessment of others? How do you even get assessed on your own reflections?
Well this was the end result. The assessment in short was a reflective essay about the significance of being, doing and knowing. The entire course was trying to grapple with these concepts. What it means to be, what is doing and questioning the existence of knowledge. I’m a stubborn, cantankerous creative type, so there’s a guarantee that I’ll twist the expectation into a way that challenges it, and make it suit my whims… or in other words – I just did whatever I felt made me happy with little consideration with the assessor’s expectation (oh, aren’t you rebellious).
Despite my initial frustrations – I really enjoyed the assignment… once I made it into an avenue to be creative. How I approached the task was I wanted to relate the concepts (being, doing and knowing) with the importance of memory, time and identity. You’ll see a lot of personal reflections and possibly quite intimate details about by life – so be prepared. There’s lots of pretentiousness to share.
Editor’s Note: I’ve added a reflections section underneath each – for notes I wanted to write about but didn’t get to and reflecting on what I actually submitted as of the present. Dear reader, you will also get 3 other reflective essays that didn’t make the cut!
Assessment: 3 photos (400 Words Each, Reflective Essay Pieces)
Photo-journal Essay Theme: First Times
The Self Conscious Selfie
Back in the day, having a myspace profile was somewhat of an invitation that epitomised a rite of passage that teenagers these days take very much for granted; an induction to the world of social media. In my younger years, it only felt the social media revolution had just begun, like an insurmountable and uncontrollable wave that no one had any chance to withstand. So, what are you left to do when there was an undeniable force that was about to change the world around you? Myself, like so many others let the wave consume us and embraced it, and our lives changed, for better or for worse. When you are confronted by violent coercions, choice and freedom becomes a volatile commodity. In a blink of an eye, those are taken from your hands in exchange for a lifestyle, or a way of being.
Gone are the days where days were mostly spent creating your presence through the physical worlds around you. But rather, there was a new playground to find yourself playing in, the virtual world. Rather than deciding what sport to play at a certain park, you spend hours modifying which picture to choose as your internet avatar, or customising how you presented yourself or what to put on your page.
It was the impetus of where I had vested interest in finding ways to manipulate representations of the self, and had instigated a practice I still hold to this day. It was not the start of my interest in the visual, but being an incredibly self-conscious teenager and with a history of being confronted by looking different, it was only natural to approach representing myself in a unique, surrealistic way. Where I was different in the physical and so-called real world, this was reflected in the way I chose to represent myself in the virtual world.
This was my first “selfie” and the first time I had another world to experiment with facets of my identity. Despite my limited skills, I had intentionally tried to distort every image that I released. Where others may have been preoccupied browsing and formulating albums of photographs that represented the best of their lives and themselves, filtered or unfiltered by time or effects, I was unafraid to use this as a mode of artistic expression. Beauty or the romanticism of life, while I appreciated and am inspired by it, was not my primary focus of representation. Life can be gritty, convoluted and confusing. People can be enigmatic. Worldviews can be esoteric. How to be is unique.
Post Reflective Commentary: I remember for awhile, people always seemed to be a little intrigued by why all the pictures I display or release of myself were distorted or modified in some way. Honestly, despite this write up being quite detailed about my mindset or trying to establish a personality or being conscious of distortions, I never really gave it much thought until I wrote this essay. The truth of the matter is (and I’ve confessed this before in previous posts) – I was always the “ugly” duckling. And for a very long time, I was extremely self conscious with how I look. I remember filters not being a common thing in social media when I took this selfie and started to photograph things! But honestly, I just think pictures, like us all are waiting to be told that they’re beautiful or that they matter or affect others. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.
“The Heart of an Explorer”
There is an undeniable wanderlust that lies in the hearts of people, especially those that rarely have opportunities to travel. This self-indulgent aphorism was solely created to describe an ongoing dilemma in which I wish to eradicate with furious fervour. I had rarely seen the world outside city, or dare I say, I had not seen reality outside the city of my birth. Where my worldly curiosity and knowledge was filled with passions of understanding the world around me through academic or leisurely researching different cultures and societies through books or the internet, I have barely stepped outside what was home. Paired with an insatiable love for exploring and learning, it comes as no surprise that when any opportunities do strike down, I voraciously take it with shameless gregariousness blinded by a sole ambition to explore and have a capacity to allocate an experience to my idealistic romanticism of the world.
This photograph was the first time I had truly stepped outside of city. And all it came down to was an impulsive suggestion a friend had for going on a road trip. Spontaneous plans sometimes are the most rewarding. Uncertainty can strike fear and leave us paralysed, clutching onto the comforts of what we know. However, positive experiences are special, where the barriers of expectations are broken down, and serendipitous lessons or perspectives we learn untainted by scepticism or doubts can create worthwhile memories. It is as if there is a symbiotic relationship where what we know keeps us guarded and safe, and uncertainty is a precursor to discovery. Having both together is like a metaphorical explanation of how our minds constantly wander and search for knowledge, which is then processed as an experience and leads to how we learn about things. Overconsumed by uncertainty, then the more difficult the discovery is due to lacking the controls to safeguard us from being lost. But over relying on the safety of what we know, leads us to hold onto the comforts of our worlds and never exploring others.
I think that is the romanticism of being a traveller. Like a scientific experiment, you can prepare yourself with already existing knowledge of a place you have never been through photographs, stories, interactions and views shared by others. The next step from that is forming your own perspective and understanding by going there yourself; either by comparison and relishing in being able to relate to others, or find to discover something others have not.
Post Reflective Commentary: As you probably can gather, I’m always extremely grateful to try new things for the first time. Travelling is no exception. I can only hope that I can eventually do a lot more and I can rid away that self-made aphorism I made for myself. 18 years of my life, I’ve dedicated to study and work. I had a brief break between my bachelors and my masters – but I didn’t have the liberty to do anything with that time. I’m travelling a bit more – taking my creative work with me to different places for inspiration. I’m still a little restricted, but sometimes you can find magic in the places close to you. Still, you better believe there are places I want to visit around the world. I’ve got a list, and I’ll love and forever appreciate it.
“Blinded By Romance”
There is something quite sad when unexpectedly stop loving something you have loved for a long time. In this instance, it was the love I had for participating in pop culture conventions that I attended to at least three times a year with very good friends. Upon reflection, it was not as abrupt as if I had woken up and had lost all interest or care at once. But a series of events in which I had grown discontent and found it less fulfilling each time I had went. It had felt less enjoyable to attend and become more expensive to participate. However, there was an undeniable void in which parts of your identity is taken away from you.
I ponder whether identity is an experience after reminiscing from this image. I had taken this image after prematurely leaving a pop culture convention after being extremely disenchanted upon the realisation of how unenjoyable I had found them. I pose this question as I had been taught and always thought that identity was a very fixed idea that lies in tandem with what we know about ourselves. With this example, I had always known myself to be an appreciator of pop culture and been an aficionado of going to places that celebrated the quirky and the delights of the socially awkward but fiercely passionate. Confronted by the realisation that I had no longer possessed this attribute was something that had changed my perceptions of myself, and subsequently my ideas of identity.
I remember quite sullenly walking away from the Exhibition Centre thinking I had lost a part of myself that was once so definitively me. I had my recently bought (my first) DSLR camera in tow and as solace, tried to find things to take photos of as a mental distraction. I had unexpectedly come across this solitary lock across the bridge. And it reminded me of knowing about a bridge in Paris that was filled with “love locks” across the bridge. The story is that the locks symbolised unbreakable love when attached to a fixture and when the keys for that lock are thrown away. Even though the presence of this lock may have absolutely no relation to this story, it was difficult (but by no means unpleasant) to imagine that this was the inspiration on why this lock was placed here.
And reflecting on this, simply knowing something as simple as a story, or a facet of yourself through different contexts or transformations plays with the new knowledge we form or make.
Post Reflective Commentary: I love this photograph. It was the first one I took when I had bought my first DSLR camera. I think I still remember my friend’s reaction when I told her I bought a DSLR on a whim. It was heavily reduced (50% off!) and she came with me to collect it. It was of disbelief! One thing you’ll learn very fast about me is that I’m a pretty spontaneous person. Impulses rule my life. That’s not to say I’d do anything without hesitation – but when there’s an urge inside and I’ve got the resources, I’ll do it! No is not in my vernacular when it comes to encouraging myself or others to pursue their passions or dreams.
The story that I wrote for my essay is true. And that still remained to be my last Pop Culture Exhibition to this day. I don’t really have an issue with them, and I’m so glad as a bleeding hearts nerd with the stacks of video games and geeky personality to go with every stereotypical depiction of nerds in the dark ages, that the things I loved are getting so much appreciation. Voice actors were my Brad Pitts, developers, animators and artists were my Steven Spielbergs back in the day. Anime was my kryptonite, video games are best friends and pop culture was (and kind of still is) my life. We’re just a bit estranged at the moment. But I’ll always have fond memories.
As for the love locks. Well if you’ve been reading my blog – you’ll know exactly why I resonated with that. (Just a hint: I’m a hopeless romantic!)
The 3 Unused Photo Essays
“A Parade of Lights and Stars”
It was a cold July night when I took this photo. A trend of my life is that the most spectacular things happen spontaneously or are serendipitous in nature. I never saw the excitement or wonder of fireworks. It was pretty much an annual tradition to be at home and watch the fireworks for New Years Eve, but all they were to me was just loud colour that disappeared. My other experiences with fireworks was being pushed around in heavily clustered and uncomfortable crowds. Social claustrophobia is not my scene and having anxiety does not help. So you could probably imagine the anguish I had when a friend had invited me to see the fireworks with her.
My dreadful expectations were met. The crowds were large and there was little space to move around the docks. Despite that, it wasn’t such a bad experience. My ideal fantasy would be just to watch the fireworks with only the people I was close to, or perhaps to just happen to stumble across them in solitude or with someone special. But a lesson you learn very quickly in life – is that most of the times, those fantasies are just fleeting visions that never cross into our realities. Some people pine for being free from the chains of work and study, others long for a lover or a companion to which fulfils their emotional needs that no other does. Some want to go back to the past where they feel their happiness had deserted them, and others wish for a brighter future to escape their pasts and are desperate to run from it.
As for me, while I had waited in trepidation of the fireworks to come, I too wished for something that night. That somehow, the fireworks would be an answer for all the longing I had in my heart. And as I muttered silently the wish I had, the white silky abrupt breaths that faded into the night, I could hear the crowd roar in excitement. The children waved their swords and toys that flashed colours on the shoulders of their fathers, and for brief intervals the fireworks had banished the dark of the night. I watched silently, and despite hearing my friends attempting to make conversation, they were just white noise. I was just waiting for an epiphany.
I didn’t make any life revelation discovery. It didn’t stop the discontent I felt in my heart or the emptiness that debilitated me. But I saw how people were affected by it. How much it seemed to matter to watch the fading of bright lights. Whether it was for their beauty, their whimsy, their explosiveness or that they cast away the shadows of the night. Whatever it may be, they had come out on an unwavering cold winter’s night and watched these ephemeral lights flash before their eyes and in that small moment – there was no other care in the world. That is the love that we chase. Those are the moments we crave. And in those small moments, you could see what it meant to be human.
“A View of Heaven”
I’m a hack.
Despite my life for photography, most of the best photographs I take only happen by chance. I work my way with a camera like my mother does with her mobile phone, in that she only knows how to make calls and still struggles to do that on a daily basis. For every one decent photograph, there were at least hundreds of very terrible ones. However, despite this mantra you’ll probably hear from every professional, sometimes something affecting and powerful can just strike at any time and sometimes the first time.
I took this photograph on the day I went on a day road trip with my friend. I remember just being awed by the nature and landscape that was around and this being my first time away from home with a friend – I wanted at least one defining photo to keep for my own that would cherish this memory. The one thing they never tell you about long trips is that the nature gets pretty repetitive and boring after awhile, but I always remained glued to the window – sometimes in silence just taking in the places I’ve never been.
The truth was, the day was quite windy and drops of rain fell from the sky. But there were brief moments of unadulterated sun. On my rather archaic phone, this was one of the first shots I took of the landscape and I never anticipated it would come out the way it did. It was basically a test shot. I remember releasing this and my friend called said it a a view “of heaven”.
“A Reverie of Permanent Hopes”
I have a joke that I tell my friends sometimes. The photos I take of inanimate objects gain more interest than the selfies I take. This rang true for this photograph, to which I thought I had only saw the interest and appeal of. It was an end of year celebrations and a farewell party for a dear co-worker at an organisation I had volunteered at for a long time. As my friend and I headed home from the party, I took interested to these two solitary park benches and had stopped abruptly our tracks to take a photo. At the time, I just saw the sadness of two park benches alone. And it ran through my mind what kind of stories that it could tell. Perhaps two sweet innocent lovers with awkward tics and sweaty hands struggling with their itineraries and their confessions of love. An arguing couple trying to resolve emotional burdens they had repressed for a couple of years while keeping their rowdy children in their peripheral vision. Or an old man sitting alone in introspection, wistfully yet solemnly reflecting on his life and his loneliness.
One of the wonderful things about getting caught up in your thoughts is that sometimes your thoughts run much more quicker than the reality outside of them. For what probably seemed like one of my common absurdities to my friend where I just whimsically took a random photo of a random scene was me contemplating those stories and what it meant to me. What would my story be at those park benches? What stories do I leave behind wherever I go? I wonder if anyone would’ve thought at the time of a young man who thinks about these things as a possible character that may have been at these benches. I’m pretty reckless with these so called “absurdities” upon reflection, I sometimes wonder if the people around me just think I’m plain weird. So I tone it down as best as I can for their sanity!
Every time I stare at this photograph, I just imagine a happy couple just watching whatever may be in front of them together. For awhile, this had bothered me, because why did it have to be a couple? I suppose for most of us, the idea of a companion to which you can be aside and see the same things is a romantic notion a lot of us have. Although what dispels the notion is that wouldn’t the couple be sitting at the same bench? What about the other bench beside it? Maybe the couple preferred having a bench to themselves. Or maybe there’s another couple besides them. Maybe that old man I mentioned before reminisces about the time someone used to sit next to him on a Tuesday afternoon but no longer does anymore.
The world seems desperate to pair you up with something or someone else. But maybe there’s a reason behind it. Even I’m not immune to the clutches of partnership. After all, my caption for this photo in my social media was “…One day, I’ll get to see the beauty and chaos with someone beside me…” And sometimes, that’s what the heart truly wants.