Me, a sixteen year old, toting a camera around everywhere. In my hands, in the bag, on the table - it's usually around me all the time.
Some people tell me: Are you nuts? It's so heavy! Some comment: You're setting yourself up for easy theft! And my classmates (and sometimes, teachers) go: Camera man! Stop bringing your camera around and go study!
The classic question: Why do you bring your camera with you everywhere you go?
This is why.
On the 13th of May 2008, I brought my camera to (secondary) school as always. Just a simple 'newbie' setup. A gripped 400D, and a 50 1.8II. Classes chugged along on and on. Then it was our Chinese lesson, the most dreaded lesson to us.
Oh how us Chinese "B syllabus" / "failures" hated the lesson - one hour of Chinese. We were the ones with "no hope" for Mandarin. Yet our teacher tried to ease our burdens, knowing that we disliked the language and had practically no grasp over it. He would translate each sentence into English for us, hoping that we would gain just a little bit of knowledge out of that hour. He would give us short breaks during the lesson and sought to know each one of us a little better.
I got bored and shot some photos of him without him realising (and if he did, he didn't acknowledge). And then, after an excruciating fifteen minutes, the bell rang and off we went to our next class.
I went home that day, downloaded the photographs to my computer, and didn't bother about them any more.
Seven months later, I graduated with a Merit (the highest grade) in my Chinese 'B' Language. My teacher congratulated me while grinning ear to ear. "See! I knew you could do it!" he said in Mandarin. I laughed, thanked him, and left the school compound.
That was the last time we really talked.
Earlier today, I got news from my mom who works at a boarding house associated with my old school, that my chinese 'b' teacher, Mr Koh, had passed away on Saturday after having a stroke and slipping into a coma.
This was the photograph, the last one of him I ever got to shoot:
It's not a particularly great photograph. It's technically and artistically flawed in various ways. It was underexposed and slightly out of focus. The subjects were standing awkwardly. The lighting was florescent and horrible. It needed lots of post production just now when I reopened it.
Yet, it is the one photograph that I will always remember Mr Koh by. And now with technology helping me, so will many other ex-students who can relate to the scene in the photograph.
His grand nephew is one of my secondary school batch mates, and we are currently collaborating on a large print of this photograph, with signatures and messages at the back of the frame from as many as students as possible.
Yes, that is why I bring my camera everywhere. To let other people see the world as I see it. And often, to let other people see the good in other people, past and present, living and gone.
Thank you, Lord, for having me be at the right time, at the right place, in the right class. To be able to depress the shutter when You wanted me to. To immortalise the dearly departed in a photograph, forever, so that he may be remembered for who he was, what he did, and the lives he changed.
Rest In Peace, Mr Koh. You will always have a place in this little heart of mine.
(Mr Koh was the Chinese B teacher of Saint Andrew's Secondary School)
To any reading photographer, you never know what photograph might be the last one you'd ever shoot of a loved one. Treasure every moment, every photograph. Bad photos or not, it's not only about the art we create.