From 22 – 26 June 2015, I had the opportunity to take photos for a 5-Day Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) BizCamp Lite for students from NorthLight School. Throughout the camp, many students experienced extraordinary transformations. But out of all the stories I have heard or experienced, there was one that was closest to my heart.
It was the story of a boy named R. R was distinctly recognizable because of the cap he wore and the earphones he plugged into his ears throughout the course of the camp. He was often seen sitting alone on the sidelines, and he only participated in activities selectively.
On the 4th day of the camp, as all the students were preparing for their business presentation for the last day of the camp, I was taking photos of them as usual. When I walked past R and saw him interacting with his facilitator, I instinctively took a photo of him. To my surprise, he cringed and said, “Ehh don’t take photos of me! I look so ugly!” I laughed his comments off since I understood that not everyone would be comfortable with having his or her photos taken.
However, his facilitator, Dorothea, took it seriously instead. “What do you mean ‘you look ugly’?”, she asked earnestly. R looked down and paused for a moment. Perhaps it was the comforting tone of her voice, or perhaps it was the moment R had always been waiting for- the moment someone cared enough to ask, because not long after, he started sharing his story.
Having been bullied in school since K1, R has always felt insecure about himself. He even recounted a time when a classmate told him to “go and die”. These words stuck with him like a thorn in his flesh till today. In order to keep himself safe, he decided to build walls around himself instead.
As I was listening to his story by the side, a photo of him popped up in my mind. It was a photo I took of him on the 2nd day of the camp. He was playing a game called, “Splat!” and he was on the verge of winning the game. In that moment, his smile was extremely radiant and the confidence he showed was unmistakable.
After Dorothea finished talking to him, I decided to show him that particular photo on my computer. The moment he saw it, his eyes lit up, and he beamed uncontrollably. That expression is one that I can never forget. “Wow. When did you take this? Is that me?”, he asked out of disbelief.
It was in that moment that I realized the power of a photograph. An innocent photo I took in a moment suddenly became meaningful when it was attached to a context. Dorothea and I could go on and on about how good he can strive to be, but that photo acted like a piece of evidence. It convinced R that at least in that one particular moment, he was subconsciously free of his insecurities. Being confident was no longer just a goal he had to achieve, because the photo showed that it was in him. It showed him a side of him that he had never seen for himself.
When I went home that day, another thought occurred to me. Well, the thing is, after some experimentation with taking photos for a few days, I learnt that the best way to capture the noteworthy moments was to pre-empt them. If that was the case, it meant that for a few seconds, or even a few milliseconds before I snapped that photo of R, I had a belief that he would turn out looking unafraid and self-assured. To have someone thought that of you even when you didn’t expect it from yourself… what a beautiful thought, isn’t it?
So where did that belief come from? I think it stemmed from the fact that he was a complete stranger to me. If it were R’s teachers, friends or parents who have been used to R being quiet, uncooperative and even “weird” from their perspective, would they have prepared to capture this moment for R? Or would they miss it because of their preconception of him?
Thus, instead of simply showing me the power of photography, that particular photo taught me the power of perspectives. For R, even though that belief I held in that moment was only for a split of a second, the product that came in the form of a photo had a ripple effect. Before I walked away from him that day, I told him, “I hope to take more photos of you like this.” And I did. At the end of the camp, R won the “Most Improved Award” and his facilitators and I had never been prouder of him.
This is but one incident. So you can imagine the countless moments of pride we can capture if we just take a step back and isolate our evaluations of others from our prejudices. I guess that is an important lesson I took away, less so as a photographer, but more so as an educator and as a person.
A quote by Randy Pausch from his lecture, “The Last Lecture”, sums it up best. ““Wait long enough and people will surprise and impress you. When you’re pissed off at someone and you’re angry with them, you just haven’t given them enough time. Just give them a little more time and they almost always will impress you.’”
When a person continues to fall short, it is of human nature to form judgments. But if we learn to see him or her with a fresh perspective each day, and commit to the belief that if you wait long enough, you will definitely capture a moment when his or her good side will show, it will.
How do I know? Because for R, he did.
I am honoured to have written this article for Halogen Foundation Singapore’s youth centric blog, Postscript. Visit http://www.postscriptstories.com if you have a personal story to share (: