“Amidst maddening crowds and bustling bazaars, every corner is full of life and tells a unique story. This project explores the beauty within the mundane. Of ordinary people, street scenes and fleeting moments.” – Sze Tah
In 2011, Singapore based photographer Sze Tah took an unforgettable trip through India, and more than a decade later he’s finally sharing the images captured during this time. Shot entirely on film, Sze's photos document the beautifully vibrant country and diverse people he encountered. Each frame exudes a sense of romanticism and excitement. We can almost feel the dust on our faces, the heat from the sun on the back of our necks and the rhythmic juddering of the train. His photos make us want to jump on the first flight to India and discover these places for ourselves.
Please tell us a bit about yourself and how you got started with analogue photography.
Hello there, my name is Sze Tah and I'm a photographer based in Singapore. The first camera that I bought for school work (more than 20 years ago) was a digital compact point-and-shoot that had a really slow retractable lens that took a while to turn on. It was always left on automatic mode as I had totally no idea what was going on. Images were ok but it was too slow and I stopped using it after a while.
At the same time, I had a designer friend who owned the original Soviet made LC-A. The images from it were somehow different. Colors were bright and images were somehow more "substantial". I ordered one from you guys some time later and the images turned out great, but it was all automatic so I also began experimenting with other cheap Soviet and Chinese made cameras like the Zenit, Zorki, Seagull, Holga, etc. Most of them broke easily but had good optics. From there, I taught myself the fundamentals of photography, how to scan and develop film at home. It really makes you more careful as every frame costs a bit of money.
The photos from this project, Through Heat and Dust, are beautiful. Please tell us a bit more about this series and how it came about?
The images from this series were all from a solo backpacking trip to India that I took back in 2011. There was absolutely no planning done and I had no idea what I would come across. There were some ups and downs but it was a very photogenic place and a great experience overall.
I flew from Singapore to Chennai, as this was the cheapest ticket at the time. I took a three day two night unreserved train to New Delhi. Unreserved tickets are absurdly cheap but there are no seats assigned to the passenger. You can sit anywhere you want and they are mainly for the locals. From there, I visited Jaipur, Agra, Pushkar, Jalsaimer, and then to Darjeeling, the border to Nepal and then finally back to Delhi. It was hardly an efficient itinerary, but just like life, you can count on your plans not going according to plan.
Why did you choose India? And why did you choose to shoot film on this trip?
India has always been a mythical land to me and I have always been inspired by Steve McCurry and his work in India.
The overall look and feel of the images are different from a DSLR of that era. Shooting on film slows you down greatly and makes you pay more attention to composition and aesthetics. I also wanted to challenge myself and be in the moment. Not looking at LCD screens all the time, being distracted after a shot, pixel peeping and all those problems that we are so familiar with today. I also knew that the mechanical film cameras would not fail and some places had no power. If I had a flat DSLR battery, that would be terrible.
Do you have a favorite photo from the series?
It's difficult to choose a favorite but if I had to, it would probably be the shopkeeper in the vertical frames. It's a combination of aesthetics, color and the way he is staring into the camera.
In your opinion, what makes a good photograph?
Probably a combination of composition, shape and form, and also the right moment to fire the shutter.
You’ve used the Lomo LC-A+ a lot. What do you like about this camera?
It's a great little casual camera. For the moments where it's too unwieldy to reach out for a bigger camera. Once you learn the fundamentals of zone focusing and exposure, it does wonders.
Was there a particularly memorable moment that stands out from this trip?
Probably having tea in the heart of Darjeeling in the cold with a bunch of new friends.
What advice would you give to others who want to document their travels on film?
Try to get a reliable camera (Lomo LC-A, Nikon FM SLRs ) in good working condition. Test out a few rolls and make sure everything works properly. After that, practice more and visualise how it frames the scene even before lifting the viewfinder to your eye. Always be in the moment as it is very different from digital.
Do you have any exciting projects coming up that you’d like to share with us?
It will probably take some time, but I'm currently working on a series about the heritage architecture of Singapore, particularly the shophouses and pre-war buildings.