Reading between Sightlines
The exhibition Sightlines invites audiences to go on a trip of self-discovery with monochromatic photography and poetry. (Photo: Tsen-Waye Tay)

Reading between Sightlines

With most of us spending more time at home due to the pandemic, our lines of sight have been reduced to the familiar places we frequent. A new multidisciplinary exhibition, Sightlines, which marries photography and poetry, aims to expand the vision of audiences. 

Held at Alliance Francaise de Singapour, the literary and visual art exhibition takes its name from the tenth collection of poetry by poet-photographer Marc Nair, published in 2019. A collaboration between Nair and producer-artist Tsen-Waye Tay, the show serves as an extension of the book. Excerpts from his poems are juxtaposed against black and white photographs taken by Waye of her travels pre-pandemic. 

As the title of the show suggests, Sightlines deals with how one perceives a subject visually. Following the unnamed female traveller, who is both photographer and protagonist, the narrative moves from one undefined landscape to another. Nair’s poems serve as notes or commentary by the fictional traveller on her travels, affording the viewer another lens or perspective to view the photographs. Sightlines invites viewers to imagine themselves in those places rather than limit themselves to arbitrarily defined borders. 

Over the course of their careers, both Nair and Waye have accumulated a repertoire of skills, weaving their multidisciplinary expertise into the work. For the duo, working on the exhibition in a time of physical distancing, did not pose creative obstacles. Nair says: “Our shared aesthetic allows us some latitude when it comes to ordering the images and connecting them with the poems.” Waye adds that Nair’s poems, having a mercurial quality, are able to help viewers tease out and discover for themselves personal insights in her photographs. 

Another possible reason for Nair and Waye’s seamless collaboration — they are both skilled in telling stories through images.

Nair, one of the recipients of the National Arts Council’s Young Artist Award in 2016, says: “When I started photography, I taught myself composition, light and colour by going to the Orchid Garden at the Singapore Botanic Gardens and photographing every single orchid there. The repetition proved to be a useful exercise in honing an instinctive knowledge about the more technical aspects of making an image.”

He adds: “The same goes for writing. Practice does not always make perfect, but practice certainly makes you punch more powerfully.” 

Waye chimes in: “Henri Cartier-Bresson famously quipped, and I paraphrase, that the first 10,000 photographs you take are your worst, so shoot away. And most importantly, have fun.”

Learn more about Sightlines here, and join the artists for an exhibition tour on 24 Oct.

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