Singapore, March 2020
The third week of lockdown, my mother passed away unexpectedly. Unable to return home, and discouraged from even leaving my house, I began walking the empty city at night. The loneliness of the streets somehow reflected what I was feeling. I also welcomed the exercise. I began taking a small street camera, seeking compositions of darkness enveloping dim light. As time went on, I realized the images had evolved into the opposite: light breaking out of the darkness. Optimism and hope slowly returning, within me and the city itself.
Empty City was an expectation at first. An assumption. A city in lockdown should have nobody on the streets. Yet the Empty City was anything but. There was a strange metamorphosis, or maybe a sleight of hand. It is the story of the invisibles who walk among us every day unnoticed – the box collectors, the forgotten, the desperate – who had suddenly appeared as the majority. Fully visible. Conversely, places of worship and congregation became empty buildings, their vast spaces accentuating the stillness. Everything was reversed. Restaurant workers became essential services. Delivery boys, once a dangerous nuisance, became like ambulances, rushing through streets to feed a population in self-exile.
The work was done in black and white because the color of the city had faded with the people. Indoor lights, once at ground level in restaurants and bars, migrated up into apartments from where the people waited and watched, hoping for some kind of return to normality. Darkness moved down to street level, broken only by the automated streetlights casting shadows that nobody would see.
On Hill Street, the fire station, once a nice place to take a selfie, became a symbol of the real front line. Every five minutes a garage door would suddenly open, unleashing ambulances with urgent lights but no sounds, which sped into the darkness left and right. To face the virus we were all avoiding yet couldn’t see.
The work was unplanned and was created during long walks in different neighborhoods, chosen for their architecture and history. They were made on a small street camera with a 35mm or 50mm lens and a tripod. A minimum of post-production was employed. The work evolves from images focusing on darkness to those focusing on light, a shift of mood felt by the photographer as we all neared the end of the lockdown.
Steve Golden is a fine art photographer dedicated to capturing ways of life fast-changing in Asia. Arriving in Tokyo with a backpack and $200, he has now been in Asia for 30 years. His first career was in academic publishing, during which time he published several travel articles and images in The Japan Times. Steve then took up a rare opportunity to work as a strategic advisor for Lonely Planet, a path that led him to turning a lifelong passion for photography into a profession. In addition to being published widely in books, magazines, newspapers, online and on broadcast TV, Steve has exhibited and sold fine art prints in galleries across the region. His second book, Faces of Yangon, was published in January 2020, and the work was exhibited in The Leica Gallery at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. He resides in Singapore, and is a staff member at LASALLE College of the Arts.