I learnt that Philip has passed on.
I rediscovered his book of photography “Singapore by The Back Door” recently while unboxing some of my memories. It was a gift from him 20 years ago. I painted Light Through Window Shutters from one of the photos. Just two days ago someone found my blog and told me that coincidentally, on the day that I painted that photo, he had met with motorbike accident in Malaysia. Philip fell into a coma, woke and was his usual cheerful self, but passed away on 1 Oct. He was in his 70s.
It now seems quite strange now that the second photo I painted from his collection was Graveyard of the Flowers.
When I looked at his coffee table photobook yesterday, I realise why I like his photos. He paid attention to things that we do not normally notice, the little things. He wanted us to see things as they are, not spruced up for the camera. He liked to focus on small, telling details. Not the big picture. This is how I like to take photos too. My husband likes landscape photos. I like the small things. One little aspect of that landscape, a flower, the fence, someone’s shoe. Maybe it is because I live a small life.
I kept thinking about Philip and what a free spirit he must have been. And I would like to share his work with you.
These photos were taken a long time ago, more than 20 years ago. Many of these aspects of Singapore life captured by Philip are now just memories or have take different forms.
My Friend Philip Little by shanlung
Philip’s Final Journey by shanlung
“Siingapore by the Back Door” (Photography by Philip Little with words by Ilsa Sharp. Published 1991)
“The ‘ordinary’ kitchenwares of Singapore’s simplest restaurants and coffee-shops are speaking in their bright simplicity. Among the most familiar local wares, the enamelled tin mug and the course-pot blue rice bowl.” -Ilsa Sharp
“You do not have to look at the mark on the base to see the ‘Made In China’ sign – it’s written all over them. Common they may be, but they inspire affection and emotions associated with ‘home’.” – Ilsa Sharp
“You cant’ get cooler than this tank of fresh lime juice looks, at one of Singapore’s drink-stalls.”-Ilsa Sharp
“Almost nothing says ‘Singapore’ as clearly as the forest of bamboo washing poles sticking out of high-rise windows, festoooed with undies and shirts. This is a popular way of sunning clothes that the authorities have been unable to stop the practice, disliking its visual anarchy.”-Ilsa Sharp
“…So in a way, the brightly coloured, laminated poles stand both for the tenacity of the Singaporean traditions, and for the stubborness of the people.”-Ilsa Sharp
“It may seem an unromantic thought, but the tropical colour of Singapore is perhaps better seen in humble household artefacts made of brilliant plastics, than in the blue skies or exotic blooms.”-Ilsa Sharp
“Chinatown streetscapes are always full of surprises of the sort that Philip Little savours. Perhaps only the keenest eye would have spotted the birghtly coloured parrot high up behind the louvres. This is the kind of facade which Singapore tries to preserve, but’s the secret life behind them that the photographer tries to convey through his lens.”-Ilsa Sharp
“The old ways survive behind the shuttered windows of Chinatown, as this snatched glimpsed of men engrossed in a mahjong game shows. On still, hot nights, the clatter of mahjong tiles shatters the peace of quiet back alleys. But this was a sound far more common when Philip Little first arrived in Singapore 17 years ago, than it is today.”-Ilsa Sharp
“The elderly aunties who owned the umbrellas abandoned their tea and chit-chat and rushed outside to see what this strange man was doing, apparently photographing the prettily-tiled wall. Would he like the umbreallas moved away? No, no! So let’s put a few more umbrellas for him then…”-Ilsa Sharp
“Decay is a macabrely fascinating feature of the older parts of Singapore town….But amid decay, life with a capital ‘L’ goes on, as the open window reveals, bananas and all.” – Ilsa Sharp
“The ubiquitous condensed milk-can is of immense utilitarian value in practical Singapore: slung on a pink plastic string, it is most often used to carry coffee and tea home from the street-side stalls, a splendid example of un-selfconscious recycling. Here, it has a semi-scared function – as a joss-stick holder for incense offerings to the gods dwelling in a spirit-tree.”-Ilsa Sharp
“Easily passed by, this scene is repeated myriad of times all over Singapore. Once frozen in view, however, it seduces your eyes to linger over the colours, the sharps, the textures o daily life – in this case, even in the backyard of the gods, a temple.”-Ilsa Sharp
“The interplay of light and shadow gives this still-life of clogs on a ceramic-tiled floor its special feel. once upon a time, most Singapore resounded to the clip-clop of clogs like these, especially in the wet markets, where vendors used them to raise themselves above the messy floors.”-Ilsa Sharp
“Recycling is natural to traditional and poorer, simpler societies. The newly-born ‘Greens’ of sophisticated modern Singapore will find they have much to learn from the old pre-Green ways. Anything – a plastic bag, a soft drink bottle – is a potential carrier for a ‘pot-plant’, a special herb treasured for its flavour or medicinal properties. The Singer Oil bottle seems to add a certain something to the picture, although Philip is not quite sure what.”-Ilsa Sharp
Philip, his book, and the little red sailboat he called his second wife.