My current workplace is located inside the Singapore Botanic Gardens – a 163-year-old tropical garden which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. How lucky is that!
When I need a break from sitting at my desk and gazing at a screen, I often go for a short walk in the garden. It’s a magical transition. You step out of an office, with its air-conditioned cubicles and ergonomic chairs and faux-wood floors, and into a tropical paradise – black swans and otters, plants with giant leaves like elephant ears, wild orchids festooning ancient trees.
Last week I finished work earlier than usual, so I had nearly two more hours of daylight. I also had my camera – a Leica M3 loaded with Kodak Double-X B&W film.
Most other botanic gardens I’ve been to are organised by geography. The Singapore Botanic Gardens have a thematic layout – a Fragrant Garden, a Foliage Garden, and so forth – which I think is a great idea. My favourite is the Evolution Garden. As you enter, there are pools with algae, which were among the oldest living organisms on earth. You then move on lichens and mosses – the invasion of the land – followed by ferns and cycads, which you see in my photo above. Then there are conifers, and finally flowering plants which are the dominant terrestrial plants of our time.
The cycads were shot with my Voigtländer Ultron 28mm f/1.9 (my first contribution to 35mmc was a 5 frames article with this lens, which I’ve also reviewed for Casual Photophile). The Ultron is somewhat prone to flare, but in this particular photo, although I shot directly into the sun, there’s surprisingly little flare. Go figure.
The next three photos are with my Leitz Summicron 50mm f/2 (collapsible first version).
For the photo above, I stopped down a bit (probably around f/4) so that the bamboo-shoots would be blurry but recognisable. The leaves are a bit scraggly, but I don’t know if that’s a bad thing – what do you think? Nature is not always perfect. There are other bamboo groves in the garden which are tidier in appearance; I might photograph one of them on colour film, just to compare.
The 82-hectares (202-acre) garden plays host to a variety of wildlife. Otters frolic in the streams, while a pair of black swans graces one of the lakes. My favourite denizen, however, is the Asian water monitor. I love watching their slow, deliberate movements, and how cutely they nose around the undergrowth and dead leaves in search of insects and worms. But they can move surprisingly fast when they want to, and have been known to eat bigger animals including turtles and dead pythons (warning: graphic images).
I shot three frames of this monitor, hoping for one where its long tongue was on display. I did in fact succeed, but I prefer the photo below. The scales – and this is an odd thing to say about a photo shot with a 66-year-old lens – are almost too sharp.
The monitor is one of many reptiles in the garden. Red-eared terrapins live in the streams and lakes, sunning themselves on rocks or just swimming around. Sadly their characteristic red markings are lost on B&W film.
Double-X – Kodak Eastman Double-X 5222, to give its full name – is motion-picture film, used in iconic movies including Raging Bull and Schindler’s List. It’s sold under different names, and by various retailers such as Foto-R3 (Spain), Analogue Wonderland (UK) and Film Photography Project (US). This particular roll was a gift from my friend Nanda, who buys it in bulk and hand-rolls the film. I rate Double-X at ISO 250, and develop it in Ilford ID-11 (1+1) for 10 mins at 20°C.
The last photo, with the Voigtländer 28mm, is probably my favourite of the set. I underexposed the leaves, wanting a dark, relatively low-contrast backdrop, while retaining some highlight detail on the white Anthurium flowers. I was pleased to see that it turned out very close to what I had visualised (when it works, this delayed gratification is one of the best things about film photography). What you see here are DSLR scans from negatives, but this photo is one which I’ll definitely be printing in darkroom.
I hope you enjoyed my little tour of the Singapore Botanic Gardens. I feel fortunate that I get to walk through the garden almost every day, and I’ve tried to convey, through these images, some sense of what it is like. If I am in a new city and it has a botanic garden, I always try to visit, so let me know if you have a personal favourite; I’ll put it on my list.
Thanks for reading; for more of my work, feel free to check out my Instagram.