Photobook review: How Loneliness Goes by Nguan

06 November 2017 - Inspiration

Looking at Singaporean photographer Nguan’s images is akin to feeling a gentle tap on your shoulder. You’re compelled to look at your surroundings more closely, and upon finding the source of that tap, you feel comforted or surprised.

A heart-shaped curb hole. An old man sitting alone in a void deck*. A young office worker standing in a sea of people, looking in a different direction from everyone else. A man lying on a public bench with dividers. A broken plant pot held together by string. “What do you see and feel?” his photos ask. “Why do you feel the way you do?”

Praised as “a masterful colour portrait of quiet urban lives”, the film photographs in Nguan’s photobook, How Loneliness Goes (2013), are of the seemingly mundane, the everyday sights we tend to miss—brief moments of vulnerability, joy, loneliness, ennui and beauty captured through a lens of compassionate empathy.

His signature pastel hues lend a certain hopefulness to the images, a startling juxtaposition to the melancholia and pathos that run through them. The result is affecting. We are offered an intimate look into the complexities of the human condition, while having the freedom to weave our own narratives into the images.

Nguan’s photographs are a reminder of the humanity in others and ourselves, and the necessary contradictions of life—that beauty can exist in the same space as pain. “My wish is for this book to…exist as a testament to existence,” he writes at the end of How Loneliness Goes, “to proffer the possibility of beauty as a balm for everyday sorrow.”

But the photographs don’t just present a universal picture of humanity. In some, culture, politics and social issues underlie the simplicity of the moments captured, offering us a close and personal glimpse into the sociocultural landscape of the places where they are taken.

The elusive photographer’s work has gained a cult following on social media, where he has amassed more than a hundred thousand followers. His first book, Shibuya (2010), was listed by PDN Photo Annual as one of the best photobooks of the year, and his photographs have been exhibited in Singapore, Hong Kong and San Francisco.

If you’d like a glimpse into Singapore through the distinctive lens of Nguan, we’ve partnered with independent bookstore BooksActually to offer our readers a 10% discount for How Loneliness Goes. All other titles in the bookstore are eligible for the discount too—a perfect opportunity to get some Christmas shopping done. Use code MINDFULCOMPANY at checkout.

*A void deck is an open space typically found on the ground floor of apartment blocks in Singapore.