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Marjorie Doggett’s Singapore, A Photographic Record

Trans Asia Photography, 2020

Marjorie Doggett’s Singapore prompts the question as to how Singapore, an island city-state with a population of between one and one and a half million during the period the book covers, could be hers. It’s a question answered in Doggett’s photographs and explored through Edward Stokes’ research and in his text.  


Marjorie Doggett’s Singapore is important in focusing on a photographer who, though she was productive, was neither commercial nor an artist, but who remained, in the true sense, an amateur, a dedicated documentarian. Stokes writes that “the purpose of this book is to bring to life, to resurrect, Marjorie Doggett’s photos and architectural interest, shown through her experiences and photographic craft”.  


Like its photographer subject, Stokes’ book is thoroughly organized. Text at the head of sections is limited to one page each. (In the appendix Extended Captions) further descriptions and history of the buildings and technical detail of the photography are provided, in paragraphs of about seventy words, beside thumbnails of each image. Stokes carefully extracts from a close reading of Characters of Light, and he uses his local experience to provide the time of day of the photographs from the angle that shadows cast across the structures.

Marjorie Doggett’s Singapore generously and impartially sets out rich source material for others’ scholarship. Indeed, the book serves handsomely as an example to others harbouring (or hoarding!) a collection of historical photographs. (The book) sets out the process of its own making. Stokes recounts, in an engaging manner, his happy discovery of the archive and rising excitement over its importance.


In her Foreword, Gael Newton, formerly the Senior Curator of Photography at the National Gallery of Australia, writes that “negative archives are now seen as major historical documents in their own right”.  Expert digitization has produced the optimum interpretation of Doggett’s originals. As Newton exclaims, “Marjorie Doggett’s images now sing, light carves, shadows dance and clouds billow so freshly.”


Asian Review of Books, 2020


Photographs of architecture highlight Marjorie Doggett’s passion for preserving Singapore’s past through its architecture. Marjorie published her first book of photographs, Characters of Light, in 1957 (republished 1985). It featured Singapore’s architectural heritage, during a time when the city was in dire straits. As Lily Kong notes in her Preface, the government’s focus (then) was not on heritage buildings and conservation, and Doggett’s book attracted little attention until its second printing. This was due to an upsurge in urban renewal policies which involved demolition and rebuilding.


Most of the photographs reproduced in this large format volume are of the buildings of Singapore.  Doggett was not much concerned with depicting the inhabitants of contemporary Singapore, although they appear in the few street scenes. It is the buildings and what they represented which overwhelmingly attracted the attention of her lens, “to create a photographic narrative of the urban landscape,”, as Edward Stokes points out in his very informative, sympathetic Introduction.


The book is large format, beautifully produced with top-quality photographic reproductions. The book has an excellent Introduction and commentaries packed full of biographical and historical information which add depth and context to the photographs.


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