Characters of Light

Characters of Light, by Marjorie Doggett, is a pictorial chronicle of colonial architecture in Singapore and the first photographic book to document the Singapore urban landscape. It was published in 1957 by Donald Moore, a publisher and author who had produced a wide range of books and pamphlets on Malaya and Singapore.

The book is full of beautifully taken photographs of old buildings, monuments and interesting houses in Singapore, accompanied by short descriptions recounting the history and personal associations connected with them. In the foreword to the first edition, Marjorie wrote,

a building remains like a cold stone monument unless it is possible to visualise the sort of person who constructed it and lived in it. One learns of the scenes of happiness or sorrow enacted within its walls and it is then, in one’s imagination, that the house assumes its atmosphere.”

Marjorie moved to Singapore in 1947 with her husband, Victor Doggett, who was posted here by the Royal Air Force. She had been trained as a nurse and at first worked in Kandang Kerbau Hospital. While animal welfare was the passion and work of her life, Marjorie also had a keen interest in photography. She was a talented photographer with an eye for historical buildings. Over the years, Singapore landscape has changed so much that many of the buildings and roads Marjorie photographed have disappeared. Ben Slater, a screenwriter, script editor and critic, has observed that the book “is now a collection of irretrievable memories, as almost nothing that she photographed is still standing. Empty of people, her images present extant architectural structure with chilling precision. It’s a book of ghosts.”

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