Singapore Photography, Pragmatism and the Political Landscape

PAP supporters, Singapore General Election 2015. Photograph by Sebastian Song.

The rest of the world couldn’t care less about Singapore politics. Election results, as proven time and again, are predictable. The exception might be governments or economists who find favor and model in Singapore’s dominant one-party system. So this #chutpattern piece is really an “ownself check ownself” (borrowing lingo from the 2015 elections) discourse and an existentialist reflection for the Singapore photography community. 

The Singapore 2015 General Election has just ended with a huge swing towards the ruling PAP Party. Pundits have attributed the swing to a variety of reasons, one of which is the silent ‘supermajority’ and their strong preference for pragmatism. Another points to the many social media images of huge crowds at opposition rallies supporting PAP’s painting of a freak election result. During this election and the one in 2011, it was obvious that the local photography community was compelled and photographers were very active making images. Most might say they were merely documenting events for posterity. Some were guarded about vocalising opinions publicly, a few weren’t. 

With the function of art as critic and commentary and the role of a photojournalist, a label that many in Singapore find some affinity with, as an objective storyteller (or subjective) and enabler of minority voices, where is Singapore photography today and what role does it play, if any, moving forward? What is our creator psyche – idealist or pragmatist? Do we have an apolitical romance with our country? How does the Singapore photographer negotiate practice with politics in a Uniquely Singapore terrain and climate? 

Hoping to initiate a discourse, I invited independent Singapore photographers to put down their cameras for pens and contribute personal opinions and perspectives. Those invited were active in one way or another; associate with the label ‘photographer’; vary in age, experience, and perspective; and most importantly, are citizens. I hope the contributions provide an urgent, constructive starting point for discussion, personal or collective, for all who have a vested interest in Singapore Photography and its future. Lest we lose all visible traces of colour.  

Opinion Pieces were contributed by: Aik Beng Chia, Bernice Wong, Caleb Ming, Charmaine Poh, Chin Hon Chua, Christopher Wong, Darren Soh, Edwin Koo, Lim Weixiang, Megat Ibrahim Mahfuz, Mindy Tan, Nguan, Nurul H.A. Rashid, Seah Yu Hsin, Sim Chi Yin, Sebastian Song, Tay Kay Chin, Weilun Chong, and Zakaria Zainal.

Read all the opinion pieces here:

Curation: Hong Kong & Taiwan Showcase | Angkor Photo Festival 2015

When we talk about photography from East Asia, China and Japan usually dominates conversations and we are exposed to much from these two territories. The invitation by Angkor Photo Festival to curate an evening of slideshows is an opportunity I hope to take to introduce great photography and photographers from Taiwan and Hong Kong to the young Southeast Asian audience at the festival. 

 This showcase, featuring 18 photographers of varying experience, age and motivations, is an introductory overview than a comprehensive survey. Logos and symbols from each photographer’s time and place (and proximity to China in every sense of the word) are visible and manifest themselves in various discourses on identity and existentialism. 

Showcase Photographers:


Alfred Ko Chi-Keung, born in Hong Kong, studied photography in the Banff School of Fine Arts in Canada. He returned to Hong Kong in 1977 and has worked as a freelance photographer ever since. In the 1980s, Ko founded the FOTOCINE School of Photography (影藝攝影學校) and the Photo Centre (攝影中心) in Hong Kong. He is also a founding member of the Hong Kong Institute of Professional Photographers. Ko was awarded “Photographer of the Year” by Hong Kong Artists’ Guild in 1992. His works are collected by the Hong Kong Heritage Museum and private collectors.


Chan Dick is a photographer in Hong Kong specializing in still life, interior and architectural photography. His work over the years has garnered him awards in Hong Kong and Internationally. In 2015, his photographs of the Chai Wan Fire Station won the Hong Kong Photo Book Awards.


Chang Chao-Tang, born in 1943 in Panchiao City, Taipei County, is one of Taiwan’s most important photographers. Chang began taking pictures as a teenager in high school at the start of the White Terror period, which referred to 38 years of martial law in Taiwan imposed by the Chinese Kuomintang. Chang’s imagery is influenced by the social realist works in literature and surrealist painting. In 2013, he had his first major retrospective exhibition at the Taipei Fine Art Museum.


Chen Chin-Pao went to the Department of Photography of School of Visual Arts in New York in 1996, and earned his degree of BFA with an award for outstanding Achievement three years later. Chen got MFA degree from School of Fine Arts, Taipei National University of the Arts in 2013. His latest ongoing project, “Ordinary Household”, is dedicated to depict contemporary Taiwanese domestic life. Chen was awarded The Overseas Photographer Award of The 26th Higashikawa award at 2008. He lives and works in New Taipei City, Taiwan.


Ducky Tse is a prominent documentary photographer in Hong Kong, and a highly productive one at that. He has published a substantial number of publications since the mid-90s including “Close-Up Hong Kong”, one of his several collaborations with Programme for Hong Kong Cultural Studies in Chinese University of Hong Kong. His in-your-face styled street photography, which are clearly influenced by photographers like Gary Winogrand and Bruce Gilden, express well the intangible mental state of the people in the era.


Dustin Shum was born and currently lives in Hong Kong. He graduated from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in 1994 with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) Degree in Photographic Design. A photojournalist for more than ten years, he now works as a freelance photographer. Shum has received many awards for outstanding documentary photography over the years, including those by the Newspaper Society of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Press Photographers Association, World Association of Newspapers and Publishers, and Amnesty International.


Guan Xiao-Rong was born in 1949 in China’s Hainan Island. In 1972, Guan graduated from the Taiwan Junior College of Art. His work of Lanyu and the plight of the Yami people has been published in three volumes containing nine photographic essays and eleven reports. As a practitioner, Guan constantly shifts roles between a documentary photographer and an anti–nuclear waste activist. Guan is currently working to complete his new documentary project titled “Ice and blood.”


Johnny Gin is a copywriter and photographer living and working in Hong Kong. His life-long academic background is eclectic: an undergraduate education in English Literature, followed by graduate degrees in Communications and Library Science. He is now enrolled in an MFA Photography program at SCAD HK. His photographic interest lies in the examination of urban spaces and vernacular environments and the ways in which these spaces inform us about the culture and identity of a city. His personal and student work have been exhibited in Hong Kong and in Savannah, Georgia.


Lam Chun Tung was born in Hong Kong and started his career as a photojournalist in 2000. He worked in The Sun, Ming Pao, AM730 and currently works for a newly established media based in Hong Kong. He has won 23 awards of photojournalism including the Best Photograph Award of the Newspaper Society of Hong Kong, Merits (Photo Categories), the Human Rights Press Awards, Excellence in News Photography and Feature Photography of the SOPA Awards, and prizes in the “Focus at the Frontline” organized by the Hong Kong Press Photographers Association. Between 2011 and 2012 he served as Chairman of the Hong Kong Press Photographers Association. He collaborated with non-profit human rights organization Society for Community Organization to document life moments of grassroots elderly for three years and launched the photo exhibition and book We Live in 2015. He is now devoted in documenting political and social issues of Hong Kong whilst exploring personal photo projects.


Lam Yik Fei is the Director of Photography at Initium Media in Hong Kong. Lam also works on assignment for various international media. His works are distributed worldwide via Getty Images and Bloomberg News Photos. They appear on International Herald Tribune, The New York Times, The Guardian and other leading publications.


 Lau Chi-Chung is a freelance photographer with many years of experience working as art director in TV commercial productions in Hong Kong. He graduated in United Kingdom with a B.A. degree in interior design. Chung’s work has been exhibited in various countries, and is collected by museums and private collectors. His photography series “Landscaped Artifacts” (2013) won him the New Photography Artist of the year at Lianzhou Foto 2013. 


 Paul Yeung (b.1978, Hong Kong) graduated from MA in Image and Communication (Photography) at Goldsmiths College, University of London in 2011. Yeung embarked on his profession in photojournalism in 2000 after graduated from the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). Yeung has also worked extensively as a photo editor and lecturer. He was a former chairman of the Hong Kong Press Photographers Association (HKPPA), and has received more than 15 awards from The Newspaper Society of Hong Kong and HKPPA. At the Hong Kong Photography Festival 2010, he was selected as one of Fourteen Hong Kong New Generation Photographers. 


 Peng-Chun Yen, born in 1975, is working as a graphic designer. He has loved drawing since he was little, and aimed to be a painter. Although he is not a full time painter now, his job is still related to “painting”. While busy with the job, he doesn’t have much time to pick up his brush. Therefore, he uses the camera as his brush to create art works, putting what he sees, thinks and imagines into frame. 


 Shen Chao-Liang was born in Tainan, Taiwan, in 1968. He obtained his master degree from the Graduate School of the Applied Media Arts, National Taiwan University of Arts. He worked as a photojournalist and Vice Convenor for the Entertainment, Art and Literature News Center of the Liberty Times, the Artist in Residence at National Central University, Taiwan, and Chairman, Portfolio Review Committee, Young Art Taipei. Shen has been dedicated to feature photography since 1993. From his early works of Reflections of Nan-Fang-Ao (2001) to the latter series of YULAN Magnolia Flower (2008), Tsukiji Fish Market (2010) , STAGE (2011) and SINGERS & STAGES (2013), he has been recognized by his sophisticated style of image creation and commitment to documenting the evolution of Taiwan society. 


 Ng Hon-hei, Terry (b. 1981, Hong Kong) received Postgraduate Diploma in Photography from School of Professional and Continuing Education, The University of Hong Kong in 2012. He is currently studying Master of Visual Arts in Hong Kong Baptist University. His project ‘Border’ was exhibited in the group exhibition ‘Yuen Yeung — Contemporary Hong Kong Photography’ of 2013 Lianzhou Foto in Mainland China between Nov and Dec 2013, and will be exhibited in forthcoming solo exhibition in Hong Kong gallery Lumenvisum between Aug and Oct 2015.


 Yun-Fei Tou (b. 1975) graduated from Rhode Island School of Design receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1998. Between 1999 and 2009, he worked as a professional photojournalist. Since 2010, he has independently pursued fine art photography while focusing on various social issues in Taiwan, where he lives. His work incorporates a variety of artistic and conceptual approaches. In 2011, His project MEMENTO MORI was featured in PROVOCATION, a juried invitational exhibition held during the New York Photo Festival; in 2012, the series was awarded Grand Prize by “The 10th Taoyuan Creation Award” in Taiwan. MEMENTO MORI was also recognized by PhotoShelter as being a “Notable Photography Project” in 2012. 


 Born and raised in Hong Kong, Vincent Yu has worked as a photojournalist covering major news events across the Asia-Pacific region since 1985. As a close observer of Hong Kong’s rapid development, Yu has acquired a special sensitivity towards its ever-changing cityscape. His works have been recognized by many honours, including the 2004 National Headliner Awards, 2010 World Press Photo Awards 3rd Prize “People in the News” single category, 2013 Picture of the Year Awards Award of Excellence “ Photographer of the Year “ and numerous Hong Kong Press Photographers Association Annual Awards. His works are collected by the Hong Kong Heritage Museum. 


 Wong Kan Tai was born in Lantau Island, Hong Kong in 1957. He joined the Hong Kong Press in the late 1970s and started his long career as a photojournalist. His photographic collections published include ’89 Tiananmen, Land Reclaim and Hong Kong Walled City 2002 – 2007. Wong now lives in Japan and works as a freelance photographer. 

 Much thanks to the team at Angkor Photo Festival for the opportunity and all participating photographers, and to Chang Chao-Tang, Paul Yeung and Kuo Li-Hsin for the additional assistance.

Northeast Hinterland: New Residency Project with Exactly Foundation, Singapore

Northeast Hinterland © Kevin WY Lee

I have recently been working on a new project titled “Northeast Hinterland” in residency with Exactly Foundation in Singapore.

From their website: “Exactly Foundation is about thinking. Thinking about what? Life and Living.”

For the project, I wanted to explore the idea of narratives, and the culture of fear and of wonderment. All of which can be imagined or manufactured. The idea of photographing Singapore at night was one I have had for a long while. The residency was a timely opportunity. There is a Chinese saying Jiànbùdé Guāng 见不得光 meaning ‘undesirables that can’t see the light’. It is an intriguing expression.

I am most honoured to be the first photographer invited to Exactly Foundation’s new Residency Program, and extremely pleased that Photography in Singapore has a new friend. The project due for completion soon will first be presented as prints and a dialogue to a private audience invited by Exactly Foundation.

An accompanying short film to the project.


Photographs & Text by Kevin WY Lee

On 19 August 2007, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong introduced the Punggol 21+ initiative to transform Punggol, located in Northeast Singapore, into “a waterfront town of the 21st century”. 

 The word Punggol is derived from the Malay word pengger (dead branches) and is expressed by some as ‘hurling sticks at the branches of fruit trees to bring them down to the ground’. Punggol was initially coined Tanjong Rangon on a map under the Jackson Plan of 1822. The Jackson Plan, also known as the “Plan of the Town of Singapore”, was devised by Sir Stamford Raffles as a blueprint for rapid urbanisation and order in the colony of Singapore. The plan, named after Lieutenant Philip Jackson, the colony’s engineer and land surveyor, divided Singapore into ethnic functional subdivisions and laid the land out in a grid pattern. 

Unbeknownst to many, Punggol was also home to Singapore’s first public zoo owned by wealthy Indian trader William Lawrence Soma Basapa, between 1920s and 1940s. Basapa, nicknamed ‘Animal Man’, was often accompanied by a big Bengal tiger named Apay. Babujan Zoo, as it was sometimes called, had a collection of 200 animals and 2,000 birds. The press called it a “Noah’s Ark”. Albert Einstein, the father of modern physics, was one of its first visitors in 1922 and said it was “a wonderful zoological garden”. 

Northeast Hinterland © Kevin WY Lee

 The zoo was eventually taken over and destroyed by the British Army to fight the Japanese invasion in 1942. The British shot the animals and freed the birds. Animal Man was devastated and passed away in 1943. Nearby at Punggol Beach, 400 Chinese civilians were also massacred by the invading Japanese Hojo Kempei firing squad. The victims were detainees arrested from nearby Upper Serangoon Road. China-born migrants who came to Malaya after the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) were amongst those targeted as ‘undesirables’. The massacre is referred to as Sook Ching 肅清, meaning “purge through cleansing”. 

 Today, fifty years into independence, Punggol and its surrounding land is a frontier in a nation’s continuing dream towards a modern, civilised world. 

 NORTHEAST HINTERLAND is a series of images of the area at night, when sleep and sight are paradoxical, when histories, mythologies and legacies of the land play hide and seek with the past, present and future of its custodianship.

More on the Exactly Foundation Website:


The first time I really looked at Singapore as a Singaporean photographer was during the General Elections in 2011. I had then recently become a citizen after many years being a Permanent Resident and Employment Pass holder. The 2011 Elections was the first time I was eligible to vote but couldn’t, as my constituency was Lee Kuan Yew’s. It was uncontested and LKY had a walkover win. Nonetheless, I felt I needed to participate in some way so I spectated with my camera and observed crowd dynamics and behaviour of my fellow citizens.

View a selection of the photographs here: ELECTION STREET.


It has been a little over a year since we first launched the IPA Mentorship Program. Since then we’ve had over 50 mentees who have participated from all over the globe, including Singapore, Malaysia, India, Philippines and Russia. The Program is soon to reach another milestone. The first photobook to arise from the Program will soon be published. The Carpark by Shyue Woon is definitely one of my favourite projects from the program. Here is a glimpse of what to expect…


In the world of The Carpark, the found and the imagined is twisted into a manipulative narrative that is both sinister and yet playful. Shyue Woon, the photographer and invisible protagonist, assumes the role of an obsessive, conflicted private eye in a dark homage to crime noir and pulp fiction. 

Woon’s search for answers in an implied affair and crime is conflicted by an escape from truth. His investigation reveals an obscured rear view mirror of psychology in a modern era. We live in claustrophobic cities where relationships are fragile and the lines between private and public lives are blurred by diminishing space and expanding surveillance. Some of us have taken to redefining utilitarian spaces like carparks into secret sanctuaries. And the car parked within a dark lot further shielded with thin, tinted windows is another kind of vulnerable space within a perceived private space.

I was privileged to be a witness to Woon’s investigations through the IPA Mentorship Program. A man obsessed is a man possessed, and many great photographic works have come from personal obsessions. Woon was certainly obsessed, and this is his finest work to date. His initial interest in the Carpark as a site was from his practice as an architect. This soon sucuumbed to Woon’s better curiosity and own private secrets.

Kevin WY Lee
Invisible Photographer Asia 

“The IPA mentorship I attended is a whole new way of learning. First of all, by stretching into a 3 months program, each of us was allowed time to experiment and to ‘marinate’ new ideas. Other than the monthly face-to-face group reviews, we can upload our latest developments into the “cloud” – for instant crit and peer review. Kevin, very hands-on and a brilliant teacher, always open to share his deep knowledge and observation. I have also learned a great deal from my peers who joined the program. They have become friends and critics of my work.

I attended the workshop with an open mind and it has taken my photography to the next level. Towards the end of the workshop, I felt more inspired and much more confident with my photography.” Shyue Woon,

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