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cheeyongChow Chee Yong graduated with a BFA (Honours) degree in photography in 1994 from Western Michigan University, USA. In 1998, he received the JCCI Art Scholarship to pursue his graduate studies and in 2001, he received his MA (Distinction) degree in photography from Musashino Art University in Tokyo. Chee Yong has participated in more than 40 solo and group exhibitions in galleries and museums in China, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and the United States of America.

Chee Yong’s works have been featured in publications such as Asian Geographic, Passages North (USA), Photo Asia, OP Editions (Hong Kong), m2photosynthesis, Light Trails, Things unseen, Places not been, 11+1 (Japan), Nippon Camera (Japan), Asahi Camera (Japan), Photographs by the Next Generation: Young Portfolio (Japan), CANVAS – IMF Photography Book and Resonance – Songs of our Forefathers, among others. His first publication, 30th Feb, a hardcover book of his surrealistic images, was launched in Singapore in conjunction with his sixth solo exhibition in February 2008.

In July 2010, Chee Yong was featured on Channel NewsAsia’s Primetime programme, Asia Exposed, which was aired internationally. In 2011, Chee Yong was the first and only Singaporean among 15 photographers from around the globe to be recognised and incepted in the 2011 Loweprofessionals Professional Photographer Showcase. In that same year, he held his seventh solo show, Project 37, which documented the demolition of the former National Stadium of Singapore.

Chee Yong’s original prints can be found in the Permanent Collection of Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts (Japan), Permanent Art Collection of the National Museum of Singapore (Singapore), Permanent Art Collection of the Singapore Sports Museum (Singapore), Permanent Art Collection of The Private Museum (Singapore), Epigram Pte Ltd (Singapore), Kay Ngee Tan Architects Gallery (Singapore), Center of Photography (Japan), Back in Time International (USA), OP Editions (Canada & Hong Kong), Rothmans of Pall Mall (Singapore) and various collections in Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and the United States of America.

Chee Yong can be contacted at +65 9477-0673 or chowcheeyong@live.com.sg

To purchase a copy of Senseless Spaces by Chow Chee Yong, please visit:
http://twentyfifteen.myshopify.com/collections/photographers-folios/products/senseless-spaces-by-chow-chee-yong

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CLANG

John Clang is a visual artist working in photography and film. His works examine and raise questions of the world he lives in, providing not pictorial documentation but an intimate mental reflection of one man’s mind.

Clang lives and works in New York and Singapore. Other than creating his art, he plays a lot of ping pong in Chinatown.

www.johnclang.com

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The Straits Times, Home cover, July 29, 2014

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MatthewMatthew Teo is a visual artist based in Singapore. He graduated from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in 2007 with a Diploma in Visual Communications (Photography) with Distinction in Digital Photography. He won Best of Show in 2007 from Hasselblad and was the youngest photographer selected to show as part of Month of Photography 2007 in Singapore.

Matthew’s practice revolves around a negotiation of the self around friends, family and different social situations, and how we portray ourselves differently when we are put in different contexts. He uses himself as a pivot point to reflect, with a no-holds-barred perspective, what most people experience in everyday life. By investigating the complexities and intricacies that surround art and life, he hopes to make autobiographical photos of disclosure.

www.behance.net/matthewteo

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RobertZhao copyCan you tell us who is the real Robert Zhao? Where was he born? What was his childhood like?

I am Robert Zhao Renhui, and I was born in Singapore. I cannot remember much of my childhood because there weren’t a lot of photographs taken. My dad had two Yashica cameras, which came in handy when I was in Primary 5. I started taking photographs in the classroom, and I added ‘spirits’ to the images by using a felt tip marker to draw random small shapes on the film. I brought the photographs to school and the reactions from my classmates had a profound effect on me. This is one version of the story.

I also remember growing up near a fish farm, which explains my interest in animals. One thing I am sure of is that after I turned 12, my father took me to Tuas to fish. I must have walked on the reclaimed land for hours, seeing people fly their model planes, without quite reaching anywhere. The place was just sand without end.

Do you think you can tell us how we know when you are telling us the truth and when you are taking us for a ride?

In real life, I’m not good at telling lies, my friends know immediately when I am lying. I usually dramatise the truth, which is much easier. In the same way, my work usually starts with facts and my direct observations. Along the way it gets twisted and distorted into something else. For example, “View of Marina Bay Sands”, the print that we are offering for my book, is a scene that will never happen. Some people can’t tell and have asked me how I shot the photograph. I don’t blame them – Singapore changes very fast, so our memory of its landscape is often vague. The picture is a composite of two cities from Japan and the United Kingdom, two countries which have shaped how our island looks today.

Do you always get irritating questions similar to the previous one?

Even if I do, I try to be polite. Usually I learn something about myself with every question.

The Institute of Critical Zoologists is a grand-sounding name. For someone who isn’t familiar with your works, they might believe this establishment actually exists. Do you often get contacted by real zoologists?

Most of my work is ‘performed’ through the context of an institution, which takes the form of my website, www.criticalzoologists.org. I’ve received emails inviting me to be on the peer review panel for academic journals of zoology. Some artists have also enquired about the possibility of working with the institution. Once, I was contacted by a photo editor of Discover magazine, a popular science and tech journal. They published one of my pictures showing a very well-camouflaged leaf insect perched on a plant. The image was from my series called The Great Pretenders, which explored ideas of mimicry and authenticity in photography. So basically, in those pictures, there were only leaves, and no insects.

After the image was published, a scientist from Germany who had spent his life studying leaf insects wrote me an email. He said, “I couldn’t recognise the species in the image until I went to your website. I finally understood why.”

You have gone from being criticised for your earlier works such as Wu Xiao Kang (with artist collective A Dose of Light), to being celebrated as one of the most exciting young artists in Singapore. What has the journey been like?

It is still too early to tell. In a lot of ways, I’m still starting out. It was difficult in the beginning, when my Wu Xiao Kang fictional narrative upset some people. That was a good lesson in managing responsibility, expectations and trust. I do what I do to survive and to fuel my art practice. It’s like a monster that just keeps getting bigger. You expect more of yourself after each project. In a way, despite my initial struggles, the easiest period was the beginning, when art wasn’t really a job.

Are you afraid that in time to come, you may not be able to tell the difference between truth and lies?

I tend to think everything is a lie, ha! Anyway, I believe that my Singapore landscape work will feel different over time. It will take on a different life, like all photographs, which get harder to read with time. Especially in Singapore, where the landscape changes so rapidly and it’s hard to remember what really happened to some places. Anyway, a photograph is always lying in some way and we must be careful not to look for an absolute truth in such a precarious object.

Your girlfriend is also in the creative business. Is she as crazy and imaginative as you? Does she always trust you since you are rather good at confusing others?

I think she is crazier than me. I would have never given up a stable job (she was an arts writer) to pursue my own dreams! She is working on her own short stories at the moment and I think there’s a certain craziness in her writings and she is definitely more observant and sensitive than I am. This in turn brings out interesting perspectives on things that happen around us. She can read me very well and she doesn’t understand why I still bother to lie to her for fun. I think she trusts me.

Do you think your works are political in any ways?

I always think there are enough overtly political works around and I am not the best person to contribute – it’s not my natural inclination, so why force the issue? What I’m obsessed with is humankind’s interaction with nature. When I look at landscapes, I am looking at the impact we make on nature and the narratives we create when we have the ability to create artificial waterfalls, sand dunes, air-conditioned parks, zoos and natural history museums.

But these stories that we spin aren’t divorced from politics. (Obviously it’s hard to find anything that is untouched by political forces.) So if politics come into my work, it’s by sneaking in through the back door. In Singapore, for example, we are very green and pruned. This is a political decision. This is a way to show that we are in control, that even nature can be controlled. So when anything grows too wild in our Garden City, I tend to visit these spaces.

Do you use photography to comment or criticise?

My photographs are usually of situations that I find interesting. So it’s more of an observation. It’s a picture. It’s visual. It’s not about saying one thing or another. I don’t set out to talk with my images.

Can you help us imagine two possibilities? First, a Singapore you can be proud of in the future. Second, a Singapore you cannot be proud of in the future.

My main concerns are with nature and how we co-exist with it on our really small island. A Singapore I would be proud of respects the little wilderness we have as part of the history and make-up of this land. There is only so much pruned nature we can enjoy.

A Singapore I can’t be proud of – so many ways for us to go wrong, where do we start?

In a way, Singapore today makes me both proud and ashamed. Take that eco-bridge we just built over the Bukit Timah Expressway for animals to move between two nature reserves which we separated [with the expressway] many years ago. Every time I drive under the bridge, I cannot help but ask myself: Do animals really use the bridge? Was the bridge built for them, or was it just a project to show that we care for nature? What will happen when they start using the bridge since these two habitats have already been separated for so long?

Where do you find your inspirations and ideas? Is it true that you have a lot of imaginary friends?

I use Google Alerts for subjects that I am interested in to see how these subjects come up in news items and academic discussions. I put alerts on things such as “wildlife conservation”, “extinction” and “animal traps”. I am also on a constant look-out for images on the Internet and in flea markets. At the moment I am collecting images from all the natural beach sand dunes in the world to try to construct an alternate history of Singapore’s own sand dunes.

In my institute, I work only with imaginary collaborators. A few people presenting an idea to you always seems more convincing than someone doing it alone. It is like how this TwentyFifteen.sg project has 20 photographers, which adds depth to the investigation. It’s the same idea.

Were any animals ever harmed in the creation of your works?

I don’t believe any animals should be harmed for art. I worked with cockroaches once, but those roaches were going to die anyway. I persuaded my friends to surrender their house cockroaches to me – after being killed by insecticide instead of being smashed with a shoe. I prefer working with dead or stuffed animals. I tried photographing my friend’s cat once and it was impossible. I usually just visit the zoo or use discarded dead birds or fish from local pet shops.

What were the best and worst things you have heard about your works?

I try to avoid hearing or reading anything people say about my work. Sometimes I get wind that people feel betrayed by my works. This should happen, it’s not a bad thing to me.

If you can spin a story, however absurd it may be, about Singapore’s past, present or future, what would it be about?

Over the years, Singapore has had all kinds of temporary sand dunes, imported from neighbouring countries for land reclamation purposes. It’s about time we have a sand dune that stays as it is. It should be a permanent monument to Singapore’s success story of creating new land.

What if one day you wake up and realise that you’ve lost the ability to imagine, what would it be like for you? What do you think you would be doing?

This is a real fear that I have whenever I am near the completion of any project. A fear that I have run out of things to say. I just hope it never becomes true. If it does happen, I guess I’ll become a tour guide. I’ll still be telling stories, but other people’s stories.

Are you famous?

At the moment there are 678 likes on my Facebook page and about 1,200 followers on my Instagram account.

Help us picture Robert Zhao in 2025. What can we expect?

Hopefully he’s creating better photographs than he is now.

TwentyFifteen.sg invited some of our friends to send questions to Robert. Here are the two that he chose to answer.

Steffi Koh, undergraduate, Nanyang Technological University: As you’ve had encounters with wild animals, dead animals and animal activists alike, how do you see animals and their place in your world?

I am trying to see things not from my point of view, because I’m human and tend to complicate things. I believe the world works in much simpler ways. I like to see things from the perspective of animals or plants, and wonder what they would think of all these things we do such as wildlife conservation, pollution and extinction. We are all in this together.

Daniel Boetker-Smith, founder, Asia-Pacific Photobook Archive: I see your work as being very politically motivated, but in a very subtle and smart way. Can you tell us about how politics influences your work, and how important is it that photography makes us think beyond the borders of the image – about society, truth, the future, etc.?

My motivations are actually much more selfish. My work usually starts with curiosity and a burning desire to photograph a particular subject.

Singapore’s borderlands, where the huge ‘sand scapes’ are, form one of these subjects. I’ve been going there for 15 years. I was trying to find a way to photograph this vast landscape and couldn’t find a good way to do it.

It was only after I started reading about some of the ecological consequences and political motivations of the act of land reclamation, that I started to appreciate the space with a different perspective. I was attracted to the space because it was a form of wilderness that happened by accident. It wasn’t a planned landscape like many of the neighbourhood parks and gardens and reservoirs we have in Singapore.

So when I started to shoot these sandy landscapes again, although I was informed by some of the political reasons why these spaces existed, I just wanted to pose some simple questions. When does sand become land? When does land become country? What really happens when we have so much new land? I try not to impose a very strict political lens on my work. I find that images, when they are good ones, tend to be richer and more mysterious.
As for what photography can do outside of itself – I don’t think about that so much. I just like to wonder what people will think when they pick up my images at some flea market in the future.

 
To purchase a copy of Singapore 1925 – 2025 by Robert Zhao Renhui, please visit:
http://twentyfifteen.myshopify.com/products/singapore-1925-2025-by-robert-zhao
 

The portrait of Robert Zhao Renhui was drawn by Flee Circus; and Leonard Goh, who will anchor all the interviews in this series, is a co-founder of Platform.

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RobertZhao copyRobert Zhao Renhui (b. 1983) works mainly with photography but often adopts a multi-disciplinary approach by presenting images together with documents and objects. His work includes textual and media analysis, video and performance. His recent exhibitions include the Singapore Biennale 2013, President’s Young Talents 2013, Photoquai 2013, International Festival of Photography at Mineiro Museum (Brazil) and Engaging Perspectives at the Centre for Contemporary Art (Singapore). He has exhibited in the Noorderlicht Photo Festival, Format Festival (Derby, UK), Lianzhou International Photo Festival (China), Fukouka Asian Art Museum (Japan), Photo Levallois (Paris), Seoul Arts Center, GoEun Museum of Photography (Busan, Korea), Zabludowicz Collection (London), Shanghart (Shanghai) and PPOW (New York).

Robert’s work has been awarded the Deutsche Bank Award in Photography (University of the Arts London, 2011), United Overseas Bank Painting of the Year Award (Singapore, 2009), Sony World Photography Awards (2010 and 2011) and honourable mentions in Photo Levallois (France, 2008). In 2010, he was awarded the Young Artist Award by the National Arts Council (Singapore). His work has also been featured prominently in Artforum International, ArtInfo, Fotografia and Punctum.

Robert received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Photography from Camberwell College of Arts and the London College of Communication respectively. His work addresses man’s relationship with nature, paying close attention to how our attitudes and opinions shape our assumptions about the natural world. He has also undertaken research residencies at the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Bangkok University Gallery, National Museum of Wales, Earth Observatory of Singapore, Ffotogallery (Penarth, UK) and Arctic Circle Residency. He will be involved in a residency at Kadist Art Foundation (San Francisco) in 2014.

www.criticalzoologists.org

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Released together with each new book are three limited prints from an image chosen by the individual photographer. So far, six have been unveiled and one of the set has been completely sold.

In April, you will be able to see ALL, if not most, of the images framed, in a mini showcase at the National Museum of Singapore. You will also be able to see all the books published so far.

Please come back again for more details for this special event.

Meanwhile, a recap of what we have offered up to now.

a20_Geylang_Lorong_3_001
From For My Son by Darren Soh
http://twentyfifteen.sg/2013/07/03/limited-edition-print-1-darren-soh/

Sandcastle Day
From Our Coastline by Lim Weixiang
http://twentyfifteen.sg/2013/08/06/limited-edition-print-2-lim-weixiang/

03/20 Bay of Dream
From Bay of Dreams by Kevin WY Lee
http://twentyfifteen.sg/2013/09/26/limited-edition-print-3-ox-lee/

HW010
From Two People by Sean Lee
http://twentyfifteen.sg/2013/11/18/limited-edition-print-4-sean-lee/

Boktabali, Bangladesh
From Made in Singapore by Tay Kay Chin
http://twentyfifteen.sg/2014/01/08/limited-edition-print-5-tay-kay-chin/

RobertZhao
From Singapore 1925 – 2025 by Robert Zhao Renhui
http://twentyfifteen.sg/2014/02/15/limited-edition-print-6-robert-zhao/

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Despite our daily blasts of messages promoting different things, it doesn’t surprise us that many people are still confused about what we do, or how we do it, when is this ‘nonsense’ going to end, if we are a secret society, etc etc.

We also have to apologize if you are receiving the same message more than once, from different people.

It means several things. One is that we are passionate folks who kinda sing the same tune. It also means we are needy and kiasu to some extent.

We have often asked ourselves, ” Why do some much just for ourselves?”

One of the yardsticks for us is your ‘participation’.

Honestly, it would be quite easy for us to sell some titles in bulk to a few organizations and then declare to the world that we are out of print.

But trust me when I say that it doesn’t give us as much satisfaction, when compared to our books being shared by many different people.

We also think that it is important that you know how we operate, and how we treat the people who work with us.

Seriously, we think we are an ethical organization that is not profit driven. And we are not rich.

To begin with, each of the photographer who publishes with us OWNS and RETAINS his full copyright. His only commitment to the team is to license 15 images to be reproduced as part of the series, and the run is limited to 500 copies.

The photographer also agrees to let the group have the first right of refusal for a group exhibition.

In addition, one of the images from the series is also selected for reproduction into three limited edition prints which we sell to finance the project.

Apart from that, each photographer is free to do anything to the 15 images. Needless to say, he owns his own rights to the outtakes from the project as well.

In return for letting us publishing his works, each photographer only gets 10 copies of his printed books, two each of the other books published in the series, some publicity, a book launch, and some referrals. If he wants additional copies of his own books, he has to wait until the window opens, and he pays the cost of the printing.

You may think that our agreement is not a big deal. Wait till you hear the horrible contracts we receive each day from other publishers.

How we fund this project has also been of interest to different people and we have nothing to hide.

The initial financing of the project came from three good friends who gave us about $1500 each. A few of the Platform founders also pledged some amount but to date, we have found no need to activate that portion yet.

Each of our limited print sells for $1200. If all three prints from one photographer are sold, the printing cost of that particular book would have been 90% covered.

The sale of our books contributes substantially to our coffers too. The advance sale of complete sets at $500 each also yielded substantial amount.

We are always proud to say that we pay our printing partner, Grenadier Press, on time, every time.

Our other cost comes from area of print making, in which we are lucky to receive sponsorship of materials from Cathay Photo, our long-time partner.

We are blessed to get year-round venue sponsorship from the National Museum of Singapore.

Apart from the photographer, the ‘regular staff’ in each book includes the four founders of the project – Darren, Ernest, Leonard and myself; Yu-Mei, our super duper copyeditor; Flee Circus, our wonderful portraitist; Jonathan, the crazy creative director/designer.

On launch day, we usually count on good friends like Sebastian, Ox and Wei Xiang to man the cashier.

Our stocks sit in whatever extra holes we can find in homes, offices, storage spaces.

Nobody gets paid, not even for coffee. Or petrol.

If this sounds like a mix of complaints and boasting, it is probably a bit of both.

But if we don’t believe in it, and enjoy most of it, we won’t be sending you all the updates.

Right?

Have a great day ahead and do think of us yeah?

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aTayKayChin

It’s interesting to note that your book, while titled Made in Singapore, was captured almost entirely in Bangladesh, about a non-Singaporean. What makes this a Singapore story?

The protagonist in Made in Singapore is Salim Javed, who is from Bangladesh and has worked in Singapore since 1996. While I used the title Made in Singapore to refer to the baby girl his wife Jorna conceived when visiting Salim in Singapore, I realised along the way that he came here to make life better for himself and his family, and it is no exaggeration to say that many of these dreams were ‘made’ in Singapore. The money he earned here as a construction foreman is much higher than what he could have made back in his village, and it has certainly benefited his loved ones. Salim is a representative of the thousands of migrant workers who work here, and I certainly believe that they are part and parcel of the Singapore narrative.

You met Salim five years ago when he helped to build your house. But there were other workers involved as well. Why the interest in Salim?

Among all the workers, Salim spent the longest time at our house because he was the foreman for the project. For months, he slept in what is now our living room. The makeshift kitchen where he used to cook is now our patio. I met him almost every day during the building process and he talked to me the most. By the time the house was near completion, I knew quite a lot about him.

One day after we moved in, he popped by to do some small repairs and took the opportunity to tell me that he got engaged. I jokingly told him that I would go to his wedding in Bangladesh if he invited me, and he took it seriously. So when he really invited me, I could not refuse.

Over the years, Salim has also become the guy our builders send over whenever we need something added or fixed. After photographing his wedding, I felt that there are a lot more stories about Salim and his family that I want to share with others. We are so used to chatting with each other now, that I think it has become second nature for him to update me about his life.

From your introduction to this book, it appears that you have quite an in-depth understanding of Salim’s family, and the relationship between him and the villagers. Do you feel like an intruder in his life?

Everything that I do as a photographer is a form of intrusion, but I believe that I have, over the years, earned Salim’s trust and therefore access. However, there were times when I had to refrain from asking some difficult questions, and there were times when I stopped myself from making certain images.

For instance, I had asked many times about being in the delivery room with his wife, but Salim was always diplomatic in his replies, which ranged from a smile to “see how lah” to “cannot lah”.

Another instance was on our last night in the village, when Salim and Jorna were having a long chat on the couch outside our room. He had become room-less because Jorna’s friends and relatives were staying in their room, and Salim had kindly given the two other rooms to my partners Samuel and Juliana, and me.

It was a very intimate moment between Salim and Jorna, and one of the few times they had a chance to be alone together. I forced myself to get out of my room with my camera and shot a few frames, all from a distance. When I returned to my room and looked through what I had photographed, they were not very satisfactory. Samuel, who had travelled to Bangladesh with me to make a documentary, kept egging me to go out again and try photographing from the reverse angle, but I procrastinated. In the end, I went to bed obsessing about what I could have done. I still think about the possible images, but I’m kind of glad I didn’t intrude in this instance.

I have never assumed that I have a right to poke my nose into every situation, and I am thankful every time someone grants me permission.

How did the rest of the villagers treat you when you were in Baktabali with Salim?

Bangladeshis, especially those in rural areas, are really hospitable folks. We could walk on our own freely because the whole village knew who were and most people felt that it was their collective responsibility to ensure our safety. A few of the kids who knew me from my previous visit also saw themselves as our guardians and would chase others away so that we could work.

However, as a foreigner, I always stood out. The people’s friendly nature and a genuine curiosity about me were a very potent combination. It could become very difficult for me to work because I do not believe in staged images and I generally do not like pictures of people staring right into my lens. So without being rude, I had to figure out ways to avoid getting myself into that kind of situation. Fortunately, on the last trip in December 2013, my two partners took some attention off me, so it was often possible for me to sneak away and do my own work.

We were really treated like VVIPs everywhere we went. I could try food from the hawkers and they were mostly happy to let me eat for free. Salim would also fight to pay for me. Because the amounts involved were very small, it would have been petty and impolite for me to argue over such acts of kindness. After many years of debating whether giving money to our subjects is ethical, I have decided that I am more interested to be a human being and friend first, a journalist later. So I have given Salim small amounts of money on the side because I am 100% certain that this was not the reason why he granted me access to his life.

When I was going to Salim’s wedding in 2011, I didn’t tell him until I was already in Dhaka. In fact, I lied and told him I couldn’t attend, because I was really afraid that my visit would drain their resources. I knew that everyone was already busy with the wedding preparations and the last thing I needed was for them to have to worry about my well-being. But funny enough, I ended up sleeping in the bed where all the wedding rites were held. I didn’t get much privacy because the ceremonies were lengthy and lasted late into the night. I think when they finally realised that I was sleepy or needed to work but couldn’t because they were actually ‘in my way’, they felt bad. But seriously, I was the guest and I was the one inconveniencing them. In situations like this, I often had to remind myself not to be a typical complaining Singaporean.

In comparison, city dwellers like us are horrible hosts. We could walk in and out of Salim’s house as if we owned it, but the same cannot be said of the reverse scenario. It’s kind of embarrassing, but I doubt they expect us to treat them as equals. I guess we can’t change that attitude totally but I believe we can at least try to be nicer.

Do you think that your documentation has benefited Salim and his family in any way?

I don’t really know, but I dare say it benefits me more. I am very sure they don’t talk about it or think about how they can benefit from this. They are not calculative or opportunistic people.

Do you regularly keep in touch with Salim in Singapore?

Unfortunately, not as often as I should, and it is not something I am proud of. He still comes over when we need help fixing stuff, so I see him two or three times a year. But we get along with his bosses and we like their workmanship and professionalism, and we have recommended them to many friends. So once in a while, I will also hear about him from friends and seriously, everyone loves him.

Occasionally, he calls me with updates about his family. His parents want me to attend his younger brother’s wedding and they have said that they will plan the wedding dates around my schedule. Fortunately, I don’t really have to worry about this now because Shamin is still looking for a suitable woman. On this issue, the two brothers have also ‘fought’ because Shamin, being a college graduate, is looking for someone similar, but Salim still believes he should just find a village girl. But I will be happy to attend the wedding when the time comes. It will be a good time to do a follow-up on Samyra too.

From your introduction, there seems to be a interweaving web of relationships between the people in Baktabali and those who work in Singapore. Do you intend to explore Salim’s relationship with his friends?

Most certainly. This project has barely started and you can expect to see more in future. My title for the original project was The Hands That Built Our Home, and Made in Singapore is only a small instalment of the bigger things to come.

As someone who has studied and worked overseas, do you see a part of yourself in Salim, who is working away from his loved ones?

When Salim was back in Bangladesh, he was always in a hurry to get as much done as possible. There were so many things he needed to fix, so many people he had to visit. Some of the things, I am pretty sure, could have been done by others but they were left for him because there is a special feeling attached to certain tasks and they wanted to wait until he was back.

On my part, I remember vividly that when I was back from the US in Singapore during one of my school holidays, I had to untangle some wires from the back of a cabinet, a task that appeared very simple. My father said to me after I was done, “Only you could do this.”

I don’t think I understood the full extent of what he meant then, but after observing Salim’s interactions with his family, it became very clear that the message was pretty much the same: “We’re really glad you’re home – the family misses you.”

In a way, the tasks that we are asked to do when we are home for short visits are also opportunities for us to feel less guilty for having ‘abandoned’ the family. For Salim, it was as if he was in a race to make up for the time lost.

When I was studying overseas and something happened at home, I couldn’t be at home in person to help and that was very frustrating. But my family always bent backwards to make me feel okay because I was overseas, I didn’t really have a choice. I reckon it is the same for Salim.

Being away can make one feel very hopeless and detached. Family members will, often out of good intention, cushion us from certain news from home because they don’t want to burden us. But eventually, we have to face the problems. I think the long exchange Salim had with his mother is one such example.

What was the most challenging aspect when creating Made in Singapore?

Editing the project down to 15 images is a mad idea and that really taxed me to the maximum.

As an educator and photography advocate, what do you think is one thing that is lacking in photography in Singapore?

Since you only asked for one, I will have to say “The Singapore Voice”. While it is perfectly okay for photographers to emulate others and attempt spin-offs or follow-ups from internationally famous projects, I am worried that this will distract from what we really ought to be doing with our own photography, which to me is to have our unique voice that can be heard and recognised worldwide. I am less concerned about the style, more concerned about the content. There are many internationally prolific Singaporean photographers out there, but they are not necessarily known for their Singapore-centric works. I am not saying that winning these big accolades is not important but I hope that someday, more Singaporean photographers can tackle Singaporean materials without having to worry about them being too parochial. What I am thinking about is the photography equivalent of Anthony Chen’s film ILO ILO (2013) – a Singapore story that can have international appeal.

The good news is that the Singapore scene has changed quite a bit in the past 10 years and we are closer to that ideal now. It’s fantastic that a few photographers I respect are using their acclaimed place in the international arena to tackle Singapore projects. With their standing in the global community, their ‘local’ projects may not be considered ‘too local’ for much longer.

So I really hope that photographers like Darren Soh will not stop photographing vernacular buildings unique to us and I hope Clang’s forthcoming contribution to TwentyFifteen.sg will also get global attention. I think Jing’s crazy portraits of Singapore groups will also be important documents in the future. These photographers have some clout with international editors and that will make a difference in getting The Singapore Voice heard by a bigger audience, and on a bigger stage.

Eight years ago, you embarked on a project, National Day Babies, documenting 40 Singaporeans born on National Day. Is Made in Singapore your gift to the nation for its golden jubilee, or can we expect more to come?

If you consider the TwentyFifteen.sg initiative one of my babies, then I think there are plenty more. As for my personal projects, I never stop thinking about them. But whether I can deliver or not is another question.

You are the same age as Singapore. Tell us, what is one thing you would wish for yourself and the country?

The one wish I have for myself is very simple – don’t stop dreaming. For Singapore, I will be very happy if people are kinder to each other.
 
To purchase a copy of Made in Singapore by Tay Kay Chin, please visit:
http://twentyfifteen.myshopify.com/collections/photographers-folios/products/made-in-singapore-by-tay-kay-chin
 
The portrait of Tay Kay Chin was drawn by Flee Circus; and Leonard Goh, who will anchor all the interviews in this series, is a co-founder of Platform.

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aTayKayChinTay Kay Chin is co-founder of PLATFORM and TwentyFifteen.sg. Apart from corporate commissions and personal projects, he also teaches photojournalism at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication & Information at Nanyang Technological University. Made in Singapore is part of his personal project to document the foreign workers who helped to build his house five years ago.

www.taykaychin.com

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