The Books


I started documenting the passing of time, in fits and starts, about eight years ago. As a documentary photographer, capturing the decisive moment is one of my mantras. But I wanted to show more than one moment in a single photograph. Shooting during the golden hours at dawn and dusk, at first I used long exposures and time-striped composites. Later I experimented with time-lapse photography.

Transitions brings these concepts together and uses still images to show changes in light, movement and people. It is a change measured in hours, one we often don’t notice because we rarely stand still long enough to observe it.

To purchase a copy of Transitions by Bryan van der Beek, please visit:

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In the yellowed photograph, a tanned man with a high forehead and thick lips wore
a white shirt and trousers – and a twin-lens camera around his neck.

I was intrigued.

The man was my paternal grandfather, Shen Huansheng (沈焕盛) – the only other
photographer and journalist in the family, as I later found out. Relatives had rarely
spoken about him since his death in 1949.

All I had heard, vaguely, was that he had died in China, where there was
a monument to him. What had he done to have that, I wondered? How, in this
family so staunchly apolitical, did I have a granddad who was a Communist martyr?
The topic, though, was taboo in our family. No one wanted to reopen this old
chapter of history. The years passed.

It wasn’t until 2011 that I travelled back to our village and back in time, to start
piecing his story together.

A generation earlier, at the turn of the twentieth century, my great-grandfather, like
so many Hakkas and other southern Chinese, left the impoverished mountains of
east Guangdong to set sail for Southeast Asia or farther, becoming part of the
growing Chinese diaspora. (The Hakkas are now Singapore’s fourth-largest dialect
group, numbering 200,000.)

Granddad, who then grew up and spent most of his life in British Malaya, sailed
back in the opposite direction in early 1949. He faced a stark choice: be tried as
a Communist sympathiser in Malaya or be deported. He chose the latter after being
arrested and imprisoned by the British in Perak in late 1948, in the early months
of the Malayan Emergency. The exact circumstances of his arrest are not clear,
but from information I have been able to piece together, it was either for
having written anti-colonial editorials as the chief editor of the leftist Ipoh Daily
newspaper or on suspicion of channelling funds to the Malayan Communist Party’s
armed insurgency.

Soon after returning to China, he went up the hills near our ancestral village in
Meixian (梅县) to join a Chinese Communist guerrilla army unit. In mid-1949,
he ran into rival Kuomintang (KMT) soldiers when he was coming downhill. He was
imprisoned by them and later shot in a mass execution of prisoners-of-war as the
KMT retreated towards Taiwan. Granddad was killed in July 1949, just two months
shy of the Communist victory over most of China. He was 38.

The fate of our family turned on his death.

My grandmother, left to raise their five young children in Malaya, banned them
from talking about their father and China, and from being interested in politics.
She never seemed to really recover from his departure, believing that he chose
politics over family.

For most of us who grew up during or after the Cold War, Communism is a tainted
word – especially in what became present-day Singapore and Malaysia. But in the
times that Granddad lived, global politics and the personal were deeply intertwined,
and many, like him, made choices that might have seemed most natural to them.
He was part of a wave of overseas Chinese who went back to the mainland in the
late 1940s into the 1950s, eager to help build “New China” (新中国).

Two generations later, I unwittingly became interested in modern Chinese history
and spent much of my time at university focused on Mao’s policies. Without
knowing our family’s past, I became a journalist, and a foreign correspondent
and photographer based in Beijing, documenting a slice of the China that has
emerged from the ideological struggle that Granddad – and so many others –
died in, died for.

To purchase a copy of Roots by Sim Chi Yin, please visit:

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For the past eight years, my family and I have lived at Commonwealth Drive. The first home I ever owned was a small but cosy three-room flat on the seventh floor of block 79. But I’m just a ‘baby’ in the neighbourhood compared to some of my neighbours, who have lived in Commonwealth Drive for most of their lives. This cluster of ten-storey flats – more popularly known as Zhup Lao (“ten floors” in Teochew or Hokkien) – was one of the first satellite towns built in 1962 by the Housing Development Board (HDB), and I’ve heard a wealth of stories about the area from my neighbours and local shop owners.

Last year, HDB announced that these flats would be redeveloped under the Selective En Bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS). It’s sad to think that with the demolition of these blocks, all these old and long-lasting ties will be uprooted and lost forever. I love how this neighbourhood oozes old-world charm with its provision shops, barbers and traditional medicine halls. I’m trying to document as much as I can before it all vanishes.

Many of these things also remind me of my grandmother, who brought me up. I’d like to think that I’m honouring her by being nostalgic in this series of photographs.

To purchase a copy of Common Wealth by Nicky Loh, please visit:

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Industrial steamers and ovens are working overtime in cramped kitchens, producing an assortment of paus and Teochew kuehs. Just across the street, a shop owner is selling joss paper to the bereaved. Less than a five-minute walk away, retired Comfort taxis are being scrapped for metal.

This is the organised chaos of Defu Industrial estate, a gathering of more than 1,000 factories in an area larger than 240 football fields.

The seeds for this photographic project were planted a year ago, when we visited a carpenter at Defu Lane to fabricate a prop for a shoot. The repeated patterns of stacked-up air-conditioning compressors, office chairs and used vehicles caught our eye. Our continued research revealed that this world of industrial companies co-existed with a world of food manufacturing, in a wonderful rojak manner.

The pronunciation of Defu sounds like the Mandarin phrase for ‘to gain prosperity’. This certainly rings true for the many manual labourers who work in the area.

For Mr Neo Lye Kuan, a jovial 60-year old, the 20 years he has spent roasting coffee in a sweltering hot factory space meant that he could afford to send two of his children to university.

It’s trendy now to celebrate Tiong Bahru’s village of artisans who make gourmet coffee and sew leather saddles for bicycles. But lost to our common consciousness are these original artisans, many of whom continue to ply a trade in sunset industries.

The Woo family’s Kwong Hoh Hing Sauce Factory is one such example. In an open yard, vats of soy beans are left to ferment for more than a year to produce soy sauce – a method hailing from the family’s lineage in southern China.

The soy sauce factory and other neighbouring businesses were relocated to the estate when it was built in the 1970s.

Change is long overdue for the well-worn estate, with its dusty roads and often illegally-parked vehicles. In order to contain pollution and to optimise land use, the government has launched a 20-year plan to revitalise the area.

Artist impressions of the new Defu Industrial Park show tree-lined parks and sleek glass façades. Modern industrial complexes will replace the existing factories. Amenities like childcare centres and medical clinics have also been planned for.

With the changes, the factory floor space in the estate will increase by about five times.

Some of the present chaos will no doubt be organised into neatly stacked industrial buildings. With that, much of its photographic charm too might be lost.

To purchase a copy of DEFU by Sam&Sam, please visit:

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Transit is based on the intra-city railway system in Singapore, the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT). Built in 1987, it is used by close to 2.8 million people daily.

I started photographing the MRT in 2011. I had come home after living in Nepal for two years and I was surprised at how crowded our trains had become. During the 2011 general elections, transport became a hot potato issue. When I couldn’t get onto the trains myself, I photographed people who were forced to the edge of the train doors to show how dire the situation was. These photographs were born from a sense of frustration and alienation.

When my anger subsided, the mental imprint did not fade away. What I saw from my first photographs intrigued me. I started looking at the seminal works done on trains – Bruce Davidson’s Subway (1986), Walker Evan’s Many Are Called (1938), Michael Wolfe’s Tokyo Compression (2010), just to name a few. What could I add to this narrative?

Eventually I returned to photographing train doors during peak hours. The crowded trains presented an ever-changing theatre each time the doors opened and closed, revealing interesting protagonists, diverse lives and a myriad of emotions. The camera gave me a chance to see what my eye would have missed – a collective portrait of Singapore, always in transit.

As commuters today, we distract ourselves endlessly with our smartphones or iPads, to anaesthetise ourselves from the unnatural and uncomfortable experience of transit. We create private spaces for ourselves in the most public of spaces.

As commuters, we observe an unspoken rule not to stare at each other’s misery.

As a photographer, I broke that last rule twice over – I recorded the stare, and continue to be amazed by what the stare reveals.

To purchase a copy of Transit by Edwin Koo, please visit:

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DRAWING TRIANGLES is a collaboration between Sit Weng San and Colomba Cruz Elton, a photo series of gestures performing migratory experiences. This project emerged from conversations they had as housemates living in Los Angeles, coming from two very different cultures; Singapore and Chile.

Through globalisation and the ease of movement of people, goods and culture, geographical boundaries are continually being broken down, However, becoming ever more prevalent are the boundaries constructed by ideas of nationhood, economics, power and race. San and Colomba seek to examine these boundaries, both imaginary and tangible, and the effect that they have on them as subjects of displacement. While living in the USA, they have a possibility of exploring their own cultures from an external perspective, while their homes are both absent and invisible.

Los Angeles, a city with its own charged history, becomes the stage for their work – within its myriad of changing landscapes and ethnologically diverse streets they search for places that remind them of home. For each photograph in the series, one of the two artists performs a re-imagining from a snippet of her own history, memory, experience or re-creations of recent events that occurred at home in their absence. The other artist frames the performance through the lens of the camera, not only documenting the act but re-framing it according to her own cultural imagination and subjective understanding. By interchanging the role of performer and photographer, inevitably the camera becomes a mediator of multiple fragmented interpretations and expressions of the artists, which converge within a time and space. The lens through which they view their experiences is informed by where they come from and often, how they identify themselves in relation to others.

The photographs become a language of listening, imagining and amalgamating, as well as a catalyst to the texts that accompany them. The texts are two voices that come through the reflection of the specific photograph; they in turn give context to the images, bringing out what is lost in translation and guided through the illustrations that act as a mapping tool.

DRAWING TRIANGLES is a result of a repeated process of de-construction and reconstruction of interpreted fragments. Memories of their homes in Singapore and Chile become intertwined with representations of Los Angeles. By creating mythologies that fail to provide a singular point of view they are able to gain perspective on the places that they come from. They also propose multiple imaginative realities of what could be, liberating the space where conflicting ideologies, race and national consciousnesses co-exist.

To purchase a copy of Drawing Triangles by Sit Weng San & Colomba Cruz Elton, please visit:

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I still have a vivid memory of the first day I went over to Mel’s place to speak with her. I was nursing a terrible migraine that afternoon and all I wanted to do was curl up in bed under my covers. But somehow, I managed to summon enough willpower to drag myself out of bed and drive down to Ang Mo Kio where Mel lives.

When I reached the void deck of Mel’s block of flats, I texted my friend Louisa. I told her to get the police over if I didn’t buzz her by 6 p.m., because that might mean I had been kidnapped. I was joking, of course! However, on hindsight, that joke was probably masking whatever trepidation I was feeling about visiting an ex-convict, one whom I had heard stories about.

Walking up the stairs to the second floor gave me a sense of what to expect. The stairs were littered with empty cans and plastic wrappers. They reeked of urine too. I trod my way carefully, lifting my feet cautiously over the litter, stepping on what seemed to be cleaner spots until I reached the next landing.

There was Indian music blasting from the flat adjacent to the stairs and the gates to the flat were open. I guessed that this was the place, and so I peered in timidly.

“Hi, are you Mel? I’m Bernice. I contacted you earlier because I wanted to speak with you, remember?”

She said yes, but it sounded rather unconvincing. I thought she might have forgotten our appointment. Thankfully, she still invited me in.

As I stepped in, I gave a weak smile to everyone in the room. There must have been six to seven children and teenagers inside the flat. It was very crowded: one triple-decker bed filled with bags and blankets, two cupboards flanking the bed against the wall, a black sofa, a huge trophy and a television set. Those were all the possessions they had in the living room.

As soon as I settled down on the sofa, which was tattered and torn with cotton spilling out at the corners, I heard Mel yell at one of her twin daughters to “go get che che [sister] a drink lah, goondu [stupid].”

One and a half hours later, I texted Louisa to inform her that I was safe and all had gone well. I knew this was going to be the start of something beautiful.


School of Hard Knocks looks at the issue of urban poverty in Singapore through the lives of Mel, a single mother, her seven children and a community of at-risk youths she banded together through dance. It also explores the ways they react to and cope with being disconnected from mainstream society.

Now 35, Mel has gone through a lot – from two prison stints for drug-related offences, to enduring years of abuse from her previous partner and mothering seven children alone. Since she was released from prison in 2010, she has turned to dance to mentor other youths. She now runs a dance group, Pluspoint, and is a bulwark to many of the boys there.

To purchase a copy of School of Hard Knocks by Bernice Wong, please visit:

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Singaporelang – What the Singlish?

| sɪŋɡʌpɔ læŋ | [sing-ka-poh-leng]
● noun. Singapore language in shortform. From English.
sɪŋɡʌpɔ laŋ | [sing-ka-poh-lang]
● noun. Singaporeans. From Hokkien.

Welcome to the new Visual Singlish Dictionary!

Whether or not you are sing-ka-poh-lang, I’m very sure you will enjoy my remix on this Singapore slang one.

Sorry I a bit kiasu, but try to follow my instructions, OK?

Step by step, slowly:

    1) Study the images carefully first hor.
    2) Then what you think is the Singlish word for it, go and write in the white space provided.
    3) Finish already take selfie, then post. Of course must hashtag #singaporelang. Wait for what siah? Chop-chop kali pok!
    4) Salah ah? Start again lor. Waliao eh. Like that also must teach ah? Anyhowly lah

Easy, right?

Actually, you can also see this as a form of the famous word-guessing game, Charades. Remember that game or not?

Whether or not you are a native speaker of Singlish, this rendition is confirm-stamp-chop better than Charades lah.

Don’t pretend and act atas lah, you really don’t know what is Singlish meh? It is a rojak or chap chye of English, Chinese, Malay, Tamil and some Chinese dialects lor. Linguistics experts will say, it’s the creole version of English spoken in Singapore.

So I thought, to spoil market, I see whether I can try and illustrate this uniquely Singaporelang thingy into photographs lah.

Swee boh?

As angmohdan says on his website, “Singaporeans are efficient people, and prefer to take less time and words to express themselves.”

Indeed, the brevity of Singlish is what makes it tick. Some say it is chapalang, disorderly or illogical, but Singlish evolved to convey specific feelings or situations that can’t quite be described in standard English language.

No one really ‘owns’ Singlish, and that is why free-style (suka-suka) experimentation led to creative spins on how we modify and use the languages that we speak and hear around us all the time.

In piecing together this visual dictionary, my aim is not to put parameters on the spelling and usage of Singlish, but to provide a reference and to celebrate it. After all, language is ever-evolving. We use it everyday and we should be allowed to attach meaning to each scenario.

Who really decides what words go into a dictionary? Maybe if we tan-gu-gu, Singlish will eventually get validated. But does a dictionary give legitimacy to words?

Halfway through this project, I accepted the fact that my visual dictionary probably CMI but ok mah, because Singlish words have spelling variants, different pronunciations depending on who is speaking it …

The whole point of this is sometimes catch no ball also never mind one. Anyhow hamtam, mata also won’t catch.

I’d say Singlish is just like a swee char bor, pattern zuay zuay – ‘pattern more than badminton’.

At the end of the day hor, the same scene might be shiok to someone, but might be just siao or sot sot to another.

Just like life, right?

Steady lah,
Zinkie Aw

To purchase a copy of Singaporelang – What the Singlish? by Zinkie Aw, please visit:

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We are Farmers

When I took up photography, I didn’t consider my family worthy of photographing. Like most people, I thought they were ordinary. That changed in 2007 when I contracted meningitis and was in a critical coma for a few days. The doctor prepared my family for the worst-case scenario. When I regained consciousness, I had no idea what happened; it was as if I had simply fallen into a deep slumber. My sister filled me in: how my mom had found me in my room having a seizure, on a day when she would normally be working at our farm; the conversation that the doctor had with my parents; the guilt and pain on my mom’s face; the friends and family who took turns to visit me when I was in the coma.

This experience prompted me to reflect on my life. I realised that if I had left the world then, I would have had few regrets other than the fact that I had not spent enough time to connect with my family. I had neither appreciated nor attempted to understand them. While I was busy pursuing my dreams, I had alienated my family members, especially my parents. Yet even though they didn’t comprehend what I was doing with my life, they had quietly supported me all the way.

So I started photographing them as an attempt to bridge my indifference, and to look afresh at a subject that is often taken for granted. In the process, I’ve discovered that I have a most extraordinary family.

I come from a family of farmers. My great-grandfather started a coconut plantation in Yio Chu Kang in the 1960s, his seven sons working alongside him. When the area was slated for redevelopment in the late 1970s, they moved to Punggol and started a pig farm. I grew up there, where roughly 100 members of my extended family lived and worked together.

My days of chasing piglets and exploring longkang [monsoon drains] came to an end in the late 1980s, when the government decided to phase out pig farming in Singapore. It was then that my eldest uncle decided to venture into hydroponics farming so that the family could continue to live and work together. After 24 years of hard work, the farm is still running and the family is still together. This series of photographs is an exploration of the hopes and dreams that tie us together, and a reflection of where my sense of self, community and tradition comes from.

刚开始接触摄影时,我从没想过以自己的家人作为摄影的对象。在我的眼中,他们和其他人一样,很平凡。那时,我即将大学毕业,但对所就读的房地产管理系毫无兴趣。毕业后我不顾家人的反对,毅然投入了摄影这个行业, 对未来充满了憧璟。当时的我十分理想化,总觉得家人不了解我,也不支持我的梦想。在沉溺于摄影的过程中,我与家人渐渐产生了隔阂。2007年的一场重病,让我有了另一番的体会。一场突如其来的脑膜炎,让我陷入了昏迷。终于苏醒时,感觉只是沉沉的睡了一觉,但是后来妹妹告诉我:妈妈原来应该在农场工作,却侥幸的在家发现我昏倒在地,即时把我送进医院;医生如何告知我的父母必须做最坏的心理准备;妈妈脸上的痛苦与愧疚;家人、亲戚、朋友如何轮流探望昏迷中的我……





To purchase a copy of We Are Farmers by Ore Huiying, please visit:

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The Gift Book

One origin of the practice of gift-wrapping can be traced back to the furoshiki, a reusable wrapping cloth used to transport clothes, gifts and other goods during the Edo period in Japan. The ritual of gift-wrapping we know today has a completely different intention. Perhaps it is the look of surprise we hope to see when the recipient tears open the wrapper, or the air of mystery and desire that is created when we are given an unknown object.

In 1992, Professor Daniel Howard from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, USA published a study on the effects and motivations of gift-wrapping. He wrote, “gift wrapping, through repeated pairing with joyous events in people’s lives, has utility in cueing a happy mood which, in turn, positively biases attitudes”. This confirmed his hypothesis that a gift-wrapped item makes the recipient more favourable towards owning a gift.

Our natural environment is both the giver and the gift. But we, the recipients, have to appreciate and conserve it so that it can continue to give us the crucial resources we need to live. To celebrate this fact, here are 15 gift-wrapping paper designs created with various elements from our natural environment. They include insects, butterfly chrysalises and flowers – specimens that either flew into my home, or that I found in my garden or collected in and around Singapore. They say that to give is to receive, so I hope these gift-wrappers will positively bias you and your intended recipient’s attitudes towards our natural world.

Ernest Goh

To purchase a copy of The Gift Book by Ernest Goh, please visit:

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