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.
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