[TwentyFifteen.sg] Feature on Straits Times

PLATFORM has been an integral part of my journey as a photographer. When I first started photography in late 2012, I was directionless. I didn’t know what to do, and when I figured that bit out, I didn’t know how to do what I had to do. Then, Juliana told me to go for the monthly Platform sessions. Since then, there wasn’t any looking back. Learning from the seasoned, established veterans really helped to ground me and gave me opportunities to try new things (like printing for the TwentyFifteen exhibition!). What I’m trying to say is that, more of us younger photographers should seriously consider stepping forward and lending a hand in building this local photography community/scene. It has taught me a lot about developing my own work and also about the industry. I’m sure it will teach you plenty too. Cheers.


[TwentyFifteen.sg - The Exhibition]

Esplanade invites you and your guest to the opening reception of TWENTYFIFTEEN.SG THE EXHIBITION
by PLATFORM Opening Reception 

6 Aug 2015, Thu, 7pm
Jendela (Visual Arts Space) Level 2, Esplanade Mall Featuring works by Bernice Wong, Bryan van der Beek, Chow Chee Yong, Darren Soh, Edwin Koo, Ernest Goh, John Clang, Kevin WY Lee, Lim Weixiang, Matthew Teo, Nicky Loh, Ore Huiying, Robert Zhao Renhui, Sam&Sam (Sam Chin & Samuel He), Sean Lee, Sim Chi Yin,
Sit Weng San & Colomba Cruz Elton, Tan Ngiap Heng, Tay Kay Chin and Zinkie Aw. 

20 photographers, 15 images each—that was the key idea behind TwentyFifteen.sg, a project to showcase the work of Singaporean photographers, on the subject of Singapore, to celebrate Singapore’s Golden Jubilee in 2015. Curated by the photography collective PLATFORM, the initiative has published a folio for each of the 20 selected photographers since 2013. This exhibition presents a selection of photographs from this project. 

Featuring both established and emerging photographers, it provides a multifaceted view of the complex society that Singapore is today: from intimate family portraits to iconic landscapes and landmarks, from
artful explorations of Singapore identity to provocative views from the margin. 

Exhibition Dates
7 Aug 2015 to 3 Jan 2016
Opening Hours
Mon to Fri, 11am to 8.30pm
Sat, Sun & Public Holidays, 10am to 8.30pm


[TwentyFifteen.sg - The Exhibition] Points of View by Yu-Mei Balasingamchow

Yu-Mei’s beautiful writeup about the upcoming TwentyFifteen.sg’s exhibition at the Esplanade that I’m happy to be part of. It opens on 6 Aug. In it, she wrote about the image I made of Dheena prancing about on the second-storey high roof on the side of his block. It’s an image I hold close to my heart not only because I love it aesthetically, but because soon enough, I won’t be getting such nonsense from this boy for a long time. 

Points of View
Yu-Mei Balasingamchow
 

 In John Clang’s image “Dragon playground”, from his series The Land of My Heart for TwentyFifteen.sg, five women dressed in Singapore Airlines (SIA) stewardess uniforms are staged on and around a dragon playground structure in a Housing and Development Board (HDB) estate. Clang’s series is calculated to provoke and subvert the lush visual language of the SIA’s iconic advertisements, and this particular image seems to summon up the question: what is Singapore? Is it the promise of Oriental submission conjured by the SIA girls (who have in fact retired from the airline)? The safe, unthreatening nostalgia for “uniquely Singaporean” landmarks like the dragon playground? The anonymous HDB block that has become a synecdoche for the Singapore everyman experience? 

Or is Singapore the land of the migrant workers and passers-by, looking on from the edge of the photo? Then there are the trees, looming over the playground and the people, the garden city grown to maturity alongside the HDB flats. Finally there is the pencilled-in statement, “No, Singapore is not China.”—a refutation Clang and many Singaporeans have had to make to foreigners, and one that is destabilised, in this photograph, by the dominant Chinese imagery of the dragon motif and the neatly swept long hair and demure posture of the Chinese SIA girls. 

Another TwentyFifteen.sg series, Senseless Spaces by Chow Chee Yong, takes as its subject the residue or traces of urban structures—drains, paths, fences and barriers—that were left behind after rebuilding or redevelopment. Steps lead purposefully up to an impassable wall, drains and walkways compete in irreverent (and redundant) zigzags, ghostly walls and barriers protrude out of newer constructions. This, too, is Singapore—a landscape pared down to a vivid black-and-white meditation on the national obsession with upgrading and urban renewal. There are no sympathetic human figures in these barren images, yet Chow’s unswerving focus on man-made concrete and metal structures paradoxically reinforces the human presence in every scene. 

Dissimilar as they are, Clang’s and Chow’s series both capture the absurd poignancy of Singapore in the mid-2010s. While the nation has been instructed to celebrate what it has achieved in the last 50 years, on an everyday basis contradictions abound. Singapore today is an idea still being fought over, from the most top-secret Cabinet rooms to the ceaseless fray of the internet: who or what counts as Singaporean, what does Singapore stand for, what kind of society should it be? Put the Chinese SIA girl and the South Asian migrant worker into the same tableau (or in the same room), and some people’s heads explode. 

TwentyFifteen.sg did not set out to explode myth, challenge history or define “national” identity. Its starting point was simple (some might even say, simplistic): PLATFORM would publish the work of 20 Singaporean photographers, presenting 15 images each on the subject of Singapore, in the months leading up to August 2015. What constitutes “Singapore” as a subject was left to the individual photographer’s imagination. There was no ambition to represent “all” of Singapore, or to respond to the assumptions underpinning Singapore’s putative 50-year history. 

That is not to say that the resulting work has been ahistorical or dehistoricised. Indeed, the first folio in the series, For My Son by Darren Soh, is a gentle evocation of past, present and future: the past, in that almost all the buildings and structures in his images have been demolished; the present, in that this is Singapore, the endless cycle of building, demolishing and rebuilding that animates the city; and the future, in dedicating the book to his son, which inevitably conjures the question of what Singapore the younger Soh will inherit in the decades to come. 

In a different way, past, present and future intersect in Robert Zhao’s series Singapore 1925–2025. His carefully constructed images of speculative Singapore landscapes reflect the formality of the 19th-century tourist gaze, as well as present-day concerns about rampant urbanisation and the marginalisation of nature. These landscapes do not literally exist, yet they summon up enough realism to hover on the edge of existence, as if they might shimmer into being in the next instant. In that respect, they appear to be more vivid and authentic than reality itself (“View of Marina Bay Sands” is particularly compelling). 

That line between fact and fiction, preconceived notion and imaginative possibility, zigzags with varying intensity through the TwentyFifteen.sg projects. The family is reimagined in Sean Lee’s Two People and Ore Huiying’s We Are Farmers. Zinkie Aw’s Singaporelang attempts to turn the distinctive sounds of Singlish into studied images. Lim Weixiang’s Our Coastline and Kevin WY Lee’s Bay of Dreams interrogate the shoreline and Marina Bay Sands respectively, finding intimate, less-than-obvious moments on a human scale. Ernest Goh’s The Gift Book zooms in on the delicate beauty of local nature with his close-up portraits of insects, while Sit Weng San and Columba Cruz Elton’s Drawing Triangle ranges abroad to explore migratory connections between Sit’s home in Singapore, Elton’s in Chile and their common home in Los Angeles. 

The documentary works, too, open up new possibilities for looking at ourselves. While most of them adopt a realistic mode of representation, they do not merely reinforce the status quo but posit the worlds beyond it, turning the lens on MRT commuters (Edwin Koo’s Transit), migrant workers (Tay Kay Chin’s Made in Singapore), artists and art-makers (Tan Ngiap Heng’s ARTiculate), industrial estate workers (Sam&Sam’s DEFU), HDB dwellers (Nicky Loh’s Common Wealth), at-risk families (Bernice Wong’s School of Hard Knocks), and the photographer himself (the self-portraits in Matthew Teo’s A Little Bit of Me from Everything Else). The works operate differently: some rely on the spontaneity of the moment, others emerge from a long engagement with the subjects; some are meant to be read visually on their own, others are accompanied by extensive photojournalistic profiles that add personal and social context. Seen as a whole, these documentary works present an important range of views from the margins, while also acknowledging each photographer’s privilege and complicity in his or her project. 

The 20 photographic series in TwentyFifteen.sg provide a composite—but not comprehensive—portrait of Singapore at this moment in time. It is a portrait that provokes as much as it aestheticises, an endeavour that is more interested in asking questions than in defining what Singapore “is”. In Bernice Wong’s School of Hard Knocks, there is an image of a boy standing on the second-storey high roof on the side of an HDB block, his arms outstretched to either side, as if he’s about to strike a dancer’s pose or leap gracefully off the roof. There is a fuller story behind this boy and this particular block of flats, one that Wong has recorded in her project and that viewers likewise shouldn’t ignore. 

But the photograph also captures a moment in time, of a micro-individual playfully transgressing the iconically rigid HDB landscape with a posture both lissome (like the SIA girls in Clang’s series) and insouciant. He hangs like an apparition, hovering on the edge of believability. Possibilities abound. He looks at the camera and we look at him. What will he do next?


‘Thank You Mr Lee’ book launch

We were born in the late 1980s, a few years before Mr Lee Kuan Yew stepped down as prime minister of Singapore. While we enjoyed the fruits of his policies, we rarely saw the man in action. 

For our generation, Mr Lee lived in our textbooks, in taxi conversations with drivers grumbling about the ‘gahmen’, and in National Day telecasts. When we entered university, we read papers criticising his hardfisted stance on opposition parties, censorship and other issues. As a teenager transiting to young adulthood, it was easier to be sceptical than grateful. 

After Mr Lee’s passing, we saw a gamut of media celebrating his life, from documentaries broadcasted on television to special editions of newspapers dedicated to him. Social media was flooded with old clips of Mr Lee’s interviews, articles such as ‘91 Quotes of Lee Kuan Yew That Show Why You Either Love Or Hate Him’ and many other articles. Facebook became a platform for heartfelt tributes. 

What we saw in the days after his passing was truly remarkable and many of the pictures in this book will attest to that. But even more important than the individual actions, was that we, as a nation, felt a collective sense of loss. 

We made this book in the hope that it will bear witness to those feelings, for us and for the readers. And while we should continue to be critical in our thinking, at this time we are no longer shy in showing our gratitude. 

Project Directors, 

Bernice Wong & Juliana Tan

**

There were a lot of decisions we had to make (very carefully!) along the way - from choice of paper, to layout and colour of book, to the location of the book launch etc. 

But we couldn’t have done this in the tight timeline without such an amaaazing team including Minister Mentors Tay Kay Chin & Darren Soh, kickass designer Tan Xinning, uncle Doraemon Sebastian Song, Yu-Mei Balasingamchow for meticulously looking through all the text, and my partner in crime Juliana Tan. I’m truly blessed to have been part of this project; it’s been a great learning journey for me. 

Anyway, we’ve already sold 500 copies of ‘Thank You, Mr Lee’ last night, so if you haven’t gotten yours and would like to, you can grab them from Basheer Graphic Books, Kino and soon, Times bookstore as well. 

Have a good Friday, y’all!


Open call for ‘Thank You Mr Lee’ book

On 23 March 2015, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the architect of Singapore, passed on and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong declared a week of national mourning. The collective sense of loss felt by Singaporean has been expressed in different ways - through tributes on various social media platforms, paying their last respect at the Parliament house as well as the many tribute centres around the island. 

Over the weekend, when it became clear that his passing was imminent, some of us began asking if Platform ought to do a LKY book. We contacted a publisher who said ‘yes’ to this collaboration immediately. 

In the last couple of days, many of us went out and made pictures to commemorate or ‘deal’ with our feelings. 

We, Bernice and Juliana, with the support of Kay Chin and Darren, have since decided that it would be important to make this LKY book. This will not only be a way to remember him, but also how we, as a nation, coped with the loss of a great man and how we’re moving on from here. 

We want to provide a little Platform to bear witness to our nation’s loss and the new chapter that is to come.
If you have shot something meaningful, we would like to invite you to send in your image(s) to be considered for this project. Each photographer can submit up to 8 images, but we would consider singles as well. 

You can submit your images (1000px on the long side, 72dpi) to [email protected], with the subject “LKY Platform Book”. 

This open call ends on 30 March, 1200. 

We look forward to your submission and will update with more details as they come in. Thanks. 

On behalf of the Platform team, 

Bernice, Juliana, Kay Chin and Darren


[School of Hard Knocks] Interview with TwentyFifteen for School of Hard Knocks

Q : So we are supposed to believe that a Chinese girl from a middle-class family can understand the problems faced by a group of people from a totally different background? 

A : I don’t claim to know everything, but I’m learning more about them everyday. Mel calls me her “Chinese sister with Indian attitude”. In some ways, it feels like I have found my tribe, like I belong here with them. I’m not quite sure how to explain this, but I think if I were to do a story about people from a privileged background, I wouldn’t be able to pull it off. 

 ** 

In this interview with Twentyfifteen.sg, I share my thoughts about documenting Mel and company - how I started, why I started and the journey thus far. If you wanna know more, you can come by my book launch on 4th March, 7.30pm at *SCAPE treetop. It’d be fun! 

Link to interview :
http://twentyfifteen.sg/2015/02/22/twentyfifteen-interview-1420-bernice-wong-speaks-to-leonard-goh/


[MPW66] Amazing Grace

After 48 hours of deflated morale and crushed spirit, I knew things were gonna fly when I finally met 13 year-old Grace Cogan. Despite being born with Goltz syndrome, a rare multi system disorder which has left her hearing and visually impaired, and with other birth defects, she has grown up to be a fine girl with big dreams of becoming a historical fiction author. 

I highly suspect that many of us actually feel like I do when I meet someone with special needs; someone who differs from societal norms and expectations of functionality and beauty. How should I behave around them? Should I do/not do something lest it offends them? Where is that fine line between being sensitive to their limitations yet not be so presumptuous and treat them as subhumans? I struggle with that a lot. 

But meeting Grace has opened my eyes. Shadowing and interacting with her in the past week has definitely helped me get a better sense of how she’s like - actually much like who I (and probably many of us) was very many years ago. She loathes Maths, I never liked Science; she gets touchy when her mother disturbs her, I did too! Grace loveeees to read. Quiz her anything about American history and she will share with you everything you want to know. I was, and still am, quite the bookworm too. 

Gracie is a fighter. She really is. And I’ve so much respect for her indomitable spirit and resilience for life. She’s gone through surgeries after surgeries, tons of visits to the doctor, lived through and is still living through pain from her condition. But she’s not let it eat at her. I’m not sure I can be half the person she is, had I been born to the same circumstances as her. This one week at Missouri Photo Workshop has been very precious to me. I’ve learnt so much about story telling, met a class full of talented and good-hearted photographers, got inspired by the faculty (big shout out to Brian Kratzer and Lois Raimondo who were extremely nurturing!!), and got to be a tiny part of Grace’s life. I just pray that God will always keep this little girl in His favour and that our paths will cross again some time in the near future.


[School of Hard Knocks] ST feature

A project that I’ve been giving my heart and soul to the past 9 months, and for a long time more. When people you photograph become like family, you know it’s a story you won’t wanna stop working on. For awhile, I struggled with finding a story at home I could truly connect with - one which I would laugh about, fight for, and worry after. Then, this came along. It hasn’t been easy. I struggle with a lot of things, including self-censorship and managing my emotions when I hang out with this bunch. But you know what? The only way to go is forward.


SYPA Themed Body of Work 2014 + 2015.sg

Last night I was named the winner in this year’s Singapore Young Photographer Award’s “Themed Body of Work” category, for my work on Lim Chu Kang Jetty. 

 It was something I worked on rather diligently for a couple of months in 2013. I haven’t gone back to photograph that place as much as I would like to this year, but that is in the pipeline. 

 In fact, I started visiting the jetty in Jan ‘13 (that was way before I decided to document it proper in May) just to look-see i.e. kaypoh a bit, and I forgot that I made some images in the four trips there. Today, I revisited the stuff I shot back then, and it brought back a lot of memories.

In addition to the above announcement, I’m happy to share that I’ve been invited to contribute to Twentyfifteen’s series of 20 books. Twentyfifteen, an initiative of Platform, will see twenty photographers publish books related to/about Singapore, as we celebrate Singapore’s 50th year of independence in 2015.


[Pluspoint] Indiegogo campaign

How I like to spend my days - with the Pluspoint family. This week, the boys have been practising very hard for a gig at SCAPE, and they are doing damn swell. 

This is also Day 2 of our Indiegogo campaign and we’re very humbled by the support we’ve been getting. Our video has had 14k hits, and we’ve raised 1870 USD thus far. We hope to raise 6000 USD in 20 days to buy speakers, dance costumes and food money, which will definitely help us in fighting for top spot in next year’s prestigious Dhool competition. 

This campaign might sound quite frivolous to some of you, but to the boys, your support will mean a lot. Having spent the past 8 months together, I have seen how dance has helped to keep them off the streets, and given them a goal to work towards. 

Here’s the link to our campaign - http://bit.ly/1oAegMO- and you can also watch the multimedia piece I worked on in the earlier half of the year.

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