(2021) Fighting for a Birthright – The Recovery

Fighting for a Birthright – The Recovery

The defining moment for me to work on a black and white photo essay came in April 2020 when the Circuit Breaker (Singapore’s version of lockdown) was imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic. The audience, Singaporeans in general as they patronise hawker centres and potential tourists to Singapore who have been attracted by Singapore Tourism Board’s marketing campaigns on our hawker culture. Of all restrictions, the ban on dining-in at hawker centres stirred up the most emotive reactions. These huge public venues house scores of food vendors selling cheap quality food because eating out is a way of life in Singapore that dates to country’s founding as a British trading outpost in 1819.

As I have already documented the lowest point of the hawker culture during the Covid19, my next work is to record its recovery. The challenges it faces are unprecedented as the majority of its key market, which is the entire Singapore population, struggles through recession and retrenchments. Hawker Culture is listed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List on 17th Dec 2020. The interest in the culture will spike not only in Singapore, but internationally as well.

The Internet, especially social media, has made this reach across boundaries possible. They are indispensable tools for photo documentaries. The works that I have shot will also prove to be of historical archival value for many years to come. It will also pave the way for me to conduct workshops on this subject.

It is challenging to photograph in a hawker centre environment, where everyone is busy going about their daily lives, while taking a short break to have a meal here. It is also not an Asian habit to engage in conversations with people they do not know, much less to be photographed by a stranger.

In black and white documentary, the the noise of many colours is also muted the focus falls exclusively on the person. The lighting, both natural and artificial, at these cavernous venues, also offer opportunities to exploit shadows and silhouettes for dramatic effect.

In the coming months, I will be delving deeper into this documentary and explore more areas that can tell more of the hawker centre story to help Singaporeans fully appreciate their birth right.

More images will be added to this gallery this year.

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