FIGHTING FOR A BIRTHRIGHT
By Steven Yee
It dawned upon me a couple of years ago that I had to record images of Singapore hawker culture that may be lost in time because this country is changing constantly.
Junod (2014) mentioned “The photographer is no stranger to history; he knows it is something that happens later. In the actual moment history is made, it usually happens in terror and confusion”.
This became all too evident during the Covid-19 pandemic when lockdowns called Circuit Breaker was put in place amidst confusion. Many businesses had to fold, and this affected many heritage food vendors in Singapore’s iconic hawker centres. Berger (2013) quoted “A photograph arrests the flow of time in which the event photographed once existed”.
In modern, urban Singapore the hawker centre is a culture that has survived after two hundred years.
In modern, urban Singapore the hawker centre is a culture that has survived after two hundred years. Truly little has changed in terms of how they function. I started documenting them for posterity because many vendors are getting on in age and in an era when they hardly have anyone who wants to take their places. Better occupations beckon their better educated children. Covid-19 was the trigger that pushed many of them into retirement.
Hence, shooting the fleeting moments at hawker centres – from Circuit Breaker to the easing of people movement rules and reopening of businesses – was an opportunity to go deeper into my work on Singapore.