Book Design Layout
Book Design Page View
Video for the project and photo exhibition
Selected works for the Exhibition in China
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.
I brand the hawker centre project as “Fighting for a birthright”! This theme resonates with all Singaporeans and food vendors, who want to preserve this heritage that they own.
The life of hawkers! when they awake to prepare food while the country is still fast asleep, then toil away throughout the day, to feed Singaporeans and until it is time to call it day.
In modern, urban Singapore the hawker centre is a culture that has survived after two hundred years.
A photo of a Singapore street scene today, in 50 to 100 years’ time, and beyond, will be priceless for future generations.
I also want to start conversations among the audience on the topics I cover. I want to stimulate discussions on how this culture can, and should be preserved. As a photographer, I hope that the emotive images which I produced can push my audience to start searching for them! It is an outlet that the authorities can also tap into, for valuable feedback on our food culture.
Carefully selecting the images, packaging, and presenting them to the public, can help generate constructive conversations. It will also help me understand, what technique I employ is effective, and appeals to my audience, hence allow me to grow, and improve my photographic work.
I want my work to have a meaningful impact, not only for those living in my time, but also for others in the future.
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.
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.
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.
This project appeals primarily to Singaporeans, as it documents a history they are intimately connected to. My secondary audience is the world at large, visitors to Singapore who have heard about our hawker centre culture, universally known as street food, through the Singapore Tourism Board’s international promotions.
This project, though, is still ongoing, as the pandemic is just one angle and there are more themes to explore. The life of hawkers, when they awake to prepare food while the country is still fast asleep, then toil away throughout the day to feed Singaporeans and until it is time to call it day is one such topic.
I strive to continue to photograph the food derived from the four races in Singapore. The many ethnic food available, the select few who have decided to take over their parents’ food stalls and yet a younger, new generation serving non-traditional fare are other angles. hence featuring the past, present and the future.
So, too, the people who benefit from them, and take for granted hawker food is their birth right is another. These are topics that are worthy of covering with my camera.
After months of forced desertion, they are back at their top haunts, but cautiously. The men and women working tediously in their stalls breathed a sigh of relief. Once again, they are able see the joy of their patrons partaking the food they’ve prepared.
With regards to ethics, I always try to present the views in factual ways without the intention of causing unnecessary misunderstandings which might arise from any biased angles.
With regards to the subject, I emphasised on the importance of not affecting, and disturbing the hawkers and the customers, during the photography shoot. Singapore has a strict Personal Data Protection Act, which prevents photographers from harassing the subjects.
Singaporeans are generally camera shy. Some do not like to be photographed; hence I respect their wish. My work should not raise any unusual copyright or legal issues.
Training initiatives provided by the recently formed Hawker Training school, has brought hope to the future of Hawkers. Many Singaporeans who have no experience in this trade, are eligible to take up courses in the school. They are taught how to cook a variety of food from the different ethnic origins.
Before they set off on their new found trade, they practiced their skills at the training school’s hawker centre. Such training helps to manage their expectation as a new Hawker, to provide them with the courage to manage their future business, or to give up the idea of being a Hawker if they find this job too tough.