story Neo Hui Yuan and Yip Jie Ying, Contributing Reporters

Opened on 27 January 1977, Yangtze Cinema screened mainly Chinese kungfu movies in the early days before screening erotic films in 1995

Opened on 27 January 1977, Yangtze Cinema screened mainly Chinese kungfu movies in the early days before screening erotic films in 1995.

The island served as a quarantine station, housed Prisoners of War, housed political leaders and was finally used as a rehabilitation centre

The island served as a quarantine station, housed Prisoners of War, housed political leaders and was finally used as a rehabilitation centre.

These buildings, painted in four distinct colours in the early 1990s, would be demolished by 2016 to make way for a new expressway

These buildings, painted in four distinct colours in the early 1990s, would be demolished by 2016 to make way for a new expressway.

The island's major industry was granite quarrying and the first quarry was started in the 1800s. The last quarry was closed in 1999

The island’s major industry was granite quarrying and the first quarry was started in the 1800s. The last quarry was closed in 1999.

The estate was built as part of the first satellite town in Singapore. The flats were 2-room rental flats that housed the victims of the Bukit Ho Swee fire in 1961

The estate was built as part of the first satellite town in Singapore. The flats were 2-room rental flats that housed the victims of the Bukit Ho Swee fire in 1961.

Located at the eastern most end of Singapore, the area was one of the most heavily used killing grounds during the Sook Ching Massacre in 1942

Located at the eastern most end of Singapore, the area was one of the most heavily used killing grounds during the Sook Ching Massacre in 1942.

This outpost was integral in the 1942 Battle of Bukit Chandu, where the Malay Regiment fought against the invading Japanese army

This outpost was integral in the 1942 Battle of Bukit Chandu, where the Malay Regiment fought against the invading Japanese army.

The Art Deco style building was occupied by a company which was famous for producing drinks such as Sinalco, Singacol, Fanta and Kickapoo

The Art Deco style building was occupied by a company which was famous for producing drinks such as Sinalco, Singacol, Fanta and Kickapoo.

The squarish shophouses used to provide services, food and beverages to the personnel of the former Paya Lebar Police Station and neighbouring residents

The squarish shophouses used to provide services, food and beverages to the personnel of the former Paya Lebar Police Station and neighbouring residents.

The fort was built by the British army in 1879 on Pulau Blakang Mati. The main role of the fort was to protect the port of Singapore

The fort was built by the British army in 1879 on Pulau Blakang Mati. The main role of the fort was to protect the port of Singapore.

He held a gun behind his flowing white cape and stood in the former Malay cemetery with solemn grace. Such was the dramatic tension depicted in Sean Cham ’19’s Yesteryears project.

In 2014, Cham took on a one-man mission to photograph hidden and forgotten areas of Singapore in his series Yesteryears such as the Toa Payoh Dragon Playground and the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station. By combining theatricality with photography, Cham aimed to narrate and celebrate the lives that the landscapes have seen. Several interviews, an exhibition and a commissioned-book later, Cham is embarking on his new project about migrant workers, Singapore Dream, as well as a musical production with fellow Yale-NUS College students. In this interview, we talked about his interests, his new series, and his opinions on history and the arts in Singapore.

Why photography as a medium?

I always see myself as more of an artist, rather than a photographer, so photography is just a tool for me to express what I feel or what I want to tell people. For me, photography is more immediate—a picture tells a thousand stories, a thousand words. One photograph is able to capture an entire story in one image.

What do you think of the way history is presented in Singapore and how Singaporeans view their history and culture?

There’s more to what the textbooks just provide us with, and it’s not just the story that our government wants us to understand. It is also the stories of each individual, like each individual living in each HDB block, the people who go to the railway station. Everyone has a story to tell, and all these stories amount to the Singapore story, which is what I feel.

Do you use your art to advocate for social causes?

Well, there are two types of artists—artists that make art for the sake of beautifying the world, and artists [who carry] a social message, or have a message that they want to tell. I’m more of the latter—I like marrying art and social issues.Art, to me, is an impactful and powerful tool. For me, it’s about how I want to use art as a platform, as a tool, to express my ideas, express my thoughts and change perspectives and hopefully change the world.

How often do you allow people to join you to take the photos?

Quite often actually. When I ask my friends to come along it’s usually just to accompany me to the scarier places. The most contact I had with the supernatural was when I was in the hospital. There’s only one hospital that you can think of, right? [For those who still don’t know, this is the Old Changi Hospital] So it was just a normal day for me [initially]. But when I started going in, I felt like something was pushing against my chest. It was getting harder to breathe but I still just carried on. But that was as close as I got to supernatural stuff.

For Singapore Dream, how do you aim to convey the message through the series?

I struggled with that for a very long time before starting this project. I knew I wanted to talk about foreign workers. There are a lot of issues that I want to talk about. What’s a way that I can bring this message across effectively so that people wouldn’t just dismiss it? … For me it was trying to let Singaporeans understand, or letting the world or letting whoever views this photo understand that there’s more to them than the facade of, “oh, they build buildings.” There are a lot of stories behind their lives, they’re all humans.

What are some other issues you’d like to talk about?

Pertaining to foreign workers: their marginalization, the negative stereotypes, dispelling common misconceptions, and the ill treatment of foreign workers—especially in the dormitories, especially with not paying them their wages, especially with injured migrant workers.

Comments

comments