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A Disappearing Singapore – in Photographs

By Guan Tan

Cassette tapes and jade figurines picked up from the Sungei Flea Market.
 
Nicholas Koh/ Jiahui Tan
Cassette tapes and jade figurines picked up from the Sungei Flea Market.

Some Other Way
by Nicholas Koh and Jiahui Tan

Three months ago when news broke out that the Sungei Flea Market was closing for good on 10 July, photographer Nicholas Koh was asked to join a 'Save Sungei Road Market' campaign. 

"In my conversations with some of the vendors, the market started in the 1950s – with some accounts stretching as far back [to] the 1930s." The market is located on the banks of Rochor Canal. "It used to be – and still is – an avenue for the poorer, or thriftier people to buy and trade essential items like cooking utensils, household appliances. It operates seven days a week," and the vendors work on an ad-hoc schedule. "Of course, Fridays through Sundays are the busiest periods," Koh explains.

"[It] is the very last of 'free hawking' zones granted by the government," the 35-year-old adds.

The closure of Sungei Flea Market will potentially displace many retirees, and plug their only source of income. "There are an estimated 400 vendors [who are] still [trading] presently." 

Nicholas Koh/ Jiahui TanAn old Apple iBook and red wooden clogs.
An old Apple iBook and red wooden clogs.

"We wanted to help [the] vendors..." For two and a half months, Koh and team approached vendors and bought items to photograph. 

"[We] wanted to look for items that will take viewers down memory lane – items like cassette tapes, old national mascots, jade figurines, and old items emblazoned with still [existing] brands' [logos]," Koh recalls. He was particularly ecstatic at "scoring a broken iBook" and a pair of "red wooden clogs". 

The items are then photographed against vivid backdrops. "We wanted to juxtapose the old [against] bright and vibrant [colours]. Hopefully, the big contrasts in colour will challenge the usual perception of history and nostalgia as sepia-toned memories." 

"I'd say it's a gift to our future selves and society," Koh adds.

 

Singapore's Vanished Public Housing Estates
by Koh Kim Chay and Eugene Ong

Koh Kim Chay/ Eugene OngBlock 39 at the Princess Estate, Forfar House, along Alexandra Road, pictured in September 2000. The estate was reportedly demolished in 1995.
Block 39 at the Princess Estate, Forfar House, along Alexandra Road, pictured in September 2000. The estate was reportedly demolished in 1995.

61-year-old photographer embarked on a project in 1986, capturing public housing estates, streets, and architecture in Singapore. 

He drove about Singapore, combed through the daily papers and asked around in hopes of photographing these places before they were torn down. "Sometimes, it's just a matter of guessing. If I have a hunch about [this] building's [fate], I'll just take the photos and keep the negatives." 

Koh Kim Chay/ Eugene OngTian Kee Provision Shop housed in Block 12, Kallang Airport Estate, pictured in August 2001.
Tian Kee Provision Shop housed in Block 12, Kallang Airport Estate, pictured in August 2001.

With Singapore's rapid gentrification, the apartments he pictured back then have now disappeared, "estates [have been] demolished... Singapore is changing so fast, especially [in] the last few decades. I am old enough to witness the transition of Singapore from third-world to first-world. There have been a lot of physical changes to the [architectural] environment. I think it's important to record these changes for posterity." 

It took Koh eight months to pull together a selection of photographs on public housing estates from his archives. 

Koh Kim Chay/ Eugene OngA junction at the  Albert Street and Prinsep Street intersection, opposite Sim Lim Square. Pictured in October 2001.
A junction at the Albert Street and Prinsep Street intersection, opposite Sim Lim Square. Pictured in October 2001.

"I do it from my heart. For my interest and nostalgia's sake. I grew up in Singapore, and I love the old Singapore. It's my way [of] documenting slices of history." 

Both projects, Some Other Way, and Singapore's Vanished Public Housing Estates will be exhibited at DECK from 23 June to 22 July 2017.