During the last ten years I have moved a lot. In 2001 I moved from Cologne/Germany to Singapore only to leave it for Shanghai less than two years later. In 2007 my family and I spent half a year in Germany and moved back to Singapore in March 2008. Now, three years later, we are packing again, preparing for a new life in Copenhagen/Denmark.
Before leaving, I wanted to do something about Singapore that would go beyond the usual snaps of well known places. My time in Shanghai from 2003 to 2007 had taught me already that it takes a while to get familiar enough with a place to be able to understand it and to be able to express the way I am relating to it. Back in 2007, it had taken three years for me to be able to define the way I saw the city and to be able to translate that into meaningful photography. In Singapore it has been more or less the same. Fr the first two years I was stuck in stereotypes, trying to find my own individual way of expressing my personal view on Singapore and what it meant to me. It is a bit sad that this only starts taking off just before leaving; however, since we are most likely coming back, I hope I will be able to elaborate on this first project.

When I first moved to Singapore in 2001, the city seemed to resemble a lot of what 21st century Asia is all about. Asia is a continent that looks to the future, the eyes fixed on everything new, pushing the wheels of development, growth, and modernity further and further.
Singapore is no exception. With its brand new skyscrapers build on claimed land and expanding the skyline into what once used to be the ocean, with its growing population and a constant influx of people, making it the second densely populated city in the world. There is little space for anything old. The remains of the past are either torn down to make space for something new, bigger, and more modern; or it is polished and becomes part of the nations heritage. Often these heritage places are so ‘over’ – renovated that they have lost most of its former charm. In modern Singapore there seems to be very little time and space for the past. Unless the past becomes part of the modern image of Singapore, or part of the cultural folklore, there is very little attention towards it. Therefore I started looking around for places and spaces that are not yet touched by modernity. Places that would show obvious signs of decay and desertedness, resembling times that are already gone but still visible in small corners of everyday life. In a city that tries to utilize every square inch of space for the demands of an ever-growing population and economy, this was not easy. However, during my years in Singapore I discovered more and more corners, buildings, places that not only showed the wear of time, but also gave me a feeling of history, of a past that is still connected to the present. These places might be hidden behind a fence, in the middle of a traffic island, inside a military zone, in a not-so-desirable neighbourhood, or in areas that are already part of the new city blue print. But they are still there waiting to be explored.


The historical “Capitol Theatre” inside Capitol Building along North Bridge Road has been closed for many years. Despite the government’s investments in arts and culture during recent years, the building is going to be transformed into another Hotel + Shopping Mall.


I always knew that along Lornie Road there were a few old Chinese grave sides. I used to see them sitting in the bus on the way to work. Nowadays everyone in Singapore gets cremated so I knew they were old. But when I came to the site and fought my way through the trees and bushes along the busy road, I discovered a full scale large Chinese cemetery with graves that were sometimes more than a hundred years old. Some were still being taken care of, some were completely overgrown by the jungle.


The Malaysian railway is one the last real remaining things from the time before Singaporean independence in 1965. The train station in Tanjong Pagar and the linking railtracks crossing to Malaysia are actually owned by the Malaysian government. Sadly, due to the ongoing rivalry between these two sister nations, not much has been done in order to improve the railway link between the two countries and all the great opportunities to build a more ecological and highly efficient high speed link beteween Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand have been wasted so far.
Along Bukit Timah Road there is a small path going up a slope, leading to the Bukit Timah railway station. I must have passed by a million times without knowing until the day I saw a small signboard leading up the trail. I do not think that any trains are still stopping here. However, the building is still manned with one or two people and there is a proper plattform, even though it looks a bit overgrown.

These are just a few examples of a growing collection. By the time this project will be finished, some will be gone, some places will be transformed into something new, and some will still be the same, withstanding the pressure of modernisation.

Youth Olympic Games

October 24, 2010

Impressions from the Singapore Youth Olympic Games 2010 (Fencing):




Street Market Impressions

April 30, 2010

Thailand, 2010: This is one of the street markets in Bangkok where tourists can buy all kinds of clothes, souvenirs, furniture, art…basically everything! It’s a unique atmosphere, in dim light with stall after stall. It’s hot and humid and the people working here spend the whole day in a neon lit box, waiting for people to buy something. The atmosphere is rather peaceful though. Thais are not aggressive sellers and you can spend the whole day strolling through the market without being pulled inside all the time. In China I usually get claustrophobic after one hour.

I am surprised that it was possible to take images with my Hasselblad and a Fuji Provia400x slide film. Fortunately, neon light is a superb source of lighting for photography!

Here are the images:






Hong Kong

September 10, 2009

Kowloon, May 2009:
Holga in HK 01
This is a tribute to Hong Kong.
I have been to almost every Asian capital, including Singapore, Beijing, Bangkok, Seoul, Tokyo, Taipei, Phnom Penh, Manila, Kuala Lumpur. I have also travelled cities like Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Dalian and many others. The only place I have never been to is South Asia, i.e. India.
For me, Hong Kong is the most beautiful metropolis in Asia and always worth a visit!

Hong Kong has almost everything of everything. In many aspects, it’s more (traditional) Chinese than most places in China, but also has a large Asian International community which makes it very cosmopolitan and sophisticated. Hong Kong also has a unique style of architecture, basically a cluster of super modern skyscrapers, run down high rise flats, street markets, shopping malls, huge advertising spaces, and most of all people, people people…!
Set into mountains over the sea, Hong Kong also has the perfect combination of “shanshui” (mountains & water) which is essential for the harmony of the Chinese “fengshui” (wind & water). Watching the skyline beneath the hills and across Hong Kong Bay from Kowloon, it’s an amazing sight!

Hong Kong offers plenty of photographic opportunities. The density of buildings and the sheer number of people is challenging, though. The above shot was taken with a HOLGA toy camera, using Kodak Portra 400VC film.

Saigon

September 5, 2009

Saigon 01
In July I went to Vietnam for two days. Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) was till pretty much what I remembered from 2004 when my wife and I spend our honeymoon there. It’s a beautiful city, small compared to some other Asian metropolis but still the most vibrant place in Vietnam.
Saigon 06The city is dominated by the Saigon River and the old architecture which is a mix of French colonial building, Art Deko, and of course the concrete of the sixties and the seventies. The people still seem to be stuck between modernity and tradition which might have to do with the fact that many farmers come into town every day to sell their crop on the street. This is why amongst all the modern cars, scooters and smart dressed people you still see a lot of the traditional cone hats which are so typical for Vietnam.
Saigon 03 The architecture and the people are wht give Saigon its uniqueness and special flair. The downtown are is not that big so it makes sense just to walk around and let the impressions sink in. The way will take you along the central squares, the war museum (lots of nasty American weapons displayed), parks, French villas, hotels with big names, all in an atmosphere that makes you feel like being in another era.

For the photographer Saigon is heaven since the (friendly) people and the historical backdrop make it easy to find what you are looking for. It’s hard to escape the stereotype but who cares…

All images were taken with a Leica M6 on Kodak BW400CN film.
Saigon 04

speechless

July 8, 2009

Taipei, June 2009:
Taipei Bye Bye
Sometimes we go to a place and it leaves absolutely no impression. This is what happened to me when I went to Taipei/Taiwan in May and in June 2009. On each trip I spent a few days in Taiwan’s capital. Everytime I brought my Leica in order to catch some of the things that would catch my imagination.

It just did not happen. My hotel was in a suburb of Taipei. There wasn’t anything that seemed to be particularly typical Taiwanese. Not even typical Chinese to my eyes. Taipei seemed to be a accumulation of characterless buildings and streets. Nothing that caught my eye, nothing that I found at least a little inspiring. To me Taipei looked like a mixture of Tokyo, Seoul, and Kuala Lumpur, neither here nor there. After two fruitless trips I just took a picture of my taxi driver. That’s it!

I am sure this is not fair and I welcome every Taiwanese to tell me where the interesting spots are, with character and atmosphere, typical Taiwanese. I am sure they are there, I just couldn’t find them… ;-o

Downtown Tokyo: April 2009
Tokyo 07
In April 2009 I visited Tokyo for the first time in my life. I had never been to Japan and I was really looking forward to it.
I think most people who visit Japan for the first time are probably a bit disappointed at first glance. Tokyo has very little of the traditional Japan. Having been to most Asian capitals like Beijing, Seoul, Taipei, Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Saigon, and other major Asian cities, to me this seemed to be the prototype of all Asian city planners. It’s the cleanest city I’ve ever seen (even beating Singapore or Zurich!), and so orderly and organized, it’s almost scary. Unlike my Chinese experience, everyone is polite, leaves you space to breathe, and neither steps onto your feet nor bumps into you without apologizing. How nice!
Whatever there must have been of traditional buildings, must have been whipped out either by American fire bombs during WWII, or by Japanese bulldozers afterwards. Tokyo seems to be the most modern looking city I’ve ever seen.

However, said that, on second glance there is this element of chaos which seems to be lurking beneath all the orderliness, tidiness and cleanliness. The Japanese seem to have found a way to quietly protest against this boredom of order by adding little, almost invisible details of rebellion.

Tokyo 02 I found these in details on the street like this arrangement of tree/sign/bike along the most busy and expensive shopping street of Tokyo.

Another way of resisting the overwhelming pressure to conform with the mainstream is the fashion. Young people in Tokyo love to add details to their appearance which first surprise and irritate you, before you start to appreciate and admire their style which defies all standards of fashion and sets something typical Japanese.

Tokyo 06 The individualism of Japanese youth and their way of dressing is so profoundly Japanese and Asian that they were able to set their own fashion standards, different from the American/European fashion mainstream. Not surprising for a country that has a long history of design and aesthetics in everyday life. For me, the Japanese have a sense for shapes and composition that is not even matched by the Germans or Italians. No wonder they are also great in photography!
Walking around taking images in central Tokyo was great fun and I hope I will have the chance to go back next year. My HOLGA camera was the perfect tool to express what I saw and felt in Tokyo: the constant struggle between perfect order and anarchy!