Chinatown in Singapore 2008
Chinatown in Singapore never held a strong attraction for me.
The place is packed with tourist shops selling cheap clothes, cushion covers and Chinese souvenirs. One major attraction there is, in fact, a European sausage stall run by an Austrian! That's the crowded part around Temple Street (which gets its name from, ironically, an Indian temple) and Smith Street (which is a most un-Chinese name).
Elsewhere, at Ann Siang Hill for instance, the refurbished houses are now occupied by French and Italian restaurants, pubs and offices of advertising agencies. I feel it has lost much of the essence of the original Chinatown in Singapore, not like Little India which still holds much of its ethnic Indian flavour.
But Chinese New Year was coming up and the place was packed -- for once with more Chinese locals than tourists.
Also, I had my new Fuji S5 Pro digital SLR and was eager to shoot. And my photography buddies wanted to shoot Singapore Chinatown during Chinese New Year festive season as well. So I went. And I ended up going back again and again, making four trips altogether -- three times at night and once in the late morning.
Click here for the Chinatown in Singapore morning shots.
The first time went to Chinatown in Singapore, I thought to myself... what's there to shoot?
I was amazed that my buddy Larry had started clicking away almost the moment we arrived. I walked around feeling half-bored and, out of obligation, took some pictures of rows of lanterns outside the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. And the pictures of lanterns turned out... bleah :-(
Then I came across a stall -- managed by Malay ladies, a reflection of Singapore's multi-cultural society -- selling colourful artificial flowers. I looked through my view finder and this was what I saw:
The streets were packed and I thought it might be more interesting to walk behind the stalls rather than with the rest of the crowds. From there, I shot these Chinese couplets. The original photo was in in deep red, but I found that converting to black and white accentuated the light shining through and gave it a more "transparent" feel. Since I had shot the words from the back, I call them Backwords:
Chinese couplets are auspicious sayings which the Chinese normally hang up in pairs during Chinese New Year. I cannot read Chinese (because I had opted to study Malay as a second language when I was a child in school), so don't ask me what they mean. But the literal, word-for-word translation of some of these Chinese New Year sayings can be quite hilarious:
Horse arrive work done
I had, in a previous year, gone down specially to shoot these. I spent an entire roll of flim shooting the waxed duck in various poses, but because of camera shake, almost all the pictures turned out blur. They were, both literally and figuratively, "dead duck pictures".
This year, I was determined to get it right with my Fuji S5 pro. But somehow I did not feel as inspired shooting them as I did before. I took only a handful of pictures. But although they came out ok (without camera shake), I still prefer this shot taken at Chinatown in Singapore in 2006:
It was not all that easy to compose my shots as, besides the Chinese lanterns, there were also overhead electrical wires and other obstructions.
The main picture above was the best of the lot. I had initially composed the image with two Chinese lanterns and the two street lamps. But when I tried a 3+2 composition, I found that it worked much better.
Here is another picture of lanterns in Chinatown in Singapore:
Both this picture and the main one above were produced as composites. I shot the original images as raw files, and then made two conversions, one brighter, the other darker.
In the main picture of the street lamps, I had one version with the street lamps with the exposure stepped down to avoid it beling burned totally white. In this image here, I produced one version with the window brightened, to reveal the details inside.
For this picture here, I also altered the color balance to give it an overall red look. This evokes a feeling of a red light district, as parts of Chinatown in Singapore were in the past -- and still are today.
Pleased with these lantern shots, I re-visited Chinatown in Singapore on two other nights. One of those nights I actually just went to buy oranges for the Chinese New Year, but I brought along my camera just in case... and I was glad I did. I took a wonderful abstract photograph which I will share at another time.
On the whole, however, my re-vists were not as productive. This photograph of an artist's work, along with the tools of his art in the foreground, was among the better outcomes.
My final sharing in this selection is this folded up "Chinatown in Singapore" umbrella. My photography buddies were not too hot about this picture. One felt it was so so while another commented that there was no point of focus and he did not know what I was trying to show.
Well, I was trying to show the haphazard situation and the bright colors, which, to me, imparted a "pop art" feel. By the way, this picture is correct side up:
Whether or not you like it, this is certainly not the typical picture of Chinatown in Singapore!
Click here for another gallery of Chinatown in Singapore photographs, shot in the morning.
Note: Starting with the page on Thaipusam 2008 (uploaded just before this one), I have decided to present no more than seven different images on one page.
This idea arose from a chat I had with my friend who works as a professional prhotographer, where he mentioned that when he interviews job applicants, he asks photographers to bring along a portfolio of only six images.
I thought it is a good discipline, to show only the best few. But I identify more with the number 7, as I am a 7 in numerology terms. So I give myself that one extra image to show :-)
If you are a fellow photographer, you might wish to exercise similar restraint and not "show off" too many.