Steve McCurry : The Iconic Photographs

16 01 2016

The “world’s most famous photograph” the Afghan Girl, is just one in photographer Steve McCurry’s amazing portfolio of work, all of which have the quality of being immediately recognisable. Fifty-three of McCurry’s celebrated works, spanning an illustrious three decade long career, go on display in Singapore for just over a month from today. I got a peek at the exhibition,  Steve McCurry : The Iconic Photographs at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery at Gillman Barracks and hear from the man himself at a preview that was held yesterday.

Steve McCurry in Singapore with the Afghan Girl.

Steve McCurry with the Afghan Girl at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery.

McCurry and many of his works, bring life in areas of conflict, places well off the beaten track, to our living rooms. The images serve as an inspiration to many, myself included and what McCurry had to say about how he went about taking some of the most stunning photographs to be circulated, his experiences in creating them, and his general approach to photography was especially enlightening.  

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What is apparent is that much on display at the exhibition, are of people and places in India. The country says McCurry is a favourite of his and to which he has made more than eighty trips. One of his favourite photographs is the especially striking one of brightly dressed women clustered together to shield themselves from a fast growing sand storming Rajasthan, stopping his taxi to capture the developing scene. In describing the photograph, McCurry also reflected how sad he felt that some of what made for such scenes, such as the way the women were dressed, would eventually disappear and that people in such places “would all end up like us”.

McCurry describing a photograph of what he feels is quintessentially Mumbai. It is a scene that isn't there anymore - a flyover now runs over the road.

McCurry describing a photograph of what he feels is quintessentially Mumbai. It is a scene that isn’t there anymore – a flyover now runs over the road.

The vivid colours McCurry captures in much of his work would also not go unnoticed. Colour, however is not what interests McCurry in creating the image, but the content – the story it tells and the emotion it captures. Images if converted to black and white, should, in McCurry’s opinion, still work.

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McCurry readily admits to being an advocate of the digital age and besides shooting with digital cameras, he also admits to shooting with his cell phone. “Two or three” photographs that will feature in a book being published in September, he says, were taken with his iPhone6. Photography to McCurry seems all about story telling and the joy it brings – he goes out on the streets, immerses himself in what surrounds him, and lets what he observes develop the story and pays attention more to shutter speed rather than aperture or depth of field.

Steve McCurry : The Iconic Photographs runs until 21 February 2016. More information on the exhibition can be found at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery’s website .





Colours of the harvest

15 01 2016

The Tamil month of Thai brings much celebration to Singapore where a large majority of its Indian population is of Tamil ancestry. One festival that brings colour to the streets of Little India is Pongal, the celebration of the winter harvest over four days. The streets are particularly lively in the lead-up to the festival as decorated clay pots, sweets, flower garlands and sugar-cane (which I am told signifies sweetness and longevity) fill up Campbell Street – where the annual Pongal bazaar is set up.

Sugarcane - signifying sweetness and longevity.

Sugarcane – signifying sweetness and longevity.

More on the festival can be found on my previous posts, as well as on Your Singapore. A description of the festival by Mr Manohar Pillai is also provided on a post on the Facebook Group “On a Little Street in Singapore“:

Pongal is the biggest and most important festival for the Tamilians, since ancient times and transcends all religious barriers since it signifies thanks giving to nature and domestic animals. Cattle, cows, goats, chickens are integral part of a farmer in India. It is celebrated for three days in Tamilnadu starting from 15th to 17th. Jan’, 2016. and strictly vegetarian food will be served only in all Hindu households. Thanks giving prayers will be offered to the Sun, Earth, Wind, Fire, Water and Ether, without these life cannot be sustained on Mother Earth. The celebrations comes on close to the harvest season which just ended and Jan,15, is the beginning of the new Tamil calendar.

Clay Pots are used to cook flavoured rice with traditional fire wood in the open air and facing the early morning Eastern Sun. The Sun’s early morning rays are supposedly to bring benevolence to the household. The cooked rice is distributed to all the members of the household and with it the festivities begins. Everyone wears new clothes and very old and useless clothes are burnt the previous night.

The next day the farmer turns his attention to the animals especially the Cattle and Cows.

The third day all people celebrate it with gaiety and grandly.

Decorated Clay Pots.

Decorated Clay Pots.

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Sweets for the sweet.

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A bazaar stall doing a roaring trade.

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A well stocked shop.

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A dairy cow.

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Campbell Lane dressed for Pongal.

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More sugarcane.

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Flower garlands on sale.

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The festive atmosphere also spill over to the nearby streets.





Monkeys, monkeys everywhere

14 01 2016

Monkeys, lots of them, promise to set Chinatown alight come Saturday. For 53 days, some 406 of them, in the form of lanterns, will add to the crowd of monkeys that is already very evident on the streets of Chinatown. The lanterns are part of a record setting display of 2688 lanterns that include ones depicting longevity in the form of peaches, prosperity in the abundance of gold zodiac coins and spring blossoms to celebrate the arrival of Spring and the lunar year of the Monkey. The lanterns on display, the centrepiece of which is a 12 metre tall peach tree, have all been hand-crafted and were designed in partnership with final-year students from the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD).

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Monkeys have already invaded Chinatown in anticipation of the arrival Chinese new year of the monkey.

Monkey lanterns - some 406 of them will add to the monkey madness.

Monkey lanterns – some 406 of them will add to the monkey madness.

The twelve-metre tall peach tree lantern.

The twelve-metre tall peach tree lantern.

Along with the light-up, there will also be much to look forward to during this year’s Chinatown Chinese New Year Celebrations. Organised by the Kreta Ayer – Kim Seng Citizens’ Consultative Committee, the lead up to the Chinese community’s main festival will see events involving the community, performances, a lion-dance competition and a festive bazaar and carnival. The lion dance competition (a ticketed event) features 14 teams from 8 countries will take place at Hong Lim Park on the weekend of 23-24 January.

There will be a lion dance competition to look forward to.

There will be a lion dance competition to look forward to.

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Along with performances that will feature both local and foreign performers.

Along with performances that will feature both local and foreign performers.

The Festive Street Bazaar, which runs from 15 January to 7 February, is always well worth a walk through. Lining Pagoda, Smith, Temple and Trengganu Streets – much as the street and festive markets of old Chinatown did, the bazaar adds much to the festive atmosphere. This bazaar will see some 440 stalls this year and on offer will be a range of festive goods such as decorative items and traditional delicacies and snacks.

The Festive Street Bazaar, where items such as traditional Chinese New Year snacks can be purchased, will feature 440 stalls.

The Festive Street Bazaar, where items such as traditional Chinese New Year snacks can be purchased, will feature 440 stalls.

Stalls already stocked to welcome the year of the Monkey.

Stalls already stocked to welcome the year of the Monkey.

More monkeys in evidence.

More monkeys in evidence.

Colour will also be added to Kreta Ayer Square. Nightly stage performances featuring festive songs, cultural music and dance will be held from 8 to 10.30 pm. Other modern interpretations of the celebration include a “Mother Tree” that will respond to postings on social media. Set up by students from the SUTD on the Garden Bridge, the pink tree reacts to every count of 18 posts on platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter that are hash-tagged #CNY2016SG, and give an 18 second show of lights. Another “tree”, the Wishing Tree at Chinatown Point, is where one’s wishes can be hung. Wishing cards are available at $2 each and proceeds will be donated to the Kreta Ayer Seniors ‘ Activity Centre.

The Mother Tree.

The Mother Tree.

There will also be an attempt to recall the traditions of our forefathers – in an exhibition, My Father Tongue. This would be held at the newly revamped Chinatown Heritage Centre from 28 January to 6 March 2016. The exhibition will look at the three main Chinese dialect influenced sub-cultures in Singapore and their festive practices. There would also be dialect workshops conducted during the period of the exhibition.

Dr Lily Neo, Grassroots Adviser and MP for Jalan Besar GRC, penning her wishes at the Wishing Tree.

Dr Lily Neo, Grassroots Adviser and MP for Jalan Besar GRC, penning her wishes at the Wishing Tree.

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The celebrations 2016 and the light-up will be  launched on 16 January 2016. The event will see a retelling of “Journey to the West” that will involve both local and foreign performers Fireworks and firecrackers are expected at both this an at the Chinese New Year Countdown Party on 7 February. More information on the events can be found at http://chinatownfestivals.sg/chinatown-chinese-new-year-celebrations-2016/.

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A reminder of a time and place forgotten

12 01 2016

Masjid Omar Salmah, which stands on an elevation overlooking Jalan Mashhor, is one of only a handful of village style mosques left in Singapore today. The mosque, and its surroundings, remind us simpler times now forgotten. Built in the early 1970s to serve Kampong Jantai, which has since abandoned it – its inhabitants were resettled in the 1980s with a large proportion going to the then developing Ang Mo Kio New Town, the mosque and its surroundings remain relatively undisturbed and hark back to days difficult now to imagine.

JeromeLim-3312During a recent visit to the mosque, I learnt that curious sounding Kampong Jantai, was actually a transliteration of the name of a Chinese village, Gian Thye, which the area had also been home to. The occupants of Kampong Jantai, were apparently largely of Boyanese (or Baweanese) descent, and included a certain Haji Buang Masadin, who was instrumental in obtaining the plot of land to build the mosque.  Haji Buang, who took the name Haji Mashhor after embarking on the Hajj, also lent his name to the road, Jalan Mashhor, which runs by the mosque.

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The building of the mosque was prompted by the large numbers of non-villagers working in the vicinity who descended on the village’s surau (prayer hall) for Friday prayers. It was constructed in 1973-1974, with support coming financially through a prominent member of the Alsagoff family, Syed Ibrahim bin Omar Alsagoff. It was after Syed Ibrahim’s parents, Syed Omar and Salmah, that the mosque was named. The mosque, besides serving the villagers and workers in the vicinity, also served the nearby Kampong Nekat at Onraet RoadJeromeLim-3175

The mosque today, is an expanded version of the original mosque; an expansion that was carried out in the 1980s through the donation of a food caterer, who had used part of its grounds for his business. Today, it is through generous donations and a team of unpaid volunteers that the mosque, which now operates on a Temporary Occupation License, survives.
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The area, which includes Bukit Brown cemetery, is intended for future housing. The signs of this are already upon us. An eight lane road cutting through the cemetery, the plans for which sparked some controversy, is fast taking shape. Along with that, a future Circle Line MRT station, Bukit Brown, is already ready under Jalan Mashhor. Plans are also there for another future MRT station on the soon-to-be-constructed Thomson Line, Mount Pleasant, not far away. It does seems that when the time for that comes, the mosque will have to go and with it a precious piece of a past that we today, already find hard to remember.

Jalan Mashhor - whith structures belonging to the already constructed future Bukit Brown MRT station clearly visible.

Jalan Mashhor – whith structures belonging to the already constructed future Bukit Brown MRT station visible in the distance.





Possibly the last village style sundry shop on mainland Singapore

5 01 2016

Hidden in a corner of a quiet residential neighbourhood at Rosyth Road, it is easy to miss the Tee Seng Store. Stepping into the store, a village style sundry shop, has one taking a step back some 4, 5 or perhaps even 6 decades back in time.

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The shop is set in a stand alone building – much like the village shops of old. Little changed since the 1950s, the inside of the store is fitted out with wooden ventilation grilles, louvres, doors and even wooden framed glass cabinets and is very much reminiscent of the shops in the countryside that for many a parched National Serviceman out in the field, were a lifeline.

The last rural sundry shop, Tee Seng Store.

Mr Ang Lu Heng, the proprietor of the store – who started work in the shop in 1955 and has run it since 1960.

The shop, owned by Mr Ang Lu Heng who is in his 70s, is possibly last of its kind in Singapore – there are several other “traditional” sundry or provision shops  but not with a village shop like setting. It probably will be a matter of time before it becomes forgotten, much like the other reminders of the gentle days of Singapore that have been lost.

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51 photographs taken in Singapore that will take you away from Singapore

4 01 2016

Singapore, in its 51st year of independence is sold to the world as an ultra modern metropolis and a shopping and culinary paradise. It is the icons of the new age, such as the futuristic looking Gardens by the Bay and Marina Bay Sands, that now leap out from our tourist brochures and a common perception of Singapore is that it is one huge shopping mall. There is however much more to Singapore that goes practically unnoticed, including these 51 sights of Singapore that one would possibly not associate immediately with Singapore:

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(1) The woods at Upper Peirce Reservoir.

Terumbu Semakau in the moonlight.

(2) Terumbu Semakau, a patch reef off Pulau Semakau, in the moonlight.

Junk Island at low-tide.

(3) Pulau Jong, the last untouched southern island, seen at low-tide.

The beautiful setting in which the 'black and white houses' of Sembawang find themselves in.

(4) The green housing area of the former Naval Base at Sembawang.

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(5) The ‘spinning tops’ off Tampines Road.

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(6) The gateway into a lost world at the former Kampong Tengah in Sembawang.

The former Seng Chew Granite Quarry.

(7) The secret lake at Bukit Gombak (the disused Seng Chew Granite quarry).

The light at the end of the tunnel under Clementi Road.

(8) The light at the end of the tunnel to a lost world under Clementi Road.

A remnant of the western reaches of the line in an area now taken over by nature.

(9) The western reaches of the lost railway.

The intertidal zone at Tanjong Merawang looking out towards Merawang Beacon and Pulau Merambong.

(10) Tanjong Merawang, Tuas, with a view towards Malaysia and Indonesia.

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(11) The pier at Sungei Pandan.

Paddling through the watery forest at Sungei Khatib Bongsu.

(12) The mangrove forest at Sungei Khatib Bongsu.

More views of Beting Bronok at first light.

(13) The flats of Beting Bronok, a designated nature area off Pulau Tekong, seen at first light.

(14) A sandbar at the Terembu Pandan with a view to the container terminal at Pasir Panjang.

(14) A sandbar at the Terembu Pandan with a view to the container terminal at Pasir Panjang.

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(15) A tributary of Sungei Kranji, near the Jalan Gemala nature area.

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(16) A view across Terembu Pempang Laut, a submerged reef four nautical miles from Singapore’s southern coast.

A village house on Pulau Ubin.

(17) The last Malay kampung at Pulau Ubin.

The totems of the new age seen on Pulau Ular, from Beting Pempang, with the silhouettes of trees on Pulau Hantu in the foreground. Pulau Ular is an island that is now part of a larger landmass that has it joined it to Pulau Busing to its west and Pulau Bukom Kechil to its east.

(18) The petrochemical complex on Pulau Ular as seen from Beting Pempang (the silhouettes in the foreground are of trees on Pulau Hantu).

A sense of the space on the flat.

(19) The intertidal flats of Pulau Semakau.

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(20) The greens of the Bukit Course as seen from the western shores of MacRitchie Reservoir.

Masjid Omar Salmah, at Jalan Mashhor which was built in the 1970s and is now long abandoned by Kampong Jantai it was built to serve.

(21) The kampong mosque, Masjid Omar Salmah, at the site of the former Kampong Jantai.

The greenery that now surrounds the area.

(22) The magical (and some say haunted) Jalan Mempurong.

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(23) The western shores of MacRitchie Reservoir.

A very natural looking man made stream close to the area where a village, Kampong Beremban, once was.

(24) A stream at the former Lorong Halus landfill, close to where Kampong Beremban once was.

A stairway.

(25) A pre-war outpost on southern slopes of Pasir Panjang (Kent) Ridge.

The site of the Syonan Jinja where remnants of what was once South-East Asia's leading Japanese Shinto shrine is today an eerie yet peaceful spot. What is seen in the photograph is one of the more visible remnants, a sacred granite water trough for ritual purification.

(26) A trough belonging to the demolished Syonan Jinja Shinto shrine in the MacRithcie forest.

The wooded oasis that is now the grounds of the former Bidadari Muslim Cemetery.

(27) The wooded oasis found at the grounds of the former Bidadari Muslim Cemetery.

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(28) The sand store at the construction aggregates receiving terminal at Pulau Punggol Timor.

Little Guilin is an area of much beauty that some suspect hides several secrets.

(29) A view through the woods at Little Guilin.

Mangroves at Pulau Hantu.

(30) Mangroves at Pulau Hantu.

(31) One sister to another - across the channel between the two Sisters Islands.

(31) One sister to another – across the channel between the two Sisters Islands.

(33) The swimming lagoon on Big Sisters Island.

(32) The swimming lagoon on Big Sisters Island.

The last rural sundry shop, Tee Seng Store.

(33) The last rural sundry shop, Tee Seng Store. It has been in the hands of its proprietor, Mr Ang, for some six decades.

The angry glare of the gods of the new age.

(34) The illuminated towers of the petrochemical complex at Pulau Ular dwarfing the observer at the edge of the fringing reef at Pulau Hantu Besar.

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(35) A newly established Hindu shrine behind the Wei To Temple on Pulau Ubin.

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(36) A Tibetan Buddhist shrine at the Wei To Temple on Pulau Ubin.

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(37) A below ground shelter and storage complex at a 1930s 9.2″ gun battery.

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(38) The view up a deep escape shaft of a pre-war Command Bunker located some 20 metres underground.

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(39) Exposed parts of the Jurong Rock Formation seen on Pulau Jong.

The violin, Pulau Biola a.k.a. Rabbit Island close to the southern reaches of Singapore's territorial waters.

(40) The violin, Pulau Biola a.k.a. Rabbit Island close to the southern reaches of Singapore’s territorial waters.

(40) Tanjong Tajam on Pulau Ubin.

(41) The cliff faces of Tanjong Tajam at the western end of Pulau Ubin.

A sandbar at the Cyrene Reefs.

(42) A sandbar at the Cyrene Reefs.

(43) The calm before the storm - Lower Seletar Reservoir.

(43) The calm before the storm – Lower Seletar Reservoir.

(44) Light and shadow - Sembawang Shipyard and the Beaulieu Jetty.

(44) Light and shadow – Sembawang Shipyard and the Beaulieu Jetty.

(45) Bukit Brown Municipal Cemetery

(45) Bukit Brown Municipal Cemetery

(46) MacRitchie Reservoir near the Syonan Jinja.

(46) MacRitchie Reservoir near the Syonan Jinja.

(47) Remnants of the Jurong Line near Clementi.

(47) Remnants of the Jurong Line near Clementi.

(48) Another of MacRitchie Reservoir.

(48) Another of MacRitchie Reservoir.

(49) The Straits of Johor at Sembawang.

(49) The Straits of Johor at Sembawang.

(50) Masjid Petempatan Melayu at Sembawang and its 6 decade old rubber tree.

(50) Masjid Petempatan Melayu at Sembawang and its 6 decade old rubber tree.

(51) Changi Beach.

(51) Changi Beach.


 





Green fields and purple waters

2 01 2016

A veritable feast of colour awaits the visitor to Sekinchan. A seemingly laid back town along the northern Selangor coast, it has, in the time since it featured in the 2011 TV series “The Seeds of Life”, become popular as a destination for an excursion with the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur less than an hour and a half’s drive away. Set in the midst of vibrant green paddy fields and boasting of a riverine harbour painted by a substantial fleet of fishing boats, wooden jetties and the river’s brown, almost purple waters, Sekinchan is a destination that is especially popular with photographers.

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The river mouth near Pantai Redang, Sekinchan

There are two very distinct sides to Sekinchan, each set on either side of Malaysian Federal Route 5. The main thoroughfare that brings the busloads of visitors into the town, also divides it into a landward side on the east in which most of the town’s agricultural activities take place, and a seaward side in the west where its harbour and its fishing related activities are concentrated in. The rather picturesque paddy fields in the east, said to be among the highest yielding in the country, are also amongst the country’s most photographed.

The paddy fields.

The paddy fields.

Another view of the paddy fields.

Another view of the paddy fields.

More paddy fields.

More paddy fields.

A wooden bridge over an irrigation canal.

A wooden bridge over an irrigation canal.

The western side, with its crowd of boats and jetties in what is known locally as Ang Mo Kang or Red Hair Harbour, also provides many opportunities for the photographer, as does the nearby Pantai Redang (Redang Beach). It is just south of Pantai Redang that the river which plays host to the fishing harbour spills into the sea, providing the observer with a seascape at low tide coloured by a rare mix of hues:  the purple of the river, the mud brown of the tidal flats, the grey of the shallow waters of the sea, all against the blue of the sky.

The fishing harbour.

The fishing harbour.

The purple stream.

The purple stream spilling into the sea close to Pantai Redang.

Fish being sorted out for sale.

Fish being sorted out.

Pantai Redang, is also where the colour red features rather prominently. It is where the wishing tree stands, painted almost  red by thousands of ribbons on the hopes and wishes of many have been penned. In the shadow of the tree stands the equally red Datuk Kong (拿督公) temple from which one can obtain the weighted red ribbons that must be thrown up to the tree after one’s wishes are inscribed.

The wishing tree at Pantai Redang.

The wishing tree at Pantai Redang.

The Datuk Kong temple.

The Datuk Kong temple.

A window into the Datuk Kong temple.

A window into the Datuk Kong temple.

Besides the many attractions (there are many more) the visitor should pay a visit to – should one have the time, a visit to one of the many seafood restaurants in town offering the freshest of catches for a meal is a must before hitting the road. A quick visit to the old parts of town on the eastern side is also recommended for its quaint looking shops, as is a stop at one of the fruit stalls lining the road out of town for what must surely be Sekinchan’s best offering – its sweet and extremely juicy large green mangoes.

A seafood restaurant.

A seafood restaurant.

A shopfront in the old town.

A shopfront in the old town.

An old kopitiam.

An old kopitiam.

A temple.

A temple.

Fruits on display at a roadside fruit stall.

Fruits on display at a roadside fruit stall – fruits – especially the delicious huge juicy mangoes seen on the top, are recommended buys from Sekinchan.


 








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