What will Singapore will look like in 50 years?

The man responsible for our mesmerizing Jan 2 cover image, Darren Soh, is known for photographing various neighborhoods and buildings in Singapore. Here, he tells us how he took the image and what the Singapore of the future will look like.

Your pictures have very few people in them. What draws you to this type of image?

The focus of my work is mainly on the built environment, so if people appear in my images, they are usually there for a reason. One of the reasons is to provide a sense of scale to the space I am photographing because photos sometimes cannot convey that just by showing the structure. Having said that, I approach my photography with a very formal approach so I tend not to make images of messy scapes with lots of people in them unless the scene calls for it. Also, human intervention is often implied in my photos so there is no need to overtly plant human subjects in them. 

Tell us about how you took the picture that appeared on our cover.

The image was made from the top of the Textile Centre on Jalan Sultan, photographing downwards at Block 19 Jalan Sultan. From that vantage point, the common corridors of the block are reduced to graphic lines. I was mainly drawn by how the residents have appropriated the space in front of their units for their own use where they have placed plants, laundry and parked bicycles. The long common corridor was once an icon of HDB blocks but is becoming rarer with new HDB designs so I felt it was important to make that photo.

For all the talk of heritage and preservation, there are more and more mega projects. What do you think Singapore is going to look like in another 50 years?

I think the Singapore of 2065 will be a gigantic megapolis of towering skyscrapers and super dense public housing projects. There is no other way to go unless we miraculously discover new plots of land or we think seriously about this whole idea of population growth. For sure many of the structures built in the earlier years of Singapore’s independence till the 1990s will have to go in order to make way for these new structures that are more space efficient. Unfortunately the downside to that is a destruction of the people’s shared social memories established in many of these older spaces. Personally I think it is high time a more consultative approach be taken by those in positions of power with regards to urban renewal. Of course, not every old building can be saved and it would be naive to think so but there is certainly room for improvement when it comes to public discourse on the conservation of buildings. 

With SG50 kicking off, a photographer with your interests will be especially in demand. Any thoughts or misgivings about that?

I’m actually glad that with Singapore’s 50th anniversary, more people are starting to take a closer look at the places we live in and more attention is placed on spaces that may not be around in another fifty years. In fact, I will be involved with several SG50 projects that are upcoming and one in particular I am proud to have initiated together with three other photographers Tay Kay Chin, Ernest Goh and Leonard Goh. It’s called twentyfifteen.sg and it’s a project to publish twenty books, each by one Singaporean photographer photographing a genre of their choice with an emphasis on Singapore. We launched the project in August 2013 and are now at book 12 of the 20 books. 

Catch Darren Soh’s exhibition, Along the Golden Mile, at Objectifs.