A Farewell to the Junk Boats

  Loke Hong Seng    

A Farewell to the Junk Boats​

Loke Hong Seng

1968/2015

Digital Print on Archival Cotton Paper

59.3 x 80.2 cm

“ … photography … demands a vigorous keeping up with the times, rapid adaptation to fast-changing technology, and an innovative approach to new equipment and usage. It was at the process of this turning point that I witnessed the growth of Singapore and the gradual settlement of its people.”

So observes Loke Hong Seng, one of the pioneers of street photography in Singapore. His black-and-white images, which depict the industrialization and urban transformation that we now coyly refer to as the nation-building era, seem, from the vantage point of the twenty-first century, irremediably steeped in nostalgic sentiment. The intersection of history and technology, however, that underpins Loke’s practice perhaps also suggests broader tensions at work in his otherwise wistful tableaus of everyday life in the 1960s and 70s: kampung and waterborne communities giving way to the abstract contours of the soon-to-be ubiquitous HDB housing estate; fast disappearing forms of labour, such as that of bumboat coolies and samsui women, viewed against the backdrop of the evolving urban fabric of the island; pastoral and agricultural landscapes juxtaposed against scenes of extensive land clearance and construction. What the oneiric mood of these social portraits belie, then, is the contested terrain of a young nation-state in flux, of lifeworlds caught in the interstices between one historical zeitgeist and the next.

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