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Photographer subverts Singapore's 'sterile' reputation by capturing dream-like images of the city-state

June 25, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

Photographer Nguan reimagines the city-state as a land of surreal beauty and fairy-tale colors.

With their pleasing colors and playful compositions, Nguan's images of Singapore portray the city-state as a dreamy wonderland.

So Nguan, who goes by his given name, subverts the city's reputation by turning his lens on older parts of the city.

"Singapore is clean and efficient but you don't feel anything when you think of the country," said Nguan in a phone interview.

Since returning from studying filmmaking in the US in 2007, the photographer has been capturing neglected corners of the country, from its hawker centers to pastel-colored spiral staircases.

His dream-like photos have appeared in two reportedly sold-out photo books ("How Loneliness Goes" and "Singapore"), at international photography fairs and even The New Yorker's Instagram account, which he took over for his country's National Day in 2016.

The towering Marina Bay Sands resort may be Singapore's most recognizable symbol, but Nguan depicts a different side to the city-state -- one that represents the lives of everyday people.

Many of them are found in areas known as the heartlands, satellite towns on the outskirts of the city -- places that Nguan's work largely focuses on.

He is particularly fond of picturing corridors in public housing blocks, as they contain evidence of the complex lives unfolding within, he said.

"Many (residents) treat the corridor areas outside their apartments as their own, taking great pride with decorations, placing religious altars on pillars, installing rows of potted plants and drying their undergarments outside," explained Nguan.

Nguan sees Singapore as an adolescent nation in a state of inbetweenness.

Nguan, who often features the neighborhood in his photographs, referred to it as "the final bastion of unruliness in Singapore. "

Not all of the staircases are protected by the country's conservation regulations, and those featured in Nguan's aforementioned photo might be demolished when the buildings fall into public hands next spring.

Another recurring motif in Nguan's work is the colorful plastic chairs commonly seen at hawker centers, religious festivals, weddings and funerals.

"Singapore is a city raised up from jungle and I wanted to show that our true nature cannot be paved," said the photographer.

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