CHRONICLING SINGAPORE’S HERITAGE HAWKERS: ALVIN FOO

We Singaporeans love our food. There’s been a recent awareness that the local hawker trade might be in danger of fading away, with no heirs to the wok. Alvin Foo teams up with the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) to chronicle our legendary chefs in the project: Heritage Hawkers.

Hunting down our food culture icons is Alvin Foo, who merges his love for hawker fare and storytelling in the project Heritage Hawkers.

Tell us a bit more about the Heritage Hawkers Project – what did you find interesting about it?

The idea for the project came about when I was living overseas in the UK. One of the things I missed the most was our local food. I realized our hawker culture in Singapore was unique, where groups of heritage hawkers ply their trade with a single specialty that lasts over a few generations, grouped in a location.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark II | F/5.6 | ISO 1600 | 1/100s

For the Heritage Hawkers project with STB, you were roped in to do what you do best – to tell stories. How was the experience?

I really enjoyed the process of meeting these heritage hawkers after being given the opportunity to share their rich stories with the audience. The trust they placed in me by sharing their personal stories and allowing me into their private lives is a great honor. The onus is now on me to represent them accurately through the project.

Canon EOS M5

How were the hawkers selected for this process?

The hawkers were selected through my own research as well as recommendations by supporting partner City Gas, who has been actively promoting hawker heritage. All selected hawkers have at least 2 generations worth of history in the business.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark II | F/2.8 | ISO 1600 | 1/200s

How did you approach this project with regards to the process?

The focus of this project was never to be on the food as I believe there is already plenty of coverage on this. What is lesser known are the stories behind these famous dishes – the stories of the hawkers themselves.

My approach is rather straightforward – record their story and capture a portrait of them at their most natural environment (the stall front). I wanted to keep it authentic, by shooting them during an actual day of work.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark II | F/5.6 | ISO 1600 | 1/200s

When telling your visual essays on these hawkers, besides the food and person, how have you illustrated the stories behind these icons?

I knew the project will be captured in a portraiture approach. To reflect the stories, the setup of the portrait has to be in their most natural environment. I wanted to photograph them in their usual day-to-day attire to reflect the kind of hardship that many of these hawkers have gone through. The setup of the stall is important as it offers a view that is unique to Singapore when you look at the details.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark II | F/4 | ISO 1600 | 1/200s

Did you connect with any particular story during your project?

Because my stay in the UK gave me a glimpse of what an impact the absence of hawker food might be like, the project connected with me primarily because I can see how the pace of development here threatens the trade. All the featured stories are connected one way or another, and many of them have strong heritage history but faces similar challenges like poor business climate, no successor to continue the business etc. These are some of the issues that I would like to subtly highlight through the exhibition.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark II | F/5.6 | ISO 1600 | 1/125s

Were there any challenges you encountered during this project?

Time is the biggest challenge as I’m juggling between my daily duties at Canon and this project. All these hawkers also have a specific time of the day when they are less busy and I try to work with their schedule for the interview and shoot. The stress also comes with the fact that I need to roll out the project in time for Singapore Food Festival 2017.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark II | F/5 | ISO 1600 | 1/125s

How did you overcome these challenges?

My initial plan was to cover at least fifteen hawkers but due to time constraints, I only managed to document eleven stories. But it is important to note that the final eleven represent hawkers from across the city with various races, cuisine and generation.

Canon EOS M5

We understand you chose a full frame camera for this project. Which camera was this?

The full frame camera I used was the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark II | F/5.6 | ISO 1600 | 1/200s

What was the reason behind this?

As I was working alone in this project, I could foresee that I would be shooting in an extremely challenging lighting condition. I also needed speed as most of these hawkers will not have too much time for me to do the setup.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark II | F/5.6 | ISO 1600 | 1/160s

Could you elaborate what was it that you wanted to achieve with a full frame that brought the integrity you needed for this project, that a non full frame couldn’t?

The dynamic range of the full frame camera allows me to work in a low lighting condition without using elaborate lighting setup.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark II | F/5.6 | ISO 1600 | 1/160s

How would you describe the quality of the images that the full frame camera produced for this project?

Given that some of the shot were taken in a low-light condition with high ISO, the image quality on A2 prints are extremely good. The full frame allowed for fast focusing speed and captured the entire scope of the stall with its wider perspective very well.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark II | F/8 | ISO 1600 | 1/200s

How do you think having a full frame would add dimension or details to a storytelling project that everyone can easily achieve?

With the bigger sensor & better dynamic range, using a full frame camera is more forgiving and it allows the photographer to focus on telling their story.

Canon EOS-1D X Mark II | F/8 | ISO 1600 | 1/160s

To see more of Alvin’s work, head on over to his website at Little Red Dot PhotographyOne Dish, One Chef, Generation of Stories was an exhibition held in conjunction with the Singapore Food Fest and ended its run on 11 August.

First published: Canon EOS World

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Very meaningful work! It must be really fun to do this.

    Like

    1. morgaga says:

      The photographer I interviewed seemed to really enjoy it, even though he was very rushed for time on this. Thanks! 🙂

      Like

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