It’s Saturday, 4 April 2020. In three days, Singapore will go into what the government terms “circuit breaker” mode—essentially a soft lockdown—to break the chain of Covid-19 transmission in the community. In essence, it’s a closure of everything in the Lion City bar essential services, healthcare and takeaway services. It’s a Singapore never seen or experienced by anyone before.
We are a 24/7 city that never sleeps—the New York of Asia. Then suddenly, like the Big Apple, the Little Red Dot is effectively shutting down. What emerges on 1 June—after nearly two months at home for most of our population—will be a new norm, a completely different city to the one we leave behind when we walk out of our workplaces and head back to our abodes on the eve of the circuit breaker.
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I get in touch with my friend and trusted photographer Gan. A brilliant, multitalented Singaporean, he has been our photographer for many years, creating all sorts of fantasies and cinematic universes from behind the lens. I ask him to shoot Singapore as we’ve never seen it, but with a twist. I want to bring in a fashion angle—but in a less precious and obvious way. I want it to be personal and for it to resonate with any Singaporean who looks upon these pages, showing the very fabric of life in a Singapore on hold.
I decide on simple designer carrier bags—status symbols crafted by the very brands you see in our pages; precious yet disposable because of their very nature. You see, to me, these bags represent everything the brands want to say about themselves. The type of paper or plastic used, the finish, what’s embossed, what’s printed, the colour, how it’s tied—these details are reflective of what each brand is all about, essentially encapsulating the entire brand DNA. The powerful messages exuding from these arm candies as they are toted down Orchard Road will no longer be the reality for a while. So I thought: What better way to document a Singapore in standstill than with these bags, to tie the worlds of fashion, art and photography into a unifying whole in this surreal landscape?
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Armed with just his camera and some carrier bags, Gan rushes to every corner of Singapore to capture the city before stricter social and physical distancing measures are put in place. From the eerily quiet HDB neighbourhoods and parks to the empty void decks, scenes of Singapore at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic are captured via his lens. Tourist spots such as the Merlion Park are solemnly deserted, with the half-lion, half-fish statue spouting water for only a tiny Roger Vivier bag to see. A lone Fendi bag in an empty MRT carriage takes pride of place on what was once coveted seats. The folded tables and stacked plastic chairs at coffee shops a sign of what’s to come—when eating out is but a distant memory. A construction site where all work will cease, with a Tod’s bag, in all its golden glory, lying amid tools and machinery. These images will forever be a reminder of Singapore during this time. I hope they will show our future generations what life looked like when everything came to a pause. It’s a moment for reflection and a testament to the human will to survive. I can’t wait to see what emerges from the end of this tunnel—some home truths might just be the medicine we need.
Photographed by Gan.