Photo feature

Singapore after dark: the lauded city-state’s lesser known side

By: Tom White - Photography by: Tom White - Posted on: June 6, 2018 | Featured

The rich city-state of six million is a study of light a study of light and dark, of luxury and debt, of power players and the down and out

Despite its image as a clean, safe, rich nation, you don’t have to look hard to find a grittier Singapore – one of noise, chatter, laughter and grime, a cacophony of cultures. Ordinary people struggle to make ends meet, to own their own patch of sky on a 99-year lease in the shadow of glass and steel high-rises and haute couture-filled malls.

These pictures go beyond the luxuries of the financial district to reveal a grittier side of Southeast Asia’s economic powerhouse. The city-state of almost 6 million people is home not just to well-heeled shoppers toting Louis Vuitton handbags, but also to migrant workers who listen to the radio late at night in a wholesale warehouse shuttered after dark or watch TV on a worksite where they also sleep, and domestic workers who take public transportation to the city centre to mingle with shoppers on Orchard Road.

Cardboard forms a thin mattress in a quiet corner; not far away, a discarded mattress makes a bed. Many souls are sleeping rough tonight. Streaks of red paint run down the door of a flat in a public housing block, marking it as a household in debt to loan sharks. A public shaming is the consequence of failing to pay debt incurred in the informal economy. The poor, the elderly, the migrant – all are vulnerable.

Tattoos received long ago cannot hide the marks of age. Textured skin, textured walls. Many of these photographs were taken in the dark, in the shadows baked by the harsh tropical sun, in the night. With its 21st century glamour on full display, Singapore can feel like an anomaly in a chaotic world, where the struggles of its residents are as real as those of any nation.

A fashion show in Singapore
Red paint on the door of a residence in a public housing block: an intimidation and public shaming tactic used by loan sharks
A bird carcass on the street
A man shows off his tattoos
Steps to a temporary toilet in a semi-public ‘void deck’, where residents of public housing blocks have weddings and other social events
Getting around a market in little India
Many food stalls in hawker centres are open into the small hours of night
A man passes through a spotlight’s beam in a club in Singapore
A passerby silhouetted against shopping mall stores shuttered for the night