Keeping the stories of MacPherson alive

MacPherson residents Madam Tan and Mr Chan before the "Faces of MacPherson" billboard in Geylang East Central Road, a montage of photos taken by Mr Chan and six other photographers. The project was started in February and officially launched on July
MacPherson residents Madam Tan and Mr Chan before the "Faces of MacPherson" billboard in Geylang East Central Road, a montage of photos taken by Mr Chan and six other photographers. The project was started in February and officially launched on July 24 at the MacPherson PassionArts Festival 2016.PHOTO: DON WONG FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Photographer creates montage with residents' faces to foster inter-generational belonging

It took only five years of living in MacPherson for Mr Chan Jianhong to be enraptured by the modest neighbourhood.

The 27-year-old's love for the estate grew into a ground-up project that soon became known as "Faces of MacPherson" - a photo montage documenting the everyday lives of 300 MacPherson residents.

Pictures of residents of all ages taken over a period of six months were amassed onto a 15m by 6m billboard, with the aim of documenting their stories and fostering inter-generational belonging among the estate's 46,000 occupants.

"I wanted to return my love to this place," said Mr Chan, a social worker. Besides the friendship among residents, the other beautiful thing about MacPherson is its skyline, he added.

Mr Chan lives with his mother and sister in a three-room Housing Board flat in Geylang East Avenue 1, and picked up photography last year. He then used his hobby to take pictures at community events within the estate, where he met other like-minded photographers.

With support from the MacPherson Community Club, Mr Chan worked with six other photographers to approach residents from all walks of life.

  • More about MacPherson estate

    Located between Aljunied and Paya Lebar, MacPherson estate is home to about 46,000 residents, of whom 66 per cent are aged above 50.

    The estate mostly consists of public housing, with 90 per cent of residents living in Housing Board flats. There is also an industrial estate in the neighbourhood.

    MacPherson estate is named after Lieutenant-Colonel Ronald MacPherson, who was the resident councillor of Singapore under the East India Company from 1860 to 1867.

    He was the last resident councillor of Singapore. After the post was abolished, he became the country's first colonial secretary.

    During his time in Singapore, Lt-Col MacPherson designed and builtSt Andrew's Cathedral using Indian convict labourers.

    He died in Singapore in 1869, and Jalan Klapa was renamed MacPherson Road after him.

    Rachel Oh

"As we went around taking photos, we realised all the residents had very different ideas and stories about MacPherson... and we decided we needed to document this to bring back the community spirit," said Mr Chan.

"The idea was to reach out to different age groups in MacPherson, as I feel community projects tend to be more elderly focused."

The project began in February this year, and was officially launched on July 24 at the MacPherson PassionArts Festival 2016.

One of the residents to appear in the montage is Madam Tan Siah Meow, 53, who moved to MacPherson in 1988 after marrying her husband Low Keang Huat, 55.

"Even though this is an old estate, we see the elderly helping each other here and getting along," said Madam Tan, who works as a stall assistant at her husband's chicken rice stall at Block 117, Aljunied Avenue 2.

She remembers the Mid-Autumn Festivals from years past when families in the neighbourhood would gather to eat while their children played with lanterns.

"We don't do that anymore because our children are all grown up now, but it lasted for eight years and it's my favourite memory of my time here," she said.

Her husband was part of the first batch of residents who moved into the estate 41 years ago. Mr Low remembers living in a kampung as a child, spending his days catching fish and spiders indrains.

"We had a lot of freedom and space to run about," he said in Mandarin. "There were a lot of alleys where the children could come together and play."

Going forward, Mr Chan hopes to do more to document his estate. He plans to publish the stories behind the photos he took. He also hopes to organise sessionswhere residents can share their stories about the neighbourhood.

MacPherson Member of Parliament Tin Pei Ling said she appreciates what Mr Chan has done in capturing the stories of MacPherson from the residents' perspectives.

"It's a great opportunity to celebrate together what makes up this MacPherson experience," said Ms Tin. "I think this is a good start to keeping ourselves grounded in the lives of people, yet staying hopeful for the future."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2016, with the headline 'Keeping the stories of MacPherson alive'. Print Edition | Subscribe