Revisit scenes of a bygone era

Above: A crowd watching a Chinese opera performance in Chin Nam Street, photographed by Paul Piollet in 1971.
Above: A crowd watching a Chinese opera performance in Chin Nam Street, photographed by Paul Piollet in 1971. PHOTO: PAUL PIOLLET COLLECTION, COURTESY OF NATIONAL HERITAGE BOARD
A crowd watching a Chinese opera performance in Chin Nam Street, photographed by Paul Piollet (above) in 1971.
A crowd watching a Chinese opera performance in Chin Nam Street, photographed by Paul Piollet (above) in 1971.

French photography enthusiast Paul Piollet's snapshots of Singapore's colourful past are now on display at the National Museum

Old shophouses and a crowd watching a Chinese opera are among the scenes of a bygone era captured by French photography enthusiast Paul Piollet, 84.

"I would not spend one day without taking a picture," recalls Piollet, who worked in the oil industry and was based in Singapore and Indonesia in the 1970s and 1980s.

He would roam the streets of Singapore with his Pentax camera, drawn to the city's sights, smells and sounds. "You saw things you wouldn't see in France, like sea cucumber in the market and Chinese wayang," he says.

More than 20 of his photos will now be exhibited on the front lawn of the National Museum of Singapore from this Saturday to Dec 13.

These were selected from more than 400 colour slides that Piollet donated to the National Heritage Board in February this year.

He had previously given a smaller number of images to the National Library and the National Archives of Singapore.

One of the photos that will go on display is an image of the Say Tian Hng Buddha Shop in Gemmill Lane in 1988. The store, which today operates at 35 Neil Road, is believed to be the last shop in Singapore which makes, sells and repairs Taoist idols.

Others range from a 1971 snapshot of a crowd watching a Chinese opera performance in Chin Nam Street, where the new Funan mall now stands, to a 1988 shot of boats on Pandan River which bore and off-loaded timber products such as bakau wood from Indonesia.

Piollet, who lives in Clermont-Ferrand, France, has published eight books on Indonesia and one on Singapore. He has a soft spot for Indonesia, having spent most of his time in South-east Asia there.

"I think I speak better Indonesian than English," says the bachelor, who wears an "Akar Bahar" coral bracelet from the archipelago on his right wrist and has not taken it off in 35 years.

While he visits Singapore twice a year, he is no longer interested in taking photos of it.

 
 

"It's not inspiring. There's too much change," says Piollet, who has a penchant for old-school buildings such as Peninsula Shopping Centre and Bras Basah Complex.

Paul Piollet Exhibition: Singapore's Past In Colour is presented by the Urban Redevelopment Authority and National Heritage Board, and is part of the Voilah! France Singapore Festival and URA's Architectural Heritage Season.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 12, 2019, with the headline 'Revisit scenes of a bygone era'. Print Edition | Subscribe