Through The Lens: A look back at 2020 by Straits Times and international photographers

Photo exhibition Through The Lens will feature ST photojournalists' coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic in Singapore, as well as photos submitted for the 2020 World Press Photo competition.
Photo exhibition Through The Lens will feature ST photojournalists' coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic in Singapore, as well as photos submitted for the 2020 World Press Photo competition.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - When history books about the events of last year are written, images of empty streets and masked staff in crowded hospital wards will fill their pages.

Some of the best of these will be on show this weekend at Through The Lens, a photography exhibition by The Straits Times and World Press Photo (WPP), which will run from Saturday (Jan 16) until Feb 7.

The exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore will feature ST photojournalists' coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic in Singapore, as well as photos submitted for the 2020 WPP competition.

ST picture editor Stephanie Yeow said of the newspaper's section of the exhibition: "Our photographers have put themselves out there amidst danger and uncertainty to try to document this pandemic at home as best as they can for the history books."

The WPP side of the exhibition will include its 2020 photo of the year, titled Straight Voice. The image depicts a young man lit by the lights of mobile phones as he recites protest poetry against military rule during a blackout in Khartoum, Sudan.

The exhibits in both sections will be split over the basement and ground floor of the museum.

The WPP is an international competition that began in 1955, run by the World Press Photo Foundation, a non-profit organisation headquartered in Amsterdam.

This year's photo was taken by Mr Yasuyoshi Chiba, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) chief photographer for East Africa and Indian Ocean, based in Nairobi, Kenya.

Mr Chiba studied photography at the Musashino Art University in Japan and joined AFP in 2011. He had previously won the WPP competition in 2009 and 2011.


The WPP's 2020 photo of the year, by Mr Yasuyoshi Chiba, depicts a young man lit by the lights of mobile phones as he recites protest poetry against military rule during a blackout in Khartoum, Sudan, on June 19, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

ST's part of the exhibition will feature photographs documenting Singapore's fight during the pandemic, including those from a series, titled A City At A Standstill, by Mr Mark Cheong and Mr Benjamin Seetor.

Capturing eerily empty swimming pools, roads, construction sites and heartland areas using drone technology during Singapore's circuit breaker period, when all non-essential work and services stopped, Mr Cheong and Mr Seetor documented a surreal portrait of a usually bustling metropolis.

"We wanted to use the drones to capture the huge scale of the emptiness, which is very difficult to see from the pictures on the ground," said Mr Cheong, who has been a photojournalist with ST for eight years.

Mr Seetor, who has been shooting for Singapore Press Holdings for 14 years, emphasised the importance of capturing such a once-in-a-generation event.

"Thinking about it now, it's still hard to imagine that a city like ours, open 24 hours a day, could just stop like that," he said.


A section of the Pan-Island Expressway and Central Expressway in Toa Payoh on May 5 at 8.30am. With many working from home, the morning rush-hour jams have disappeared. ST PHOTO: BENJAMIN SEETOR

The exhibition, capturing the extremes the pandemic created, from the unusually empty to the worryingly full, also features the work of Mr Kevin Lim and Ms Neo Xiaobin, who were present at the front-line fight against the virus, shooting the hard and dangerous work of the nurses and doctors of the Covid-19 wards.

The couple, who have a young son at home, had to grapple with the ethical responsibilities that came with covering the disease close up and on the ground.

"Especially at the beginning, everything was happening so fast and we were worried every day about our families, and our little guy at home," said Mr Lim, who has been at ST for 11 years.

Aside from the personal dimension to the dilemma, they also had to struggle with gaining institutional access, and the trust of patients and healthcare workers, to accurately capture events.

"It really boils down to establishing trust with people and showing to them that you can handle their situation with sensitivity and do it justice," said Ms Neo, a veteran photojournalist with 12 years of experience.


Dr Lui To Hang, a medical officer at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital, communicating with a member of the nursing staff after doing an arterial blood gas test on a Covid-19 patient in the intensive care unit's negative pressure room on April 28, 2020. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

But to the couple, it was crucial to push through these issues to continue documenting events not only for people now, but also for the future.

As Mr Lim put it: "We had to because it is very important for us as photojournalists to keep a visual record of what happened - it is a duty and if we don't do it, who would?"

All four of these photojournalists will also be discussing their experiences in capturing this footage at a webinar titled "Covering Covid-19 - Documenting a new normal amid the pandemic" on Jan 27. It will be open for registration at this website until 6pm on Jan 24.


Exhibition and Webinar

Through The Lens: Photo exhibitions by The Straits Times and World Press Photo

• Tomorrow to Feb 7

• National Museum of Singapore, The Concourse (Level 1) and The Canyon (Basement)

• 10am to 7pm, daily

• Admission is free

• Organised by The Straits Times

• Venue supporter: National Museum of Singapore

• Logistics partner: Trinity Cargo Link

• Outreach partner: Singapore Press Club

• Supporter: Samsung

Website: str.sg/TTL2020


Photojournalism Webinar

Covering Covid-19: Documenting a new normal amid the pandemic

• Featuring photojournalists from The Straits Times

• Date: Jan 27

• Time: 12.30pm to 1.30pm

Register at str.sg/JDyV