Pictures from a sailor's son showcase the navy's unseen work of protecting Singapore

The cover of the photobook titled By Day & By Night: Missions of RSS Sovereignty. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Photographer Chen Chuanren giving a speech at the opening of his exhibition documenting the lives of people on board the vessel RSS Sovereignty. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Guests at the opening of Chen Chuanren's exhibition at the DECK exhibition space on May 12, 2017. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Photographer Chen Chuanren releases a photobook documenting the lives of people on board the vessel RSS Sovereignty. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Freelance photographer Chen Chuanren grew up hearing stories of the sea from his father, who sailed for about 27 years.

The 29-year-old also attended the Navy open house almost every year, and has lived in Marine Parade since he was two years old, where he could see the sea every day from his HDB flat.

Mr Chen would frequent the East Coast Park to look at the ships berthed not far from shore.

His association with the navy and the sea developed his fascination for all things nautical and prompted his interest in doing a photobook to mark the Navy's 50th anniversary this year.

Also, when Mr Chen learnt that the RSS Sovereignty would be decommissioned soon, he requested to mark the occasion by photographing the last crew.

"Most Singaporeans are unaware of how much goes into protecting Singapore and I wanted to give them a behind-the-scene look at what goes on," he told The Straits Times on Friday (May 12) at the launch of his book titled By Day & By Night: Missions of RSS Sovereignty.

The 100-page photo book captures about 200 photos that he took of the vessel over six to eight months, including seven days spent on board.

The photographer had spent five years as an air operations and systems expert in the Singapore Air Force. It was there that he picked up photography.

After discovering his love for taking pictures, he spent four years as a freelance photographer.

In particular, he enjoyed photographing the Singapore Armed Forces in action.

In 2015, Mr Chen won the notable Big Picture award. This is a competition that is organised by The New Paper and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth. It aims at encouraging Singaporeans to document everyday life in the city.

Mr Chen's picture of F-16 jets flying over the Padang in formation during a rehearsal for the National Day Parade impressed judges.

"The Singapore Armed Forces are dynamic and there are so many different things going on at all times," he said.

However, he hardly had the chance to photograph the Navy out at sea, said Mr Chen.

When he approached the Navy with his idea, they were keen to support him and to give him access to the vessel and its crew.

Mr Chen also got the opportunity to be privy to a number of missions undertaken by the patrol vessel and its crew.

The biggest lesson for Mr Chen in doing the book was that of how much work the Navy did behind the scenes to protect Singapore.

He recalled a time when the vessel was at the edge of Singapore's territorial waters. He looked out and saw the city which only appeared as a streak of lights from where he was.

"It was that moment that I realised just how big Singapore actually is and the magnitude of what the Navy does to protect our country," he said of the experience.

The hardest part?

"No one stops to pose for you. The servicemen are carrying out their missions and nothing will get in their way. So you just have to adapt," the photographer said of his time spent onboard the RSS Sovereignty.

Crew members from the RSS Sovereignty as well as the chief executive officer of Oceanic Group - the main sponsor of the project - were at the book launch on Friday.

"It is a meaningful, noble and impactful project. It shows in photography and pictorial form what goes on behind the scenes of everyday life in a navy patrol vessel," said Mr Daniel Chui, 50, Oceanic Group's CEO.

A photo exhibition, showcasing 20 frame prints from the book, is being held at the DECK, an independent art space, along Prinsep Street till May 20.

Visitors can place bids, with all proceeds from the auction going to the President's Challenge charity.

The book can also be purchased at the exhibition, but limited copies are available.

The book is expected to go on sale in bookshops soon, and it will sell for $29.90.

For every purchase, $1 will go to the President's Challenge charity.

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