Photographer Nicky Loh's book Common Wealth pays tribute to one of the oldest HDB estates

Photographer Nicky Loh's book Common Wealth pays tribute to one of the oldest HDB estates

Neighbouring assets

Text: Adibah Isa

Image: Nicky Loh

Ever since the announcement of Commonwealth Drive's redevelopment, Nicky Loh sought out to capture the charm of traditional shops in his new book, Common Wealth

Tell us a random fact about this neighbourhood.
It's one of the oldest surviving HDB estates in Singapore that was built in the '60s. The 10-storey blocks were so popular that they were featured on the back of the Singapore one-dollar note in the Orchid series, issued in 1967. 

Where does the book's sentimentality and nostalgia stem?
Everything is changing so fast in Singapore, and people in their 30s like me find it very hard to recall what our childhood was like. That's why we try to preserve every memory that we can hold on to. The sandpit playgrounds and mamak shops where I would spend a day contemplating on how to spend my 50 cents — they are all gone. Then again, this nostalgia is probably a phenomenon every generation goes through.

How did you approach your subjects?
At the first phase, I emotionally blackmailed them by saying, "Auntie, it's my birthday leh, can let me take a picture please?" The other thing about these shop owners is that they are actually quite media-savvy. I returned on a separate day with a printed copy of their portraits. This paved the way for other shop owners to be more receptive to me taking their pictures because they could tell that I was interested in building a relationship with them, not just 'using' them to take photographs.

Where's your favourite place to de-stress?
Chin Hin Eating House, a kopitiam at Block 75. It was legendary with taxi drivers because of its quality and affordable kopi and the served in traditional white cups and saucers. The place also had the cheapest mixed vegetable rice you could find in Singapore. I would go there to hang out for a cup of tea before or after shoots.

What's one of the things you love about this area?
I love the kampung spirit. My wife says I'm like the unofficial MP here because I always start waving at the different shop owners when I walk by. Last week, I asked for permission from one of the old shop owners if I could do a fashion shoot for a magazine, and he said, "others can't, but you can". That really touched me. 

See a selection of photographs and excerpts from Common Wealth below.

Nicky Loh's Common Wealth launches tonight at Objectifs - Centre for Photography and Filmmaking at 7.30pm. To purchase the book, click here.