My family have been farmers for generations, from the 1960s till 2020. “We Were Farmers” is a personal project documenting their experience and resilience through photography for the past 12 years. It is also a commentary on changing agricultural practices and urban development in Singapore As I photographed my family, I contemplated my sensibilities as a documentary photographer and my role as a member of the family. I reflected on my position as a participant-observer in the context of this project, and questioned the idea of objectivity in my work. My family became more than just a subject. They are a medium through which I investigate identity and relationships — theirs, and also mine.
“We Were Farmers” also explores how families are shaped and altered by economic and political forces. I examine why family-run businesses and multi-generation households, once common in Singapore, are failing now. This 12-year project has culminated in this photobook, comprising of photographs I shot, archival photos from my family albums, a timeline of related events and an afterword by visual sociologist Terence Heng. Photo edited by Zhuang Wubin, the book depicts the hopes, dreams and memories that tie my family and me together. It is a poignant reflection of where my understanding of community and tradition, and sense of self come from.