JRP: Some time ago I had the good fortune of finding Sim Chi Yin’s work on the Verve Photo website and felt compelled to share her talent with the readers of James Robinson Photography Blog. Thank you for sharing your time and work with us Chi Yin. Where do you call home?
Sim Chi Yin: For now, a simple little house in a courtyard I share with four Chinese families in the a part of old Beijing. I’ve been living in Beijing for over three years now, working as a journalist and photographer covering stories in China and Asia. This home is six hours’ plane ride from my real hometown of Singapore. Beijing became my home when I was posted to China as a foreign correspondent.
JRP: How did you get started and is there any formal training in your background?
Sim Chi Yin: As a teenager, I picked up my mother’s Canon SLR camera and started playing around with it. At 18, I walked into the newsroom of Singapore’s national English daily newspaper, The Straits Times, to intern at its Picture Desk. That’s where I got my real baptism of fire, as it were, learning as I did assignments as a full-fledged newspaper photographer. I then went off to London to go to university, where I read History and International Relations, but kept taking pictures on the side and during vacations.
The only formal training I’ve had is a short summer program at New York University (2010) in which I was very fortunate to get a Magnum Foundation scholarship.
JRP: What unique circumstances help to dictate the way you approach your photography today?
Sim Chi Yin: Under the best of circumstances, I tend to look for stories to tell and try to think about what I could do with the work. What impact it might or could have, rather than just collect a set of images. I’m also starting to collect audio, materials and some video when they help tell the story.
JRP: If I were to look inside your camera bag what camera and lighting would I find?
Sim Chi Yin: These days, usually a Canon 5D Mark II with a 35mm and a 50mm. Sometimes also a Leica M4P. I hardly carry a flash but on news assignments, sometimes I do use one.
JRP: Much to do has been made of the newer cameras which offer video as well as improved still capabilities. Do they play a role yet in your work, and if so how?
Sim Chi Yin: Yes, I do shoot some video on my Canon 5D Mark II, which is excellent. I’m still experimenting and learning though. I’m more excited by audio at the moment. I feel marrying still images with sound is a powerful way of telling stories.
JRP: Could you name two photographers who inspire you at this stage of your career and why.
Sim Chi Yin: Susan Meiselas, for her unrelenting zeal as a documentarian of people and their histories, and the thought she gives to bringing the work back to the people she photographed, or how it might have broader impact. Marcus Bleasdale, for the humanistic and considerate way in which he approaches his subjects.
JRP: I was most impressed with your essays on the plight of women. How did those projects impact you and are there any new projects in the works?
Sim Chi Yin: Between 2006 and 2009, during vacations, I worked on a personal project documenting the journeys that Indonesian migrant women domestic workers take from their villages to our relatively well-off homes in Singapore. I watched several of them leave their husbands and young children behind, get into a van that would take them to the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, before being shipped off to Singapore as a domestic.
At the other end of the migration journey, I photographed a severely abused Indonesian woman in hospital recuperating from her employer-inflicted injuries. I’m about the same age as these women; their emotional journeys of course left their imprint on me.
I’m currently working on stories of workers in China but not just women this time.
JRP: What is the best advice given to you by another photographer?
Sim Chi Yin: Eat lots of ice-cream. And wear good shoes.
JRP: What photographic wisdom would you share with us?
Sim Chi Yin: The Chinese believe that one has to be quite old and sagely before one is wise, so I can’t yet say I have wisdom to share, I’m afraid! 🙂
JRP: Chi Yin thanks for sharing your thoughts and photography with us. Again it has been a pleasure talking with you. Continued success.
Sim Chi Yin: Thanks very much, James. Cheers. 🙂
JRP: To see more of Sim Chi Yin’s photography please follow this link: