Proof that the Covid restrictions were not all bad is no better reflected than in the photographs of Peter Zaman. While some people headed into the kitchen, and others ramped up their fitness, Peter, who moved from the UK to Singapore seven years ago, created The Black & White Project. As an amateur photographer for more than 10 years, Peter already had a good eye, but admits; “Landscape photography in Singapore is quite difficult. It’s mostly a metropolitan and highly developed city-state, and being located near the equator it’s not a place for soft golden hour light at sunrise or sunset. I set myself the challenge to overcome these limitations which is how I decided to shoot in black and white.”
Peter has always been a fan of the old black & white houses in Singapore, but he noticed that although there are many photography books of black & whites, the images focussed on the house or its interior. “It struck me that part of the reason why I loved these estates was the juxtaposition of the black & white house in that specific landscape. The Black & White Project is a play on words because each black and white image taken includes at least one black & white house.
Armed with his trusty Canon camera, and spurred on by the challenge of finding a unique perspective that made a landscape composition possible, Peter visited various estates such as Alexandra Park, Mount Pleasant, Sembawang, Botanic Gardens, Changi, Seletar and the Wessex Estate, seeking images that fitted his criteria. “It was a difficult exercise given the pandemic restrictions. Many of my photos were taken from public areas, but some of the best images were made possible when the rules lifted slightly and some tenants generously allowed me to invade their privacy and wander around their grounds.”
The project took place between June 2020 and July 2022, in which time Peter had over three hundred images in his portfolio. He also faced the harsh reality of constant change and development in Singapore. “There used to be about 800 black & white houses here, but today there only are about 450 or so left,” he says. “Although many are protected properties, they’re progressively being lost to land developments.”
While the landscapes on which these houses sit are not protected, Peter fears that in time they will disappear. “My purpose of capturing these landscapes, together with the houses, is to ensure there is some memorial record of how these homes were meant to be seen. If my work inspires their further conservation, then I will have succeeded in something.”
Twenty-three of Peter’s images form the basis of the new exhibition, Black & White Project: Unseen Landscapes of Singapore, which takes place at The People’s Gallery exhibition spaces of the Singapore Botanic Gardens until 30 November 2023. His book of the same name ($65) features over sixty images and is available to buy from Kinokuniya Orchard Road, Gardens Shop Singapore Botanic Gardens, and amazon.sg
Photography by Peter Zaman