S'porean student photographer captures picturesque shots of Simei & Tampines

Bringing up nostalgic feelings for many.

Jane Zhang | June 06, 2021, 08:27 PM

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Several sets of photographs of seemingly-mundane happenings in Simei and Tampines have gained traction on Facebook, as they have elicited fond memories and nostalgia for the neighbourhoods among netizens.

The photos, shot by 24-year-old Singaporean university student Raphael Hugh, are part of a series of photosets that he has planned of different neighbourhoods around Singapore.

Series of photosets of neighbourhoods around Singapore

Raphael, an undergraduate at Yale-NUS College majoring in Urban Studies, decided to take photos of neighbourhoods around Singapore as a way to hone his photography skills and experiment with street photography and new editing styles.

"I felt that the best way to do this was to take images of something more relatable and closer to home, like the unique neighbourhoods around Singapore.

The neighbourhood photosets were hence actually just the products of me experimenting with a new photography style!"

Speaking to Mothership, Raphael said that that he had originally planned to spend his summer attending a design course organised by NUS School of Architecture.

However, it was cancelled due to the increased restrictions of Phase 2 (Heightened Alert), leaving him with two-and-a-half months of free time.

Raphael said that he chose to begin his series with Simei and Tampines, as he was more familiar with the two neighbourhoods, having lived in the east side of Singapore his entire life.

"I wanted to capture hidden places that only residential locals knew about and tell the stories behind them," he said.

"Simei in particular is so small and under the radar that Singaporeans either don’t know that it exists or think that there’s nothing fascinating about the neighbourhood (just another ulu town of sorts).

So I went for long walks around the estates and took pictures of familiar places that I knew were hidden community icons of each neighbourhood."


On May 29, Raphael shared a set of photos taken around Tampines. Each photo was accompanied by a short description and observations by him.

Photo by Raphael Hugh.

"The central walking and cycling pathway of Tampines Ville is flanked by low-storey HDB maisonettes. Families of ground floor units have grown beautiful gardens right outside their doors!"

Photo by Raphael Hugh.

"Always passed by this block of flats right next to the MRT tracks during my evening runs but never noticed its amazing colour."

Photo by Raphael Hugh.

"A community garden at Tampines Park, a very unique park which features a Tilapia Fish Farm. The uncle featured here is semi-retired and comes down to the garden twice a day. 'The seeds that NParks give, not enough la. Only can fill my balcony.'"

Photo by Raphael Hugh.

"Prime Supermarket at Tampines West. Tampines is a huge estate. After walking for hours, I somehow found myself on this side of the town which I've never really explored much before."


Raphael posted the second set of neighbourhood photos on Friday (Jun. 4), this time of Simei.

In the captions of the photos, he reminisced on childhood memories of watching the National Day Parade along Simei Road and shared his thoughts on the gradual phasing out of HDB void deck mama shops.

Photo by Raphael Hugh.

Photo by Raphael Hugh.

Photo by Raphael Hugh.

A photo that elicited fond memories for many netizens was that of Mirana Cake House.

Photo by Raphael Hugh.

Raphael wrote:

"A classic in Simei. This Mirana cake shop has been around for ages and everybody who has been in Simei for awhile definitely knows it. Solid waffles and have been eating their sugar loafs ever since I was a child."

Both photosets have been warmly-received by netizens, with the Tampines post garnering more than 500 shares and the Simei one racking up over 1,000 shares.

Raphael has been heartened by the warm reception, and by people's personal engagement with his photos:

"As an Urban Studies major, my fascination with the built environment, people and photography converge very nicely in this series.

I think the most amazing part is seeing other residents share their own memories via the comments under each photo. It’s great to see people identifying with the images I have taken and knowing that places which have a deep significance to me are similarly important to other people as well."

You can see Hugh's full photoset of Tampines here:

And of Simei here:
Many Facebook users also chimed in with their appreciation of seeing their beloved neighbourhood sights captured in the photos.

Re-developing interest in photography

Raphael first started exploring photography back in 2017, by taking photos on his iPhone.

He was "very reluctant" to enter the DSLR scene of photography due to the high costs associated with buying equipment, until a friend from National Service (NS) sold him his underused Canon 600D at a good price, which Raphael continues to use to this day.

After finishing NS in 2018, he furthered his photography skills by interning as an assistant for two local photographers, Juliana Tan and Pandora Wong, an opportunity he says he is incredibly thankful for, as Tan and Wong helped him learn the ropes and gave him insight into the industry.

He hit a slump in 2019 after starting university and getting busy with other priorities:

"I gave up my interest in photography for two years as I was getting frustrated over my lack of development in photography skills and my inability to capture good stories through images."

However, he reignited his interest again after taking a photography module last year, and decided to start re-exploring the art form.

Plans to photograph Jalan Besar, Sengkang, and more

He shared that he intends to photograph many more neighbourhoods around Singapore, including Jalan Besar, Bedok, Sengkang, and Joo Chiat, some of which he has already partially-finished.

"For the next few photosets, I hope that I’ll be able to do the same and capture the unique characteristics of the many neighbourhoods that Singaporeans proudly call home."

He said that he is "particularly excited" about the Sengkang photoset, which he will likely collaborate on with another photographer who lives there:

"It's one of the newer housing estates with a younger demographic in Singapore and the neighbourhood should definitely give off a different vibe from what I have been experiencing."

He also plans to continue to photograph Simei, and release another photoset on it, this time focused perhaps on people rather than places.

"Simei will also always be a special place to me and there’s still a lot of stories to uncover despite its small size."

Raphael plans to post his future photosets on a dedicated Facebook page for his photography, as well as on his Instagram page.

Top photos via Raphael Hugh.