As a young girl, Chi Yin. with her mother’s camera in tow, would take the bus down to Little India on Sundays and capture images of interactive street life.
“I realised early on in my late teens that writing and photography were my strengths,” she says, “I was slightly obsessed with this notion of being a useful person in life and society. From that point on, I was focused on doing just that – I wanted to write and take pictures.”
Straight after her A ‘levels were completed, Chi Yin interned at The Straits Times’ photo desk under the mentorship of veteran photojournalist, George Gascon. “I learnt on the job, and that’s when I really blossomed and bloomed into a photographer,” says the determined self-starter who would often ask for extra assignments and take on all the weekend shifts.
After nine months, she left to pursue degrees in history and international relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Chi Yin came back to Singapore in 2001, and worked as a social and housing reporter at The Straits Times, covering community news and issues about poverty and disability.
She moved on to The New Paper two years later, where she “became the go-to migrant labour reporter” who constantly pushed boundaries with her hard-hitting stories that addressed the hardships faced by migrant workers.
“I was very passionate and angry about the situation here, and I wrote a lot of ‘human-rights journalism’,” reveals Chi Yin, who also engaged in personal projects such as Day Off (2003) and The Long Road Home (2011), a compilation of eye-opening photos published by the United Nations International Labour Organisation.
“Between 2003 and 2009, I followed the life journeys of a few domestic helpers coming to work in Singapore. I used all my vacation time, including Chinese New Year and Christmas, on multiple trips to Indonesia. When I look back now, I feel really bad because I was absent from a lot of family events. I was often missing from family photos because I was always away.”
Chi Yin was later posted to China as a correspondent, but she took a leapt of faith and left her cushy job to pursue her love for visual storytelling. Within six months of going freelance, Chi Yin’s work quickly got her represented by VII photo agency. She is currently represented by Magnum Photos.
In September last year, Chi Yin became the first Singaporean Peace Prize photographer to be commissioned to showcase 2017’s Nobel Peace Prize winner – the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
She took a two-month journey from the China-North Korea border, to six states in the Western United States, travelling along the North Korean border near missile testing facilities, and decommissioned missile silos in US states like Washington, Arizona and Nevada. Her work, titled Fallout, is part of a year-long exhibition called “Ban the Bomb”, in Oslo, Norway.