In an era that glorifies instant gratification in the form of Instagram selfies and Snapchat videos, it’s no wonder old-school photo studios are a rare find in the cosmopolitan Lion City.
Back in its analog heyday, these studios were a bastion of its time and a celebration of traditional photography as a magical yet tedious journey—think set building, studio lighting, a long exposure time, and chemical development in a dark room that could involve coating and sensitizing of either glass plate (ambrotype) or a metal plate (tintype).
The result? A one-of-a-kind image that will likely take pride of place in one’s home for decades to come, like a heirloom or antiquated treasure.
One of Singapore’s most well-known photo studios from back in the day is the now-defunct Lee Brothers Studio, a well-known landmark along Hill Street between 1910 and 1940. Ran by a Cantonese family, the establishment gained fame for its ability to capture subjects in a natural yet elegant manner, drawing prominent clientele including personalities like Australian missionary Sophia Blackmore and Peranakan physician Lim Boon Keng, Today, the archived photos amassed by the studio serve as a visual history book of Singapore’s migrant society in the early 20th century.
These days, the trend of analog photography has returned with a vengeance thanks to brands like Lomography and Polaroid—both of which are pioneers of creative, experiemental-style film photography.
But if you’re looking to immortalise your portrait in a photo studio run by professionals, here are three that brim with nostalgia and a sense of old-school charm.
Sajeev Photo Studio
Nestled in the vibrant district of Little India amid flower garland vendors and spice stalls is Sajeev Photo Studio. For 18 years, the studio on Kerbau Road has been run by K. Sajeev Lal and his wife Sheeja Shaj for the main purpose of helping young male foreign workers find wives.
For a fee of about $15 to $20, these men come dressed and have their portraits shot either against traditional scenic backdrops or new digital backdrops of Singapore and its montaged icons. These images are then sent to their parents back home in South Asia, in hopes of finding a lifelong partner.
Inside the shophouse studio, walls are covered inch-to-inch with print photos of Sajeev’s old clients—they stare back from the ceiling, creating an almost surrealistic feel. Aside from migrant workers, the studio has also attracted curious Singaporeans who yearn to bring home a quirky photo or two as they pose with cloth backdrops and dramatic balustrade pillars.
More information here.
Hip Xiong Photo Studio
Cheekily named Hip Xiong, which translates to “take photo” in dialect, this studio is Singapore’s only wet plate tintype portrait studio. For the uninitiated, the wet plate collodion process is a 19th century photography technique that requires the photographic material to be coated, sensitized, exposed, and developed within the span of about fifteen minutes.
Today, this time-consuming process renders this technique more of an art form than anything else. But at Hip Xiong, guests can book a fuss-free, hour-long portrait or couple photography session, which also comes with a behind-the-scene look at creating an image formed by silver on a tin plate. Each of these photos offer a timeless, renaissance-like feel, that’s almost unparalleled in its uniqueness.
For photography enthusiasts hoping to delve deeper into the art of tintype photography, there are workshops available as well. Each three-hour session touches on the history and theory of the tintype wet plate collodion process so that students can understand the science behind the chemistry, as well as how to properly handle and maintain them.
Find out more here.
Think Serangoon Broadway and school graduation photos inevitably come to mind. What many may not know is that the photo studio boasts a long history—since the 1960s, to be exact—and was first a specialist in wedding photography.
Its heyday in the 1980s saw wedding couples flock to its “Bridal Palace”, a one-stop-shop offering a wide range of bridal gowns, along with other related services. Soon after, its services spanned graduation gown rentals, as well as graduation photography packages targeted at families.
In fact, its popularity then meant that most of the boomer-era wedding portraits you see hanging above the bed these days, were likely taken at Serangoon Broadway. Backed by a rich heritage, the studio is now fully digitalised and offers a full-fledged of portrait services across its five units of two-storey shophouses on Serangoon Road.
Find out more here.