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CNA Lifestyle

Singaporean photographer Darren Soh wins Apple’s global Shot On iPhone Challenge

His photo of Singapore's slanted roof HDB flats at Potong Pasir was among 10 chosen works. He tells CNA Lifestyle that he thinks "the image very much represents what we are".

Apple has named local photographer Darren Soh as one of 10 global winners for their Shot On iPhone Challenge.

The list of winners was announced on Tuesday (Feb 26) and the 42-year-old emerged as the only winner from Asia.

Soh’s winning entry, shot on an iPhone XS Max, captured the slanted roofs of the residential blocks at Potong Pasir, as reflected in a puddle on a basketball court. 

The 10 selected winners will be featured on billboards in select cities, in Apple retail stores as well as online, said Apple in a press statement. 

The other winners came from Germany, Belarus, Israel and the US, highlighting the global community of iPhone photographers that participated.

Soh told CNA Lifestyle that he was surprised at his win, having submitted his photos “on the very last day” of the contest.

“I didn’t do it via Instagram, I emailed them five or six images. Once I did that, I totally forgot about it,” said Soh. “There were probably millions of entries, but if you don’t try you don’t know right?”

Photographers from around the world submitted their photos for consideration through Instagram with the hashtag #shotoniphone. Submissions for the Shot On iPhone Challenge concluded on Feb 7.

“I didn’t have extraordinarily high hopes because I don’t know how the filtering process worked. Obviously, the judges that Apple listed, those high-powered names, weren’t going to look through a few million entries. I just submitted and went back to my life,” said Soh with a laugh.

READ:‘I’m afraid one day it’s going to go’: Saving Singapore’s old buildings one photograph at a time

For the challenge, Apple assembled an international panel of 11 judges, including former Chief Official White House Photographer Pete Souza, travel photographer and filmmaker Austin Mann, famed iPhone photographer Annet de Graaf, Chinese visual artist Chen Man and Apple's Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller.

“A reflection that looks like a painting, two worlds have collided," said Schiller of Soh's photograph. You are compelled to think about where and how this photo was taken, the bird flying in the corner provides the single sign of life in an otherwise surreal composition.”

Chen Man said: “Distortion and reflection at a strange angle — this photo creates a fantastic feeling.”

As an architectural photographer, much of Soh’s work involves capturing the facades of residential buildings, especially Housing Development Board (HDB) flats. Among the photos he submitted to Apple, he is delighted that “the photo that was chosen was of a block of flats”.

“I think the image very much represents what we are. We have one of the more successful, if not the most successful, public housing schemes in the world. Some people may see it as a pigeonhole in the sky but if you step back and look at what the HDB has done for home ownership, it’s actually a very amazing thing,” said the 42-year-old.

“I submitted maybe one or two images of the Marina Bay Sands and our skyline, but those pictures people are already familiar with,” he added. “People already tend to associate Singapore with our very glitzy-looking, futuristic skyline, which is very recognisable because of Marina Bay Sands, but those images are not as special.”

Along with his photos, Soh pads his Instagram captions heavily with information about the history and significance of each local building depicted.

“If you look at my Instagram feed, I tend to write a fair bit. I hope people can come to my Instagram feed and find out a little bit more about public housing projects that we have in Singapore.”

Soh hopes that his photography will spark conversations about conservation, especially in the face of estate redevelopment. Most recently, he is sad to see the Pearl Bank Apartments go.

“There is no turning back for Pearl Bank. It is definitely going to be demolished because the owners have all received their payouts. They have to move by April and in time, CapitaLand can do whatever they want with the land. It is almost certain that they will not conserve the building.”

Built in 1976, Pearl Bank Apartments saw several failed attempts at an en bloc, with CapitaLand successfully acquiring the land in February 2018 for S$728 million. The horseshoe-shaped building was among the subjects of Soh’s exhibition, Before It All Goes: Architecture From Singapore’s Early Independence Years, which ran from August to September last year.

 “It’s one of the things I’ve been trying to talk about and to get more people to talk about. In a country where the land on which any building is standing on is worth more than the building itself, they will inevitably be redeveloped,” said Soh.

“Is this the only way? Is tearing down an old building and building a new one the only way we can unlock the value of the land?”

Source: CNA/gl