Cities change at a rapid clip. Blink and your favorite spot is gone. You’re lucky if you even get a chance to say goodbye. When you do get a fair warning, you’ve got to make the best of the time you have left. Club Hawaii has weathered the constant upheaval of Singapore’s development frenzy for so long that some claim it’s the oldest remaining nightclub on the island. But time is creeping up on it too. While it’s not closing its doors, it will get a significant renovation.
That news caught the attention of AikBeng Chia, a photographer who first experienced the venue back in 2000 but didn’t return for over a decade when he started shooting then. Hawaii had remained in a sort of stasis, and the impending change triggered a sense of nostalgia for him. With the owner’s permission, he set out to immortalize its unique vibe before the old made way for the new.
Worn orange booths, red cushioned walls, rainbow LEDs: he captured all of it, this whole familiar space that envelops a cast of characters he’d grown to consider friends. A largely elderly clientele listens to a collection of female singers on stage, many of whom immigrated from China. Some customers busy themselves at the pool table or huddle up at the bar. Others lounge in the booths. “It’s filled with characters,” Chia says. “From loan sharks, bookies, and gangsters to retirees, uncles, and aunties. It’s an interesting mix.” He shoots them in various ways, either with their permission after sharing a beer (or two) , or sneaking shots without their knowledge. “Obviously, I can’t photograph the gangsters,” he laughs.
破旧的橙色摊位、红色软垫墙、彩虹 LED 灯——他捕捉到了这一切。这整个熟悉的空间充满一群朋友般的角色：一批听众主要是老年人的女歌手在舞台上演唱，台下大多是来自中国的移民。有些顾客在台球桌上忙碌着，或者挤在吧台。有些人就在位子上小歇一会。“它充满了各种角色。” Chia 说，“从放高利贷的人、赌博公司的人、流氓、到退休人员，叔叔和阿姨。这是一个再有趣不过的组合。”他会用不同的方式拍摄他们，在分享一两杯啤酒后获得许可，或是就在他们不知情的情况下偷偷拍摄。 “当然，我没办法拍到流氓。”他笑着说。
The series is entirely digital, and he adds grains and color grade to give it the feel of film. Since film is a dated medium, it immediately evokes a sense of the past. Maybe that’s why people often refer to film as “warm.” It may be heretical to shoot digital that looks like film in some circles, but Chia is unconcerned with purist nitpicking. Photography is a form of therapy for him.
As a professional illustrator, Chia felt stuck creatively, so he decided to pick up photography in 2008, at age 40 using an early model iPhone. And he got hooked. Today he uses a Leica Q digital camera, but he’s still fond of shooting with his iPhone (now an XS Max). “Photography is a way for me to manage my depression,” he says. “Sometimes it works, sometimes not.”
He shot the Club Hawaii series in collaboration with filmmaker Nicky Loh. They call it The Night We Never Met, because each started the same project without the other’s knowledge until they coincidentally bumped into each other in the street.
Although it’s about a single nightclub, it speaks to the city at large: “Singapore is constantly changing. Recently a 100-year-old flea market closed down to make way for commercial buildings. So this is Singapore.”