Street photographer Jonathan Tan has always challenged himself to capture ordinary Singapore sights in a unique way. When he chanced upon tiled tables and stools that typically occupy HDB void decks, that ubiquitous fixture of public housing caught his imagination.
“I thought to myself: Wouldn’t it be interesting to see it from a bird’s-eye view?” says the 32-year-old. “Finally, I managed to try it out during a break in December, and the result from the first shot was great.” The snapshots of these communal spaces, taken in estates from Chai Chee to Telok Blangah, are shared on his Instagram account and Facebook.
Street photographer Jonathan Tan launched the #LepakDownstairs series in December 2020.
After his initial success, Tan decided to turn his work into a photo series depicting these stools and tables from a top-down view. The result is #LepakDownstairs – a colloquial term to describe the quintessentially Singaporean activity of hanging out at the void deck.
Shot with just an iPhone and a three metre-long selfie stick, Tan’s series brings out the eye-catching shapes and colours of these void deck staples. “People have been guessing that I used a drone or a ladder. But I try to keep things simple so that I don’t have to spend much as well,” says Tan.
Tan has always been interested in documenting communal spots in Singapore – as seen in his 2015 series Your House Downstairs which was shortlisted for the 2016 Sony World Photography Awards.
This isn’t the photographer’s first series capturing local architecture. His 2015 work Your House Downstairs showcased wall features seen at HDB void decks, and was a shortlisted entry for the 2016 Sony World Photography Awards.
A shot from Jonathan Tan’s Singapore Pantone (2017) series.
The year after, he produced Singapore Pantone, another well-received and witty series reimagining different locations in Singapore such as the People’s Park Complex and the Botanic Gardens as Pantone hues.
We speak to the talented Tan about how he got started in street photography and curating the #LepakDownstairs series.