Photographer and Her World Young Woman Achiever 2014, Sim Chi Yin, updates JO UPCRAFT on how her work in shining the spotlight on the disenfranchised has progressed over the past two years.
“My favourite shot. This was taken in 2012, and I like it mostly for the sense of anticipation and tentativeness in the girl’s posture. Back then, in Yangon and other cities and towns in Myanmar, there was a new hope that political change would finally come – the April 1 by-election that year, the National League of Democracy’s re-registration and Aung San Suu Kyi’s campaign had reinvigorated politics.”
HER WORLD (HW):What’s been your focus since winning our Her World Young Woman Achiever Award in 2014?
CHI YIN (CY): “Capturing the disenfranchised in society facing issues that get less exposure is my passion. I work for The New York Times, The New Yorker, Time and Le Monde, and seek out personal ventures which I source through reading, and arranging projects with NGOs and other parties. I have projects that take weeks or years. Sometimes I visit my subjects regularly, other times I’ll stay at their homes. I make sure everyone is happy for me to be there and take shots. I don’t ask anyone to pose – it’s always reportage.”
HW: Has your work ever endangered your life?
CY: “In Indonesia, I burnt my eyelids and eyeball while photographing the cauldrons used to smelt tin that goes into smartphones. Last May, I was attacked by women workers in a factory zone in north-east China when they spotted me taking pictures from a car. They lunged at me through the window, stole my camera, and left me with a dislocated thumb.”
HW:How do you overcome something like that?
CY: “I cry; I go the gym; I speak to close friends. The attack made me rethink the assignments I take on. I’m still about social purpose, but I need to do more risk assessment. I’m currently working on a project involving my family history.”
HW:Thanks to smartphones, everyone’s a photographer these days. How does this make you feel?
CY: “I use my phone for photos and videos all the time. I like that there’s more interest in sophisticated visuals. What’s troubling is that the younger generation is no longer seeing the world through their own eyes. They’re not looking, thinking, or interacting – they’re just snapping. It’s disturbing.”
HW:What advice would you give to those considering photography as a career?
CY: “Think about the kind of photographer you want to become. For example, fashion photography can be glamorous, but with documentary photography, you must be clear about your goals. So much of the ‘real’ world is hidden and we should get it out there.”
See more of Chi Yin’s work on Instagram (@chiyin_sim).
“Wealthy Chinese and China-based expatriates enjoy a party with an ‘old Beijing’ theme for high rollers at the Capital Club in downtown Beijing.”
“A young woman waits for the bus at an intersection on the main road in Dongling, Anhui Province, which is among the largest exporters of migrant labour in China.”