Elizabeth Gabrielle Lee places a nuanced lens on her Singaporean heritage - Friends of Friends / Freunde von Freunden (FvF)

Elizabeth Gabrielle Lee places a nuanced lens on her Singaporean heritage


“Growing up I felt my heritage was rejected. Singapore, while in Asia, is a very Western city and I was always taught to look westwards,” says photographer Elizabeth Gabrielle Lee about growing up in the Southeast Asian metropolis. As part of Visually Speaking, our content collaboration with Unseen, we asked her to turn her lens on the very place she still considers home, granting us a rare glimpse into elements of the city that resonate deeply for Lee, many of which have been a catalyst for her ongoing, subliminal work.

“My father used to take us to aquarium shops where he would fuel his fish-keeping hobby. This must have been another subconscious influence—every time I spot an aquarium shop I find myself walking towards it, pressing my nose against the glass in efforts to say hello.”
“Though it may come across as banal to some, I find these makeshift, guerrilla-like public sculptures like little joys walking on the street. This one features the iconic Singapore plastic bag (with the lion’s head stamped on it), tucked precariously away into a construction barricade.”
“This is probably the most iconic subject amongst the photographs—the durian. This is a fruit that, in all its beauty (and intensity), divide people into two camps: lovers and haters. I proudly belong to the first camp and have fond memories of gathering round a roadside table under the fluorescent lights in the cool night air feasting on its custard-like flesh.”
“Sadly, the mangroves of Singapore remain at their last 5%. Even though Singapore is globally known for its impressive and sometimes dizzying urban landscapes, its primeval land manages to persevere in spite of the continual acceleration of the new.”
“Morning light in the monsoon season streaming into the bedroom of my formative years.”
“Jade is a ubiquitous gem in East and Southeast Asia, Singapore being no exception. Local jewelers island-wide would and still continue to display their selection in pristine glass windows today. Symbolically worn for protection, anyone can own one regardless of status and orientation. It is one of the more democratic gems and usually worn by older women in this region—it is currently experiencing a revival among the youth.”
“One of the many overlooked corridors in the wet market.”
“The bougainvillea park where I would run about as a kid, playing hide and seek with my friends.”
“The breakwaters along the East Coast Beach is somewhere I used to go as a teenager, camping out on the rocks and setting up a makeshift picnic.”
“There is a sheer amount of dedicated crystal shops here in Singapore, mostly from the Buddhist and alternative healing communities.”
“Small beauty parlors in heartlands dotted across the country were (and still) remain a common sight. It’s where most ‘aunties’ get their beauty fix for affordable beauty.”
“Water chestnuts at the local market. I would accompany my grandmother on her grocery trips to the market, and these grocers still remain today.”
“One of my favorite pockets in the city are its back alleys. You’d never know what you may chance upon there, it’s always a gamble. It’s also where you get glimpses of the intimacy, the labor, and the vulnerability of people working in all sorts of trades.”

Elizabeth Gabrielle Lee is a London-based, Singapore-born photographer whose work explores issues of sexuality, representation and identity and aims to subtly shift the Western gaze. In addition to our interview, we asked Elizabeth to capture her hometown through her eyes. Read more about the artist in our interview profile here.

This piece is part of Visually Speaking, a content collaboration of Unseen and Friends of Friends. Exploring image production as a socio-political tool to uncover unseen realities, the series eschews links to fast and constant image production that the digital age undeniably promotes. Through intimate profiles, the series presents four established and emerging photographers who honor a slow process, unfolding their daily lives and creative practices. Whether they explore their own personal and cultural histories, investigate societal issues, or turn to loved ones, they uniquely differ in their ways of working and the realities they are influenced by.

Photography: Elizabeth Gabrielle Lee