Soldeville: Memories of Bugis Street & Boogie Nights

Upon arrival in Singapore, we spent a couple of months in the Bugis neighbourhood. I soon grew fascinated by its colourful story. From the 1950’s to 1980’s, Bugis Street was known in the whole world for its nightly parade of the flamboyantly-attired transgendered community – a one-of-a-kind attraction in Asia. French photographer Alain Soldeville stopped there in 1980, a young man then touring Asia and Australia. He recounts memories of the moving encounters he made, unveiling a side of Singapore history that many might be unfamiliar with. Recently, Soldeville came accross the long-forgotten, numerous pictures he had taken. The following illustrations are just a few among many jewels. Go and enjoy a trip down memory lane at the OBJECTIFS Gallery before March 13th.

“Looking back”, the photographer reflects, “I believe I meant those photos to be portraits of these people I had come to consider friends, wishing to show their fragility, their humanity rather than documenting a situation, news style.” (…)

“In December 1980, I left Paris for a two-year trip to Asia and Australia. I had limited experience in photography. After spending a month in Bangkok, I arrived in Singapore where I checked in at a hotel located on the fourth floor of an impersonal tower. A few days later, around midnight, I headed for Bugis Street in a neighborhood of old Chinese houses from the colonial era. Within an hour, strange androgynous creatures arrived by taxi. Dressed in sexy, tight-fitting dresses or satiny pants, wearing heavy stage makeup and high heels, they took over the territory.” (…)

“The street seemed to belong to them and their dramatic entrance was followed by scrutinizing eyes. It appeared that most visitors were there to watch the show that had just begun. I stroked up a conversation with Anita who was of Malaysian background. She was 23 years old, with a clearly outlined masculine face, tall, thin and muscular. She wanted to know where I came from, how long I was going to stay in Singapore. During the following weeks, I became close to Anita and she introduced me to her friends- Amina, Danita, Delphine, Rosa and Susanna. They liked having me photograph them and would strike natural poses. After five or six weeks in Singapore, short of money, I had to leave for Australia. I would return in 1984 only to learn that Bugis Street was about to be torn down to make way for the subway. For more than twenty five years, I completely forgot those photos. It’s only recently that I came across them.”

Alain Soldeville became a member of ANA Photo Agency in 1987. He has travelled in Europe and Asia for French and international magazines (Stern, New York Times, Newsweek, Geo, National Geographic France, Vogues men, Figaro magazine, Marie-claire…). He became a member of Rapho Agency in 1990. In 2011, he joined Paris-based photography collective Picturetank. For the past ten years, he has worked extensively in Thailand, making work related to globalisation. His work has been exhibited in Europe and in Asia. (courtesy Alain Soldeville and OBJECTIFS Gallery)

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