In 1980, Parisian photographer Alain Soldeville visited Singapore and discovered a legion of androgynous beauties at Bugis Street, of whom he has amassed an amazing gallery of photos.
The photos can be viewed on his website, but they will also be on show in an exhibition called Once Upon a Time on Bugis Street, happening at Objectifs from Jan 29-Feb 18 and Bangkok’s Kathmandu Photo Gallery (Nov 17-Dec. 27).
Here are some of our favourite shots, as well as Soldeville’s captivating description of the experience:
“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.”
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