For its first issue of the new year, the British Journal of Photography called upon an international panel of photographers, editors, curators and educators to roundup the photographers who are “on the verge of something big in 2014.” Sim Chi Yin, currently of the VII Mentor Program, was one of thirty photographers selected from among hundreds of nominations to be included in a 61-page spread in the January issue, available now in print, iPad and iPhone editions.
Sim, a fourth generation overseas Chinese who was born and raised in Singapore and is now based in Beijing, shoots regularly for the New York Times with additional projects on social, political, and environmental issues in China and Burma appearing in The New Yorker, TIME, Le Monde, Newsweek, Financial Times Weekend Magazine, New York Times Magazine and Stern. Sim’s unique cultural relationship to China as a place that is at once familiar and foreign has sharpened her focus on socio-economic issues—such as migrant labour, occupational health, income inequality and urbanization —that are happening in China but have consequences that play out on a global scale. Sim has noted, however, that being a journalist in China, in particular a documentary photographer, requires an immense amount of work in order to break down skepticism and the social walls that Chinese political culture constructs around taboo subjects. She told BJP, “Two,three generations have been schooled to not wash dirty linen in public. Investing time and energy is the only way to overcome that cynicism and create the kind of intimacy documentary photography needs.”
Her persistence in meeting these challenges are what make Sim’s work stand out among the other photographers that BJP considered for its list of emerging talent. Sarah Leen, director of photography for National Geographic who nominated Sim, reflected that, “[Sim’s] work has the potential to bring insights from within a culture that is often difficult to penetrate emotionally.” The recognition that Sim’s contribution is borne from personal challenge, passion, and a dedication to nuanced and complex storytelling aligns itself with the founding mission of the VII Mentor Program. The program, conceived by the photographers of VII, aims to challenge and nurture an emerging photographer’s career through guided mentorship. For two years, selected photographers work with a senior member of VII to build and polish necessary skills and advance their career to a stage of development that will enable them to continue—with both purpose and skill—as critical storytellers.
In 2010, before joining VII’s Mentor Program, Sim was awarded a Magnum Foundation fellowship in “Photography and Human Rights” at New York University. Prior to that, she worked as an award-winning journalist and foreign correspondent for The Straits Times, Singapore’s national English language daily, for nine years. In 2013, Sim was a finalist for the W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography, with a personal project on Chinese gold miners. In response to the news of her selection by BJP, Sim said “I am honoured, excited and humbled to be on the list. The words of nominator Sarah Leen which I read for the first time in the magazine this week are especially encouraging and heartening. Some stories here can be difficult to access and photograph well and intimately. I feel I need to work more and harder than ever.”
Photographs from Sim Chi Yin’s series China’s “Rat Tribe.” Click here to view full story.