LORADS (80s Singapore)

LORADS SINGAPORE© Michael Chua Photography
Circa 1983~84 – Singapore LORADS
I believe it was in 1983~84 that I was commissioned by Peter Hutton of MPH Publishing, to shoot Singapore’s spanking new Changi International Airport. The client was the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS). The photographs were for a commemorative book of which Peter will be the editor/writer.

Peter and myself worked tirelessly over the course of 3~4 weeks photographing every aspect of the airport. We even arranged for the Singapore Air Force to assign a Huey for aerial shoots. That’s one of the perks having a client like the CAAS. One word from them and a helo came.

Midway into the assignment, Peter said “Mike, we’re going to a special place tomorrow morning”. I said to myself, “What can be so special. Our security passes gave us access to almost anywhere in the airport. From transit to the tarmac. Even the airport security couldn’t believe their eyes when they checked our passes. We had higher clearance than them.”

When the morning came, we were driven to a location outside of the airport perimeter. It was a protected installation and the main building had a huge, red radar on top. That was the first time I came to know about LORADS. It was Singapore’s first Long Range Radar and Display System.

As we entered the cavernous operational room, I couldn’t help but noticed that it was very quiet, saved for some murmurs. There was a long row of radar displays that spanned from one end of the room to the other. Actually, there were two rows, back to back. The back row were manned by civilians while the one I was tasked with shooting was manned by the military.

I didn’t ask any questions. Obviously this is a need to know basis only. It doesn’t take a genius to deduce that the civilian side tracks civil aviation whereas the military side is more interested in hostile activities.

Having decided on the best angle, I duly set up my faithful Gitzo tripod and mounted my Hasselblad ELM. I couldn’t use my 40mm Distagon because of all things, it was too wide. My 50mm Distagon was just right. I thought of using flash lighting but that would have killed the ambiance. I bit the bullet and went with existing lights. The displays were bright enough. Shooting with available lights also meant the air traffic controllers would end up quite dark on film. This suited me fine because it would shift the focus to the radar displays.

I adjusted the aperture to f/11 and did a couple of polaroids. I think the shutter speed was eventually about 1/2 or 1/4 sec. Film was my trusted Kodak EPR 64. When the book was published, this image was one of the best.

Jet Fuel Depot

JET FUEL DEPOT© Michael Chua Photography
Circa 1983~84 – Changi Airport Jet Fuel Depot

There are times when the subject matter doesn’t lend itself to a spectacular image. Nonetheless, it must be shot. The Jet Fuel Depot is one such place. All jets need refueling. What most people don’t realize is where the fuel is coming from.

In Changi Airport, there’s a jet fuel depot located quite a distance outside of the airport perimeter. The jet fuel is brought in by sea and pumped from the jetty to those massive storage tanks seen above. From here, underground pipes pump the fuel to the airport jet refueling stations. Obviously, this is another protected area.

I scratched my head when I recced this location. How do I make it presentable. It was just horrible, like a scene out of the  Mad Max movie. Bleak, desolate, depressing. These were the vibes that ran through me. Not good. I thought of shooting it with a beautiful sunset but that would have been too romantic for storage tanks. I decided on a more industrial look but I needed to ensure that the final image doesn’t project my misgivings.

I still remember clearly the day of the shoot. It was around noon. Rarely do I shoot outdoors at this time of the day. I dislike hard lighting. But for this shot, I was willing to make an exception. The sun was directly overhead, blazingly hot and bright like a spot light. This accentuated all the metals in the location, especially the silver painted metal pipes. I composed for form, playing on the shapes of the pipes and the storage tanks. On top of that, I used minimal colors, primarily the silver on the pipes and storage tanks, the brown in the barren ground and the blue in the sky. This will force the viewer to focus on the main subject, the pipes and the storage tanks.

For this image, I had to use my Nikkor 28mm f/4 Perspective Control lens. This was the only lens that will preserve the verticals. Without it, the storage tanks will tilt outwards or inwards the minute my lens is not horizontal. To reduce the glare from the pipes, I screwed on a polarizing filter. That eliminated the harsh reflections, deepened the blue in the sky and made the clouds popped out. I under-exposed the shot by 1/2 stop to saturate the colors. Film was Kodak EPR 64.

I think not many people understood my message in the image. Look at the pipe on the left. It is prominent. It is big when compared to the storage tanks in the back. It goes into the ground and more than that, there’s a black arrow indicating the fuel is directed underground. This is my way of saying without using words, “This is how the fuel is transported to the airport – under the ground”.

I won’t win prizes for this shot but it got the job done. Showed what was needed without looking ghastly.

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