sim chi yin

Photo: Sim Chi Yin was photographed for this story in Beijing, China, by The New York Times video journalist Jonah M. Kessel

She was named Her World’s Young Woman Achiever in 2014 and on May 3, 2018,  Singaporean documentary photographer Sim Chi Yin was presented with the the seventh annual Getty Images and Chris Hondros Fund Award.

The 39-year-old is currently based in Beijing as a freelance photographer, and had many of her works featured in established publications such as Times, National Geographic and The New Yorker. 

The award, established in 2012, is named in memory of Mr Hondros, a war photojournalist who was killed in 2011 in Libya along with photographer and film-maker Tim Hetherington.

Ms Sim, 39, was thrilled at the news of her win, which comes with US$20,000 (S$26,676) in prize money to help her further her projects. She was given the award at a ceremony held in New York on Thursday (May 3).

In an e-mail interview with The Straits Times, she said: “Funding is always a problem, not just for the projects but also, more broadly, working and living as an independent artist and researcher.




“It’s true for everyone who doesn’t do much commercial work. The search for grants and support takes up much of one’s time, and rejection abounds.”

Ms Sim, a former Straits Times foreign correspondent, has had her skills and work recognised before.


A post shared by Sim Chiyin (@chiyin_sim) on

Last year, she was commissioned to showcase the Nobel Peace Prize winner, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons – making her the first Singaporean Nobel Peace Prize photographer.

At the height of her photography career, she suffered a serious thumb injury in 2015 that required two surgeries and two years of physiotherapy. She was injured when North Korean migrant women attacked her while she was on assignment.

The injury gave her cause to reassess her career and she opted to focus more on her own long-term projects than on assignments for news organisations.

the rat tribe

Photo: Sim Chi Yin

Ms Sim’s work captures different facets of society – from the “rat tribe” of Beijing, residents of the capital city of China who dwell in apartments underground, to Indonesian workers extracting tin off the Sumatra coast.

The previous six winners of the award are photojournalists covering news such as war and conflict internationally.

Ms Sim said: “I’m grateful that (the fund) awarded it this year to work that is super slow-burn, un-iconic and far from the frontlines – my work is dead unsexy, in the age of fast-food journalism and iconic photography.”


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Chris Hondros Fund Board president Christina Piaia cited Ms Sim’s “keen sense and knowledge about the geographic locations, cultures, and subjects she covers” as reasons for her win. She added that Ms Sim’s work is akin to that of Mr Hondros’.

Ms Sim is currently working on a book on British Malaya and three upcoming exhibitions in Italy, the Netherlands and Singapore.

This article was originally published in The Straits Times.