In 2010, Sim Chi Yin gave up a plum position as a foreign correspondent for The Straits Times in Singapore to pursue photography. It was the career she always wanted, she says. “I joked that photography was my neglected mistress.” At the time, she had been shooting photographs to illustrate the stories she was reporting, frequently about the struggles of migrant laborers in Asia. “I kind of ran out of words to convince people that these were human beings and should be treated right … I decided to stop writing about them and go photograph them, so it could somehow help people understand better,” she explains.
Sim began using her vacations to work on a self-assigned project about Indonesian migrant workers. By then she had befriended Susan Meiselas, who had sought Sim’s expertise about foreign workers in Singapore. Meiselas cautioned Sim about quitting her job for the uncertainty of a photography career, but was also one of several mentors (along with Fred Ritchin, Marcus Bleasdale and others) who recognized her talent and helped her develop it. She won a Magnum Foundation Fellowship in 2010, which helped her complete her widely published “Rat Tribe” project, about the low-wage workers from rural areas of China living in Beijing’s dank basements. Sim was admitted to the VII Mentor Program in 2011.