> Even though the whole world is burning

Young Love

Sean Lee, Singapore

When I was 17 years old and a student, the girl sitting beside me in class passed away after a short struggle with an illness. Her name was Esther. She had stopped school for a while, but because no one knew the seriousness of her condition, we all thought it was a matter of time before she came back. When she passed away, we did not have the chance to say goodbye.

Today, I am a part time teacher of photography in a new media school. Looking at my students made me think about the days of my youth. I thought about the friends that I used to hang out with, the times I had fallen in love, and all the nights we spent partying. But it also made me think about Esther who died young and did not have the chance to grow up.

I photographed the students in pairs. They were either best friends or lovers. I wanted both to photograph some essence of them as individuals as well as highlight their relationship with each other.

I often tell my students that photography teaches us above all things that our time here is brief. Perhaps this work is a way for me to say a proper goodbye to my youth, and to my friend, Esther.


Sean Lee was born in 1985 and grew up in Singapore. His first body of work was Shauna, made between 2007 and 2009. This work was nominated for the Prix Découverte on the 40th anniversary of Arles Photography Festival. Since then, Sean has gone on to make other stories.

His most recent work, Two People, received the 2011 ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu award. Much of Sean’s work can be found in the collection of the Singapore Art Museum, as well as in the Sandor Family Collection.

Sean’s first book, Shauna, was released in September 2014. It was collected by the MoMA Library