China's Rat Tribe / April 2012 / picture by Sim Chi Yin / VIIWatching football on television alone is how Zhang Jun, 24, an animal beautician or pet groomer, spends many weekends. He had studied International Trade and his parents had hoped he would become a successful entrepreneur. But he just loves being with animals all day, he says, shampooing and massaging cats and dogs, and dyeing their hair and cutting their nails. He says: “Those who live down here should not complain. But my mother complains all the time on the phone. She keeps asking ‘do you still live down there?’ “ Part of my series on migrant workers living in basements in Beijing who are dubbed the "rat tribe". It is the only type of housing they can afford in the centre of the Chinese capital where they are the backbone of the service industry./
Watching football on television alone is how Zhang Jun, 24, an animal beautician or pet groomer, spends many weekends.Sim Chi Yin / VII
China's Rat Tribe / April 2012 / picture by Sim Chi Yin / VIIWatching football on television alone is how Zhang Jun, 24, an animal beautician or pet groomer, spends many weekends. He had studied International Trade and his parents had hoped he would become a successful entrepreneur. But he just loves being with animals all day, he says, shampooing and massaging cats and dogs, and dyeing their hair and cutting their nails. He says: “Those who live down here should not complain. But my mother complains all the time on the phone. She keeps asking ‘do you still live down there?’ “ Part of my series on migrant workers living in basements in Beijing who are dubbed the "rat tribe". It is the only type of housing they can afford in the centre of the Chinese capital where they are the backbone of the service industry./
China/personal project/[Sub/Urban]/on-going/ March 2014/Urbanisation/Guangzhou/picture by Sim Chi Yin / VII Stuck in a moment: In the middle of what is Guangzhou's new Central Business District, this one-time fishing village now lies in a half-demolished state and legal limbo as villagers challenge the government in court for more compensation for their land. Meanwhile, the new business district, with its posh hotels and plush office blocks has arisen all around the urban village which has now largely become cheap housing for migrant workers and remaining residents. All over China, people are being moved off the land and up into apartment blocks, and rural land turned into new towns, as China is swept by a government-engineered massive urbanisation push -- changing landscapes, livelihoods and lifestyles in a single generation. The past year was a watershed in the world’s most populous country: for the first time, there are more Chinese living in urban areas than rural ones.
China/personal project/[Sub/Urban]/on-going/ March 2014/Urbanisation/Beijing/picture by Sim Chi Yin / VII Transition: The end of the line. A transverstite performs at a wedding ceremony in a neighbourhood on the fringe of Beijing, in an area that was once rural and has now just become urban. She is the modern face of a local traditional village folk performance troupe otherwise made up of local middleaged men doing a centuries-old lion dance. Part of my on-going project exploring the transition from rural to urban in China. /
Watching football on television alone is how Zhang Jun, 24, an animal beautician or pet groomer, spends many weekends.
Sim Chi Yin / VII
1 of 3

Sim Chi Yin Joins VII Photo as an Interim Member

Jul 09, 2014

In 2010, Sim Chi Yin threw away the “cushy, secure life” that comes with the job of staff foreign correspondent for the Straits Times, Singapore’s popular English-language daily, to become a freelance photographer. “I wanted to learn to swim or sink on my own,” she tells TIME.

Four years later, Sim has established herself as a photojournalist, working regularly on assignment for the New York Times. “In 2010, I got a Magnum Foundation fellowship, which allowed me to study with photographer Susan Meiselas and [academic] Fred Ritchin,” she says. “This prepared me for my major transition from text journalism to freelance photography.”

Now, after spending three years in VII Photo’s Mentor Program, with Marcus Bleasdale overseeing her work, Sim has been offered a position of interim member at the agency. “It’s a great honor to be offered a spot in a collective with some of the leading documentary photographers in the field,” she says. “Since I quit my writing job, I've been thrown into assignment photographic work rather quickly. I now would very much like to do more thoughtful, meaningful projects and group projects on global issues.”

For the next couple of years, Sim will pay VII Photo’s monthly membership fees and participate in the agency’s internal meetings, but she won’t hold voting rights. In 2016, she will be able to apply for full membership.

"Agencies aren’t really about getting assignments and resales these days,” she notes. “There’s of course some brand recognition that comes with being associated with VII, especially in the West, but for me it really comes down to what I can do within this group—banding together under the broad common interests of doing socially meaningful storytelling.”

Sim also hopes she’ll be able to build VII Photo’s profile in China and across Asia. “China is an important country, and I hope to be able to find partnerships in this part of the world [to create links] with the Western-centered photography industry,” she tells TIME. “I believe we can use visual storytelling and photography, both universal languages, to enhance our bonds and build understanding.”

In the meantime, Sim is finishing her long-term project, "Dying to Breathe," a print and multimedia body of work on Chinese gold miners who suffer from silicosis. “I’m currently drafting a community engagement campaign for that project, using photographs as a base to craft a public health education plan.”

Her nine years as a print journalist has deeply influenced that work, she says. “In a place like China, sometimes reporting calls for quick judgment and a whole lot of strategizing—how to get what you need without getting caught, without getting the subject into trouble, for instance.” As a writer, she’s learned to find stories, research them and hone the news angle—precious skills for a photographer on assignment.

"When I first started filing pictures to VII, the staff remarked that all my captions were long and felt like mini stories. I think there are a lot of great images and very well informed projects. But I think there are also images that can [benefit from] more research and rigor. I’d like to see more photographers writing about their work, the craft and their subjects. It’s always interesting to read, especially since photographers [usually] spend more time with their subjects than writers do. We should be hearing their voices.”

Sim Chi Yin is a photographer based in Beijing, China. She is represented by VII Photo.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent.

All products and services featured are based solely on editorial selection. TIME may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website.