Visiting Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam launches photo exhibition capturing life in the city in the 1950s

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Senior Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth Sim Ann look at exhibits at the Asian Civilisations Museum on Aug 2, 2017.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Senior Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth Sim Ann look at exhibits at the Asian Civilisations Museum on Aug 2, 2017.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Senior Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth Sim Ann look at exhibits at the Asian Civilisations Museum on Aug 2, 2017.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Senior Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth Sim Ann look at exhibits at the Asian Civilisations Museum on Aug 2, 2017.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
The 50 vintage photos, captured by the Singapore-born immigrant self-taught photographer Lee Fook Chee, offer rare and valuable images of Hong Kong in the 1950s.
The 50 vintage photos, captured by the Singapore-born immigrant self-taught photographer Lee Fook Chee, offer rare and valuable images of Hong Kong in the 1950s.PHOTO: ESTATE OF LEE FOOK CHEE

SINGAPORE - Black and white images documenting life in Hong Kong in the 1950s were the highlight of a photo exhibition launched on Wednesday (Aug 2) by visiting Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

Mrs Lam, 60, is in Singapore for a two-day visit starting Wednesday. This is her first official overseas trip since taking office on July 1. She also toured the Asian Civilisations Museum and the National Gallery of Singapore on Wednesday. 

The opening ceremony was attended by Senior Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth Sim Ann and the Chinese ambassador to Singapore Chen Xiaodong.

The exhibition was presented by the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Singapore (HKETO ) and the Photographic Heritage Foundation to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong's return to China.

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The 50 vintage photos, captured by the Singapore-born immigrant self-taught photographer Lee Fook Chee, offered rare and valuable images of Hong Kong in the 1950s.

The pictures on display at The Arts House from Aug 4 to Sept 3 are part of a collection of 600 pictures taken by him after he settled down in Hong Kong in the 1950s. They are mostly taken between 1954 and 1960.

"Events such as this exhibition also serve to nurture and preserve our collective memories. Born in Singapore and finding his creative calling in Hong Kong, Mr Lee, through his life and artwork, echoes the strong bonds between the people of Singapore and Hong Kong," Mrs Lam said at the launch of the exhibition.

"His photos from the 1950s Hong Kong convey the can-do spirit of people of all backgrounds who helped to build our city: the values of hard work, creativity and determination that we all share,"  said Mrs Lam, who is Hong Kong's first female Chief Executive.

Born in Singapore in 1927, Mr Lee was given away at birth because his parents were too poor. He became a seaman and arrived in Hong Kong at at the age of 20. He taught himself photography and started taking pictures of the city, which was a British colony at that time.

Mr Lee, in his later years,  sold copies of his pictures to tourists to make ends meet. In 2010, a chance encounter at The Peak with Mr Edward Stokes, the founder of the Photographic Heritage Foundation, led to the discovery of Mr Lee's collection of vintage snapshots.

Mr Stokes, himself a renowned photographer, bought small laminated photos from Mr Lee.

His foundation later worked with Mr Lee to digitise the photos to preserve them.

In 2011, the project came to the attention of Mrs Lam, who was then the secretary for development. She visited Mr Lee's home and was impressed by the photos as well as by Mr Lee's "can-do" spirit.

" I've had the privilege of meeting the late Mr Lee and reviewing the well-preserved negatives of his high-quality photos. His modesty and positive attitude have left a strong impression on me," said Mrs Lam on Wednesday.

 

A South China Morning Post report said she introduced Mr Stokes and Lee to billionaire Charles Yeung, who funded a book which tells Mr Lee's story in between 140 of his photographs. The book was published in 2015, three years after Mr Lee's passing.

Mr Stokes said Mr Lee's photos were on display in a previous show in Hong Kong in conjunction with the book launch, but the exhibition in The Arts House is on a bigger scale.

Mr Stokes told The Straits Times his foundation and the HKETO decided to showcase Mr Lee's images because the photographer was born in Singapore and his photographs give a vivid impression of Hong Kong in the 1950s.

"His life story is also compelling: a man who faced great life adversity, yet took his own strong path through life -and left a legacy," said Mr Stokes.

Mr Lee's niece Iris Lee,39, was among the family members who attended the opening ceremony on Wednesday.

She told The Straits Times the family is very proud and happy that her late uncle's work is on public display on Singapore's soil.

Holding back tears, she said: "We are very touched but also very sad because he had no chance to see this. We are still very happy for him because I believe this is what he wanted," she added.