On show: Rare images of 1960s S'pore shot by ex-US diplomat

SINGAPORE - An old black-and-white photo shows workers hoisting bales of rubber onto a lorry alongside the Singapore River, with the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall's clock tower as the backdrop.

In another shot, along the same riverine, new flats stick out in the horizon juxtaposed against derelict-looking shophouses.

These rare 1960s images, taken by the late American diplomat George Porter, captured the sea of change sweeping through the newly independent country.

Mr Porter, who was posted to Singapore between 1965 and 1970, documented the city through photographs on his Nikon F camera. His work is now on display at an exhibition called An American In Singapore 1965-1970 at the Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore.

Mr Porter was a self-trained photography enthusiast said his son Aaron, 60, who was in Singapore with his sister Elise, 63, for the exhibition.

The younger Mr Porter, who is a public affairs director, said: "Dad would take photos during lunch hours. He took his camera everywhere." The siblings described their trip here as a memorial to him.

Among the photos are shots of glassy-eyed students in a classroom, a salesgirl staring into space in a shoe shop and a betel nut seller waiting for his next customer.

National Archives of Singapore director Eric Chin met Ms Porter when she visited Singapore in August last year, and encouraged her to produce a book of her father's photos.The project took about a year to complete and involved Ms Porter sitting down with her father over several weeks to pick out 70 photos from his collection, which numbers in the thousands.

The book, titled Singapore 60s: An Age Of Discovery, was Mr Porter's last project before he died at age 96 in August at home in Maryland, in the United States.

The siblings recalled their father developing photos in a darkroom at their Leedon Park home.

Mr Porter said: "It was an exciting time to be in Singapore. Of all the countries our dad was posted to, Singapore was the most dynamic as it was taking its first steps towards independence."

Mr Chin described the photographs as an important addition to the National Archives because they were very well taken.

"For example, the riverine photographs in this collection are among the very best we have seen in terms of the technique shown and composition," he said.

The exhibition and book are a joint effort between the US Embassy of Singapore, the Lasalle College of the Arts and the National Archives of Singapore to celebrate SG50 and the 50th anniversary of bilateral ties between the United States and Singapore.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2015, with the headline 'On show: Rare images of 1960s S'pore shot by ex-US diplomat'. Print Edition | Subscribe