ST bags photography award at top Asian competition

Three weeks before his wedding last year, Straits Times photographer Desmond Lim moved into a halfway house.

But Mr Lim, 31, was not at The Hiding Place as a delinquent or recovering drug addict.

He had got wind that the building at Jalan Kayu - a halfway house for 22 years - was going to make way for a road expansion and wanted to capture its daily life and final days there.

Last night, the package saw him finish in second place with an "honourable mention" in the annual Society of Publishers in Asia (Sopa) award for Excellence in Feature Photography at a ceremony in Hong Kong.

Sopa gives out the awards to honour journalistic excellence in publications in Asia. This year it received more than 650 entries for 17 award categories.

At first, Mr Lim was nervous about his stay. "These are people with a past and I was worried they would be hostile or guarded," he said. "It was a process of just feeling my way around."

He spent time talking to residents, playing football with them, sharing meals, and sleeping in the same dormitories. Mr Lim said his wife-to-be, a freelance writer, "was cool about it".

His package included shots of staff and residents bidding a tearful farewell to the site, a resident tending to birds and others working out or cleaning. In the citation, Straits Times picture editor Stephanie Yeow called the resulting package "an evocative and intimate portrait of the last days of a very special place". Yesterday, Ms Yeow said: "Even though he was a runner-up tonight, he's still No.1 in my book."

Today, The Hiding Place is based at a farm in Lim Chu Kang.

The Straits Times' executive infographics journalist Lim Yong and executive artist Quek Hong Shin were also finalists in the Excellence in Information Graphics category for their work "Mirroring Nature" about technologies that mimic biology.

Straits Times executive artist Manny Francisco was a finalist for his cartoon "China plays its Asean game", depicting the Asean logo as a piano keyboard.

At The New Paper, Kelvin Chng was first runner-up for Excellence in News Photography, for his image of the LionsXII football team huddled in a dugout as Sarawak fans hurled abuse after a match.

Its investigative reporter Zaihan Mohamed Yusof was a finalist for Journalist of the Year for his series of stories on a global football match-fixing ring with roots in Singapore, while Judith Tan was a finalist for the Scoop Award for breaking the news about Speaker of Parliament Michael Palmer's extramarital affair which led to his resignation.

caiwj@sph.com.sg