80-year-old photographer holds first solo exhibition

Teochew market in Clarke Quay, taken between 1960 and 1965 by Mr Lui Hock Seng. Mr Lui Hock Seng, 80, will hold his first photography exhibition, curated by Objectifs manager Ryan Chua (both left), 39, who is a fan of his work.
Mr Lui Hock Seng, 80, will hold his first photography exhibition, curated by Objectifs manager Ryan Chua (both above), 39, who is a fan of his work.PHOTO: COURTESY OF LUI HOCK SENG ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Teochew market in Clarke Quay, taken between 1960 and 1965 by Mr Lui Hock Seng. Mr Lui Hock Seng, 80, will hold his first photography exhibition, curated by Objectifs manager Ryan Chua (both left), 39, who is a fan of his work.
Teochew market in Clarke Quay, taken between 1960 and 1965 by Mr Lui Hock Seng.PHOTO: COURTESY OF LUI HOCK SENG ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

With the help of admirers of his black and white photos, amateur photographer Lui Hock Seng will show his work at Objectifs

At the age of 80, Mr Lui Hock Seng, an amateur photographer who works as a cleaner, is holding his first photography exhibition.

Titled Passing Time, it comprises black and white photographs of Singapore that he took in the 1960s and 1970s.

The solo exhibition will be held at Objectifs, a centre for photography and film, from Feb 8 to March 11 next year.

Mr Lui, who works as a cleaner at Singapore Press Holdings, which publishes The Straits Times, picked up photography as a teenager in the 1950s.

Later, he was a member of the South-east Asia Photographic Society for a few years, where he honed his photography skills.

More than 50 years ago, he started taking photos of a Singapore that has now disappeared, including images of kampung life and of Chinatown's snake-meat vendors and letter-writers for the illiterate.

Mr Lui, who is married and a father of three sons, has won prizes in several photography competitions over the years.

  • BOOK IT / PASSING TIME EXHIBITION AND ARTIST TALK

  • WHERE: Objectifs, Lower Gallery, 155 Middle Road

    WHEN: Feb 8 to March 11. A talk and dialogue session with Mr Lui, who will be speaking in Mandarin, with an English translator, will be held on Feb 10, from 3.30 to 4.30pm

    INFO: Free admission for the talk, register at passingtime.peatix.com

He spent decades working as a mechanic, during which he sometimes worked part-time as a photographer at weddings and funerals.

He says in Mandarin: " I'm very happy that Objectifs is helping me as I have never had an exhibition of my work before. It was always too expensive to have one."

The upcoming exhibition came about largely through the kindness of two strangers, who were separately impressed by Mr Lui's artistry.

In September last year, The Straits Times published an article profiling Mr Lui and his work.

Mr Nicolas Genty, an engineer in the petrochemical industry, says he was immediately struck by a photograph of a Teochew market in Clarke Quay that had been taken by Mr Lui in the early 1960s, which accompanied the article.

"I fell in love with the picture and with the story. I felt Mr Lui had an extraordinary eye from the light, the composition and the historical value of the photo," says Mr Genty, 57, over the telephone from the Netherlands, where he is now based after moving from Singapore earlier this year.

The Frenchman is an enthusiastic amateur photographer himself and has held exhibitions of his work in the United States, where he lived for several years. He recently published a book of his black and white photos.

Mr Genty contacted Mr Lui after reading about him and bought a print of his Teochew Market at Clarke Quay in March - the first piece of work Mr Lui has sold.

Mr Genty came to learn more about Mr Lui's work and compares him to French photography pioneers of the 20th century, such as black-and-white master Henri Cartier-Bresson.

He e-mailed a couple of organisations that dealt with photography, including Objectifs, because he felt he "needed to help" Mr Lui preserve his body of work.

Objectifs' manager Mr Ryan Chua, 39, says he was already interested in Mr Lui's work after reading the article in The Straits Times.

He was spurred to act when he received Mr Genty's e-mail in March while he was on sabbatical in Europe. Mr Lui's exhibition is the first that Mr Chua has curated.

Mr Chua says there are comparatively few images of Singapore from the 1960s and 1970s of as high a standard as Mr Lui's work.

Comparing Mr Lui to a longunacknowledged American talent, Mr Chua says: "He's like the Vivian Maier of Singapore."

Maier worked for about 40 years as a nanny, while pursuing her hobby of street photography. Her work was discovered only after she died in 2009.

Mr Lui handed over about 500 images to Mr Chua and his team, taking more than three months to locate them. Some of the negatives, which had been stored in paper boxes at his home, had accumulated dust and dirt that needed to be removed.

Mr Chua says it was a "tough process" narrowing down the "many strong images" to about 40 for the exhibition.

He adds: "I'm inspired by him and I want to inspire others through this exhibition as well. I hope to empower Mr Lui and inspire other senior citizens to continue to lead fulfilling lives."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 19, 2017, with the headline '80 and holding a solo photo exhibition'. Print Edition | Subscribe