81-year-old amateur photographer to launch photo book, receives nod from PM Lee Hsien Loong

Photographer Lui Hock Seng's book, Passing Time, features a collection of 80 black and white photographs taken from the 1960s to 1970s.
Photographer Lui Hock Seng's book, Passing Time, features a collection of 80 black and white photographs taken from the 1960s to 1970s. PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG, OBJECTIFS.COM

SINGAPORE - At 81, self-taught photographer Lui Hock Seng will be releasing his first photo book capturing scenes of Singapore from the days gone by.

The collection of 80 black and white photographs taken from the 1960s to 1970s will be compiled in his book, Passing Time.

It includes images from his recently held exhibition of the same name, as well as those that have not been released earlier.

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.

He honed his skills by taking part in photography excursions, and he was also a member of the now defunct South-east Asia Photographic Society.

His photos include images of a Singapore that has now disappeared, such as kampung life, Chinatown's snake-meat vendors and letter-writers for the illiterate.

And his passion has never waned since.

For keeping active even in his golden years, Mr Lui received a nod from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday (April 17).

Sharing a BBC video of Mr Lui in a Facebook post, PM Lee said it is clear that his passion for photography has not diminished, but grown stronger over the years.

He also described Mr Lui as "a brilliant example of active ageing".

"Mr Lui speaks with nostalgia about the places he used to photograph that no longer exist," PM Lee wrote.


"Singapore has indeed changed a great deal over the years. It will continue to change and grow, while I hope keeping a sense of its history.

"I am sure Mr Lui will find new scenes to inspire him, and continue chronicling our beautiful living city with his camera."

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

He recently held his first photo exhibition at Objectifs, a centre for photography and film, from Feb 8 to March 11.

The exhibition was made possible largely through the kindness of two strangers, who told The Straits Times in an earlier report that they were impressed by Mr Lui's artistry.

Visitors to the exhibition were already able to pre-order his book, which is expected to be ready by early May.

The hard cover book costs $45 if pre-ordered from the Objectifs website, and it will retail at $48 when published.

It includes an introduction by Objectifs curator Ryan Chua, an essay on the history of pictorial photography in Singapore by curator Charmaine Toh, and an essay about the historical and cultural significance of Mr Lui's images by writer Yu-Mei Balasingamchow.

According to details on its Facebook page, Objectifs will be hosting a book launch event on the evening of May 12, which will feature book signing and meet-and-greet sessions with Mr Lui.

Mr Lui previously told ST that he became interested in photography as a teenager in the late 1950s.

He had spent decades working as a mechanic and could not afford a camera until his eldest brother bought him a German-made Rolleiflex about 55 years ago.

"There was a lot to see in kampungs - people washing clothes, as well as cows, goats and chickens. The best light is between 7am and 9am, especially when the sunlight shows through the clouds," Mr Lui told ST in Mandarin in a 2016 report.

Other favourite spots for him in the 1960s and 70s was Merdeka Bridge, which spans the Kallang Basin.

He said he also looks for stand-out individuals in crowds. "I'm looking for the weird and wonderful," he said.