Free professional portraits: Seniors give it a shot

As her neighbours shuffled past the void deck at Block 90 Pipit Road on a humid Saturday morning on April 3, Madam Ong Poh Lian announced: "Lai ah lai (come over). Have your portrait taken for free and take the free photo home with you."

Driven by curiosity, senior citizens gathered around Madam Ong, a resident in her 60s, and scrutinised professionally framed portraits of familiar faces in their neighbourhood.

The One Portrait initiative is a free photo session for seniors aged above 65. The community outreach project by Captured - a Singapore-based collective of photographers doing corporate and editorial work - provides dignified photographic portraits to the elderly, especially those living below or close to the poverty line.

Captured said the objective is to give the seniors a framed portrait and, in the process, affirm the basic human dignity to which every person is rightfully entitled.


Mr Abdul Abbas Abdul, 68, posing with the finished product outside his home, is wearing a Native American feather headdress – his favourite among his collection of headdresses. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO


Madam Ong Poh Lian, who is in her 60s and urged her neighbours to tap the free photography session at the void deck of Block 90 Pipit Road, walks the talk, sitting for her own portrait shot taken by photographer Sean Lee. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO


The seniors’ photos are selected by the photographers and printed on A4-sized archival paper before being framed. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

The collective, which is funding every aspect of the project, was founded by former Straits Times photojournalist Edwin Koo in 2012.

"We called it One Portrait because we wanted to create that one portrait that represents the one gift that photography can give to our recipients," he said.

He added that some of the seniors quipped that the photo taken of them is the "one portrait that would end up at the head of the hearse on my final day".


Madam Ang Poh Geok, 65, who is wheelchair-bound, is all smiles as she holds up her portrait. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO


Madam Aisah Ab Kadir, 79, intends to display her portrait at her sister’s home. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO


Mr Wong Fook Keong, 68, is happy to replicate the pose as he has a photo taken with his portrait. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

The sessions are usually held once a month on Saturday mornings at Housing Board void decks.

The team of about five photographers set up a mobile studio using a plain textured backdrop lit by professional studio lighting.


Makeup artists Charmaine Tok (far left) and Joanne Low apply their skills to prepare two seniors for their portrait shoots. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO


Within 15 minutes, a portable mobile studio, complete with a textured backdrop, can be set up for the portrait-taking session at the void deck. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO


Madam Zaitun, who did not want to give her full name, uses a battery-operated fan to cool herself as Ms Low, the makeup artist, helps her look her best. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Before the shoot, the senior citizen is groomed for free by a professional make-up artist, to make sure the person looks his or her best. Each shoot takes 15 to 20 minutes, and the whole session can take about three hours.

Each senior's best photo is selected by the photographer and printed on A4-sized archival paper. The framed photo, signed by the photographer, is presented to the person about a month after the session.

The photographers have covered Jalan Kukoh and Pipit Road, and conducted six sessions, since Sept 20 last year. In total, they have photographed 113 seniors.

More information can be found at this website.


Mr Suppiah Murugan, who happened to come across the makeshift studio while on his way to run some errands, gamely poses for his portrait. Such photography sessions are usually held once a month on Saturday mornings at HDB void decks. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO


Photographers (from left) Tan Heng Ning, Caroline Chia and Desmond Lui coax their shy subjects into loosening up during the photo session. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO