Amateur photographer who had first exhibition at age 81 is struck by cancer

Mr Lui Hock Seng, who turns 82 in February, told The Straits Times that he is suffering from lymphoma, and has undergone four rounds of chemotherapy.
Mr Lui Hock Seng, who turns 82 in February, told The Straits Times that he is suffering from lymphoma, and has undergone four rounds of chemotherapy.ST PHOTO: WANG HUI FEN

SINGAPORE - A cleaner and amateur photographer, who held his first solo exhibition at the age of 81, is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.

Mr Lui Hock Seng, who turns 82 in February, told The Straits Times on Thursday (Jan 3) that he is suffering from lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system.

He has undergone four rounds of chemotherapy and is scheduled to have two more rounds of the treatment.

He has stopped working as a cleaner at Singapore Press Holdings, the parent company of The Straits Times.

"I don't see many people because my immune system is poor," he said in Mandarin during the phone interview.

Mr Lui had his first solo photo exhibition early last year at Objectifs, a centre for photography and film. Titled Passing Time, it showcased black and white photographs of Singapore that he took in the 1960s and 1970s.

His first photo book, which has the same title, was published shortly after by Objectifs. It contained photographs from the exhibition, as well as some pictures that had not been released earlier.

In August last year, Mr Lui experienced symptoms such as breathlessness and occasional bleeding from the nose, but a doctor he consulted did not find anything wrong.

About a month later, he went to the emergency department of a hospital after experiencing a bout of pain. It was found that a blood clot near his brain had been pressing on his eye, causing symptoms like the bleeding. He was diagnosed with lymphoma.


Mr Lui is married with three sons. His wife, who is 81, is wheelchair-bound and resides in an old folks' home.

He lives in a four-room HDB flat in Bishan with a son in his 50s, whose mobility is impaired because of a cycling accident.

Another son, aged 44, has returned to Singapore to help care for Mr Lui, after working in Thailand for about eight years in the oil and gas industry.

"I cannot afford a helper. I'm happy that one of my sons has returned from overseas to care for me."

Mr Lui, a former mechanic, became interested in photography as a teenager in the late 1950s. In an interview with The Straits Times in 2016, he said he could not afford a camera until his eldest brother bought him a German-made Rolleiflex more than 50 years ago.

One of his favourite spots to take photos during the 1960s and 1970s was Merdeka Bridge, which spans the Kallang Basin.

His works include images of a Singapore that has now vanished, such as scenes of kampung life and Chinatown's snake meat vendors. He has won prizes in several photography competitions over the years.

He regularly took to the streets in search of interesting images. In 2015, he was among the thousands lining the streets to snap photos of former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's funeral procession.

In April last year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong shared a BBC video of Mr Lui in a Facebook post, describing him 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 at the time.

These days, Mr Lui has little inclination for photography as the cancer has left him weakened.

"Now I look like a 120-year-old," he said. "It came as a big shock. I want to be healthy again."