1961: "A friend tipped me off about the scenic Clarke Quay's Teochew market. I went there in the morning and was rewarded with a catch."
It was in the late-1950s, before Singapore became independent. Those were also the days when the camera was not lightweight, when it was as heavy as a brick – and more, if you count the extra lens, the spare films, the batteries and flashlight. Yet Lui Hock Seng lugged his camera to work every morning, cycling from Geylang to River Valley where he was a storekeeper at Fraser and Neave, then largely a soft-drink producer.
The journey took him about an hour – and Mr Lui had to report for work by 8am. So if he had left home around 7am, he would have made it in good time. But Mr Lui started out at 6am, which would give him an hour to stop by at Merdeka Bridge, then the link between the city centre and East Coast via Nicoll Highway. Here, he would pull out his camera to shoot pictures of the boats moored nearby on the water and the fishing nets hung up to dry on the land.
Mr Lui Hock Seng in 1966 (left), and 2016.
"I always love to take pictures from the seaside, it's very nice" says Mr Lui, now a 79-year-old cleaner at Singapore Press Holdings. Mr Lui picked up photography in 1957, after "watching people taking photos". He taught himself and, after joining a photographic club, also learnt from others the skill and art of photography.
It was a hobby, though an expensive one for Mr Lui. In fact, he could not afford a camera and it was his brother who bought him one, a Rolleiflex, a high-end German camera which cost S$300 – a princely sum in those days. Also, unlike the digital cameras of today, films were needed for the mechanical cameras of old. And they were not cheap.
Still, Mr Lui was good enough to take part in photo competitions and won quite a few. The prize money, from several hundred to a thousand dollars, came in handy to pay for the films and photographic equipment. Mr Lui says having a good pair of eyes is the most important thing in taking good pictures. "You must know how to see and catch the action (of your subject)."
Unfortunately, he could only focus with his left eye because the right one was damaged in an accident. And it was this that stopped him from making a career out of his hobby. But Mr Lui was then still in demand as a photographer at weddings, dinners and even funerals. He gladly took on the role, not just for the money but also to continue to hone his skills in photography.
Sadly, those were the days. The advent of digital photography and videos have rendered mechanical cameras virtually obsolete. Mr Lui, who now has to support a handicapped son and a wife in an old folks' home, says it's too expensive for him to make the switch to digital cameras.
That doesn't mean the man has hung up his old camera. He still takes it out on weekends to shoot at his favourite place – the seaside.
More mesmerising photos by Mr Lui Hock Seng
1965: This interesting composition was captured during a visit to the old Tanah Merah village.
Who can resist these charming kids playing near the Redhill brick factory?
70s: " I opened the door one morning to investigate the commotion going on below my Toa Payoh HDB block – a crowd had gathered to watch an outdoor silat performance."
1964: "A common scene over Merdeka bridge, captured on my way to work."
60s-70s: On Kusu island, rows of hawkers selling drinks under parasols.
Written by Chuang Peck Ming for The Business Times.