Pioneer Photographer Old Man Yip


Simply amazing photo captured with a click of the shutter on his camera to compose a perfect shot.  Awesome!

This masterpiece is the art and skills of our pioneer photographer, Yip Cheong Fun, fondly called him as “Old Man Yip”.  But of course, his nickname was used many years later as he aged.  Young Yip Cheong Fun in the photo below:

young yip cheong fun

[I would like to thank Tay Anne who posted this comment on the blog on Sep 4, 2016:

“Portrait picture of Master Yip used in Pioneer Photographer Old Man Yip write up belong to Mr Foo Tee Jun.  Kindly correct it.”

As I was hitherto unable to contact Mr Foo for acknowledgement of his photo. Thanks to Tay Anne for contacting me and to alert me on this matter.  My apologies.  This is now corrected to express my appreciation to Mr Foo Tee Jun to share this photo of Old Man Yip on this blog. Warm Regards.]

Many black and white photos caught in his lens at a nick of a moment with his sentimental feelings in the eyes of his mind.   Its a special spiritual feeling in his heart and his mind which we know is impossible for very few gifted people to explain or describe them in words.

Everywhere “Old Man Yip” left his house, his cameras and accessories were attached with him since he fell in love with photography as a young boy.  His love and passion all his lifetime.





oldmanyip8_smTime is of the essence.  That special moment as in meditation to share his emotion, his mood, his sentiments, love of beauty of nature to reflect on his photos.  He expresses in poem or paintings and soothing sentimental music without noisy color, far away from the maddening crowd.

Yip Cheong Fun (b. 1903, Hong Kong – d. 16 September 1989, Singapore), or “Old Man Yip”, was one of Singapore’s top pioneer photographers. He was the winner of more than 50 worldwide photography awards in his lifetime, identified as one of ten Honorary Outstanding Photographers of the Century (Seascapes) by the Photographic Society of New York in 1980 and awarded the Cultural Medallion for photography in 1984.

Early life

Yip started off as a mechanic in his younger days.  He became a technician and an engineering supervisor with the United Engineers in his adulthood. He resigned from the United Engineers in 1943 when he discovered the firm was manufacturing arms for the Japanese military. He then started his own engineering workshops at Kreta Ayer Road and Kallang, where he employed lathe operators, mechanics, turners and fitters to fabricate engineering machines for sale. In his later years, he worked for Tien Wah Press as an engineering supervisor.

Yip was passionate about photography, which started as a hobby to him when he was in his twenties. His first camera was a Rolleiflex, which he bought as he wanted to take photos for his family album. From then on, his love for photography grew. It led him to capture Singapore’s landscapes and scenery before the onset of urban redevelopment. He took photos of harbours, plantations and kampungs. He also travelled to neighbouring Johor by train, just so he could take photos of the scenery there every weekend. The coming of World War II disrupted Yip’s hobby. When the Japanese confiscated his camera, his grief was palpable, but as soon as the war was over, he bought a new camera and took up photography again.

Yip began sending his pictures for competitions and exhibitions in overseas salons when he was in his fifties and won many awards. However, he remained an amateur all through his life.  In his later years, Yip and his wife ran a grocery store in Chinatown.  Although he started naming his shop Yip’s Photo Service when he reached the age of seventy, the shop only acted as a collecting agency for developing and printing of photos on behalf of Rainbow Photo Service and Kodak. It was a service mainly run by Yip’s wife, Leong Lin, who also used the shop as a grocery shop.

(Source:  Nureza Ahmad at Infopedia)

Mr Yip Cheong-Fun was a remarkable Singaporean who struggled against all odds and faced formidable challenges to emerge eventually as a world famous photographer. He understood how photography can be a great medium not just to record truth and beauty, but to capture the defining moments of the changes that affect all of us in any human situation, and to interpret the dynamic interplay of the elements that constitute life and the human spirit. Oftentimes he used his pictures to tell stories and to depict the changing times and life-styles. He also understood that when creatively manipulated, photographs can present aesthetic ideas: that is, to show us beauty in common things or experiences through his lenses, or delineate the subtleties in quaint things or unusual experiences.

This Master Lensman was elected by the Photographic Society of New York as the “Honorary Outstanding Photographer of the Century” for his outstanding achievements, especially as the Seascape Specialist in the Twentieth Century. In his work over half a century, there were deliberate engagements with aesthetic forms in the way he used photography as a specialized medium for creative art.

Even if we were not present in the decades of Mr Yip’s practice, we live in that space through his lenses. And for those who lived through the early years in Singapore and other parts of the world, Mr Yip’s work provides not so much nostalgia or memory, but a new perception. In many of his images, we have been gifted with that “plenitude of the soul” we might not have known then, but that we now cherish, through the creative works of Mr Yip Cheong-Fun. Few artists in the world have left such a large body of creative works. Few artists in Singapore have been able to develop such a large collection of photographic images which form the most beautiful and important records of Singapore’s social history. Few in the world have been able to keep such a collection together over the long years and changing times and through a turbulent period of world’s history.

“Reverie is not a mind vacuum. It’s rather the gift of an hour which knows the plenitude of the soul. ”

– Gaston Bachelard
French Philosopher & poet, 1884-1962








” Teach me to live under the sun,
To learn, to work and to have fun.
Mould me like the potter’s clay,
Fill and inspire me each day.”

“Live then like the eternal sun,
Bright, warm and pure like its rays.
Light up the lives of everyone.
Love your folks and cherish them always.

Seek your true self; know your soul,
and feel the filial piety in your heart.
Then have a vision of your role and goal,
In school, home and society for a start.

By all means, enjoy life and have fun,
If it goes with caring and sharing that’s kind.
There’s fun in work for everyone –
If it does engage his passion and mind.

Be careful then how you live in joy or sorrow.
Dwell in humility and wisdom each day.
As you learn to number your days, you’ll know
That you may be the potter, not the clay.

Andrew Yip, Author, Chinatown – Different Exposures

oldmanyip5_smA rainy day – Ang Siang Hill, Chinatown, Singapore  c 1950

Yip Cheong-Fun – Portrait of the photographer

What is the true measure of greatness in an artist in modern society?  Just four words – vision, creativity, empathy and humility.  Yip Cheong-Fun’s greatness as an international icon in photography is buttressed by these four fundamental traits in his personality.


To the pantheon of great photographers belongs Yip Cheong-Fun.  Throughout his life, he shared his vision and artistry and his knowledge of photography with people from all parts of the world.  Living in an era when the world had not fully understood the potential of this powerful medium and art form, he had to convince the unconverted that photography was more than just a hobby or pastime, more than just taking snapshots for family albums that required only placing a finger to press the shutters.  Even to photographic enthusiasts, he had to convince them that photography could be a powerful medium not only to depict truth or beauty, but also to interpret the dynamic forces of life and the intricate relationships and perplexing patterns of changes in our physical and social environments.  It was and still is a futuristic vision for this art form.  During his life time, Yip had witnessed two World Wars and attendant deaths, devastation, and Man’s inhumanity to Man.  His eyes had seen countless instances of violence and human conflicts, the rise and fall of empires, Man’s conquest of space and the oceans, and political upheavals both at home and beyond.  He saw the atrocities of the Japanese Occupation, and in disgust, resigned from United Engineers during the Occupation period when he found the firm manufacturing arms for the Japanese military.  But he also saw good things too, and celebrated in joy when Singapore attained independence and nationhood.  His most famous picture “Rowing at Dawn” was created by him to depict this joy and the celebration of the dawn of a new day, new hopes, new beginning and a new life for all.

The photographer, himself, had publicly stated that he lived in awareness through these times and identified with the events of the time, including seeing on TV the first man walking on the moon.  He promptly took numerous pictures featuring moon as a theme and the rhythm of life as well as Sunrise and Sunset.

The events shaped a vision which shone through is works.  It was a vision of his life and times, ever changing, constantly challenging, sometimes menacing, perplexing or dazzling, but never completely crippling or annihilating.  To him and this shines through most of his works, there is always a rainbow or some light somehow, somewhere; there is always a higher being or higher order to give hope to those caught in the storms of life and the surging seas of change and perils.  Within his limitations, he began to map out the dynamic changes at play, starting taking snapshots of the same locations for paired comparisons over a prolonged period of time.  It was a deliberate undertaking for sure.  On 2nd January 1937, he took some pictures of the Victoria Concert Hall from the then General Post Office (now Fullerton Hotel).  He took the same scene from the same spot on 2nd January 1947.  Now one can see that this man with a vision was serious about his craft and undertaking.  Another example.  He took a few shots showing the panoramic view of Chinatown from a tall building in 1955 in January, and again he repeated the process in 1978.  This time, he submitted the two pictures to the Singapore Governments for an exhibition and was awarded a prize in April 1978.

In the words od Dr. Kevin Tan, the President of the Singapore Heritage Society, Yip carried the camera like a woman would carry a handbag – it was an indispensable part of his whole life.  He took pictures for record purposes, in as much as he did as an artistic endeavor.  His collection of thousands of prints form some of the most important and beautiful documents of the social history of Singapore, taken over the last sixty years.  In his vision, there was always an infusion of confidence and hope for the future.

It is this vision that enables the photographer as an artist to express in his unique way the feelings and perceptions of life and its manifold changes.  His photographs seem to depict the scene directly, and yet there is a multiplicity of meanings within each photograph, providing a wide range of interpretations.  Sometimes, he used the landscape as a natural force in shaping individual character.  In doing so, his landscape photographs were deliberately transformed into ethnoscapes.  It is a vision like this that brings out the true greatness of human endeavor.

Source:  A Poetic Vision – The Photography of Yip Cheong-Fun by Andrew W.K. Yip

Lucid Moments Captured In Photos


Precious moments captured through the lens and cameras in printed photos in the past may be lucid, but their memories are profound.


“When we look back into our lives we see that our life is but a collection, a collage of these moments which take the shape of images, images which lower our spirits, images which inspire, images which help us remember the people that have come along our way, touched us and silently left, images that go on to become memories and leave a lasting impression as long as we are here, as long as we are here to be.”
― Chirag Tulsiani

During the Bukit Ho Swee fire on 25 May, 1961,  there were 2 poignant photos taken by the Straits Times journalist and published in the newspaper.

bukit ho swee fire 1961m

bukit ho swee fire 1961lPhoto credit and courtesy of The Straits Times to share on this blog.

“A moment can be left inside the memory of time.”
― Munia Khan

“…and realizes how there are all these moments, moments like just this one, there are all these moments, and how everyone lives their lives in these short, all-too-short moments. There are all these moments and what’s so interesting, what makes them beautiful, is the fact that none of them last.”
― Joe Meno

 Photos of  Fan Ho


Fan Ho as the Chinese Buddhist monk, Xuanzang in the Shaw Brothers movie, “Journey to the West” in the photo below:


A few years ago I was surprised to discover that Fan Ho (surname Ho), whom I’d known only as the venerable monk in Shaw Brothers’ four-film adaptation of Journey to the West, was also a highly acclaimed photographer.

Even before he joined the Shaw studio in the early sixties, he had made a name for himself in international competitions, exhibitions, and salons. From 1958 — when he was just 17 years old — to 1965, Ho was named one of the Top Ten Photographers of the World by the Photographic Society of America.

An exhibit of his photographs is currently up at Modernbook Gallery in Palo Alto until August 2nd. I took a look a couple of weeks ago, and his work is simply stunning. Ho specializes in Hong Kong street scenes, and because the city has changed so much in the fifty-odd years since he shot them, the photos capture a world long vanished. But besides the obvious historical value of his work, Ho impresses with his mastery of light and shadow, his sensitivity to the drama of the street, his cutting social commentary, his love of the magic in everyday life, and his surprising flights into abstraction.

The nearly 150 photos on display are original prints made by Fan Ho himself during the fifties and sixties. This coming Friday, July 10th, the gallery is hosting a talk with Ho at 7pm. If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, don’t miss this chance to see him and his amazing body of work. If you don’t live nearby — and even if you do — then consider buying one of Fan Ho’s books, Hong Kong Yesterday and The Living Theatre. Both are handsomely designed and printed (the superb duotone printing really makes the photos come alive).

(Source: duriandave )



Fan Ho shared his memories and experiences of his masterpieces over the decades for us to learn and enjoy.











The other side of theater







Her Study, 1963 reminds me of time I spent in the early 1970’s living in a workers’ hostel next to the Whampoa dockyard in Hung Hom, Kowloon, Hong Kong. On the ground floor men would congregate in the tiny room with the blaring TV to watch and chat. Nightly, amid the din of the room, would sit a 5 year old girl – the daughter of one of the men who helped run the hostle and lived there – who would shut out all the multiple distractions, studied, learned, and practiced writing her Chinese characters. Her quiet determination and energy filled all the men with respect and pride for her. But she was not alone in such efforts. Next to the hostle was one of the oldest and foulest public housing estates in the then British Colony, and there one could see the scene of a child choosing to rigorously study amid the cacophony replicated again and again. Fan Ho captured this beautifully. 2014-08-31_1318012014-08-31_131952“A Day is Done” – one can almost feel the tiredness of the individual, absorb the softness of both the lingering daylight and the shadows. Overall almost a sadness that the day is ending…superb.


According to Fan Ho,  his photos were not planned or designed his subjects intuitively to capture the memories of the moment at any time, place or event.  The above photo was the only one he did deliberately and the lady model was his cousin.


Comments on Fan Ho’s photography fans

Simply amazing work. Great compositions and use of light.
I can but aspire to achieve anything half as good as these.

Brilliant photos. Taken back when you had to
take time and make an effort to compose a perfect shot.

All superb pictures of the quality to aspire to. Approaching shadow is just an object lesson in composition and tonality.

Gosh, these are stunning, every single one!

Really cool stuff.

Interesting to see that nearly every one of these images is in a slightly different aspect ratio, obviously carefully chosen based on the composition.

Apparently what he mainly did was shoot with a Rolleiflex (that’s a square 6x6cm format camera) and then crop down his images based on the desired composition. In other words, he almost always took more image than he wanted and then adjusted the edges later – unlike some photographers who chose the format they like (square, long 35mm rectangle, 6x7cm, etc) and let the camera guide their compositions.

I like the “private” one. Contrasted with some images we have of Hong Kong (I don’t know myself, since I haven’t been), hustling and bustling and overcrowded, you can imagine this couple finally finding a bit of private time and really making the most of it.

Sensational stuff! I’m always a fan of images that have light as one of the main features of the composition.

Fantastic eye and magical composition. Thank you so much for posting this work.

He’s captured the Hong Kong spirit. I actually have tears in my eyes…

A genius in the depiction of the passage of light over form.


These are truly superb! A great use of mono as well- too many people put average photos in mono when the light just isn’t right.
Approaching Shadow is one of the best photographs I’ve seen.

These photos of Fan Ho were taken “On a little street in Hong Kong” several decades ago.  Watching at these photos reminds me the archived photos of Chinatown, Singapore available at National Archives of Singapore and photos shared on Jerome Lim’s Facebook group, “On a little street in Singapore” and other related popular Facebook groups for nostalgia friends.