“Photographic Stories of Foo Tee Jun” Commentary Exhibition Tour

[written by Bluffname and KopiOkaya, complied by KopiOkaya]

Mr. Foo Tee Jun has given the authors exclusive rights to use his photographs in this article. All images are copyrighted.

Foo Tee Jun is probably not known to many of today’s photographers.

A search on the Internet yields few results about him, the first few pages of results currently on Google being mainly about his recent exhibition, The Photographic Stories of Foo Tee Jun – his first large-scale exhibition that showcases 200 of his works spanning nearly 50 years of photography. Search deeper and you might learn that he was awarded the Cultural Medallion for photography back in 1989 and that, in 2008, he was one of five Cultural Medallion winners who had their images printed on postage stamps.

National Day 2008 commemorative postal stamps featuring 3 photographs from Mr. Foo Tee Jun

[photo: Singapore Post / © Foo Tee Jun]

[photo: Singapore Post / © Foo Tee Jun]

But these distinctions mean little, if anything, to average photographers who acquaint themselves with photography mainly through Internet forums, websites and photoblogs. Mr. Foo does not have a strong Internet presence. And this is not helped by the fact that he is not fluent in English, his main languages / dialects being Mandarin, Cantonese, Hainanese and Hakka. Nor is he very computer literate. Add to all these, he is a quiet, humble man of few words.

But then, many photographers today are equally unfamiliar with other pioneers and veterans of Singapore photography – like Yip Cheong Fun, Tan Lip Seng, Chua Soo Bin, David Tay and others. Neither are they familiar with the great photographers of the world, like Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Henri Cartier Bresson et al.

They do not seem to feel any need to know the great masters. Yet ironically, they might know of some lesser accomplished photographers whom they find on the Internet and whose style they happen to like. Or, some others do not adopt any role models and simply shoot aimlessly. You find them in Internet forums and sites like Flickr and Facebook, where they post everything that they shoot, including “the good, the bad and the ugly” all lumped together.

There is value in getting to know the masters. The value lies not so much in copying their styles, but more in being inspired – inspired to try something new or something different, or simply inspired to shoot more pictures more often.

Mr. Foo, who is 75, comes from that background where learning from masters was the norm. Before the Internet age, until as recently as 10 or 15 years ago, the main way of learning photography was to join photographic clubs and societies and attend lessons conducted by seniors.

And the way to gauge one’s standard is to take part in photo society competitions called “salons”. Photographers would compete in both the local and International arenas, and winners would be awarded Star Ratings and Distinction from, say, PSS (Photographic Society of Singapore) or FIAP (International Federation of Photographic Art). This was how photographers in Mr. Foo’s time achieved national and international recognition. Today, salons are considered somewhat “old-school”.

Despite his “old-school” background, Mr. Foo’s latest exhibition shows that he has kept up with the times. He switched from a twin-lens, medium-format Rolleicord during the 1960s, to SLR and now DSLR cameras. Although not conversant with software like Photoshop, he has a friend to help with digital manipulation. His photographs are printed digitally using large format inkjet printers.

More importantly, Mr. Foo actively interacts and socializes with young photographers – those who know how to seek him out. He says they make him think back about his younger self, as well as give him fresh ideas and new perspectives.

Having seen the veteran photographer’s previous works, I must say his latest masterpieces are indeed far from being “old-school”. Bluffname even commented that one of his works – an image showing bacon hung besides a pair of shoes, besides a towel – “somehow makes me think of the artist Salvadore Dali”. SELim who was formerly a student of Mr. Foo, commented “I never knew he likes young people’s style” – referring to an image of a dancer on stage, surrounded by smoke. Sure, his exhibition had a fair share of “salon style” photographs, but it had much much more.

猪肉“Bacon and Shoes

[photo: © Foo Tee Jun]

《婀娜“Cloud Dancer”

[photo: © Foo Tee Jun]

Fujifilm FinePix Users Network (F.U.N.) was extremely honoured to have Mr. Foo be the commentator of Photographic Stories of Foo Tee Jun at Ngee Ann Cultural Centre on 27 December 2010. We were also very pleased to have fellow F.U.N. member and a long-time friend of the photographer, Mr. Lee Hin Mun, be our English interpreter for the tour.

[photo: SElim]

Mr. Foo started the tour with a black-and-white photo of three boys running under a coconut tree. It was taken in 1963 for a class assignment, after he joined the Photographic Society of Singapore. This photo, Mr. Foo shared, marked the starting point of his long and interesting photographic journey.

椰林之晨》“Sprinting Through Misty Plantation”

[photo: © Foo Tee Jun]

Dedicating the last five decades to his art, Mr. Foo’s works range from landscapes to portraits to street scenes to nature and wildlife. He is probably the most versatile photographer we have seen – a jack of all trades. One thing that really impressed me was Mr. Foo’s mastery in capturing “the decisive moment” instinctively. This exceptional skill comes from years of practise through hard work, trial and error, and, of course, with some help from Lady Luck.

泡沫派对“Foam Party”

[photo: © Foo Tee Jun]

After more than two hours of having Mr. Foo patiently introduce his photographic images, explain the techniques and circumstances behind many of them, and answering questions from F.U.N. members, we ended the tour with Mr. Foo graciously autographing his photography book that was produced for the exhibition and presented to all visitors (whilst stocks lasted). This was followed by a sumptuous dinner at Streets Cafe at Liang Court. Our members were still asking questions during dinner and Mr. Foo would answer them sincerely, one at a time.

Individual book signing

[photo: Andikong]

F.U.N. members were extremely pleased with the tour. Said TheChef: “Excellent time spent. More than two hours spent on this commentary photo tour could save me many precious years figuring out what to shoot.” Added Second Wind: “If there is one thing I learned from the tour is that he can photograph the ordinary and then add just that something to a picture to make a big difference, be it colour saturation or a hand here, a branch there. A true master.”

Just add a hand…

[photo: KopiOkaya]

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