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Visual Arts

Tan Lip Seng

One of the world’s foremost exponents in slide photography.

Calendar

Published: 12 Oct 2016


Time taken : >15mins

To break the rules, you must know the rules [...] the most important thing is that when you present any image, you must have a response from the viewer. If the audience is not able to understand what you do, it becomes useless.

Tan Lip Seng, born in Singapore in 1942, is one of the world’s foremost exponents in slide photography. Picking up his first Kodak box camera at the age of 12 and shortly venturing into the darkroom after that, he has singlemindedly pursued photography as a career, eventually joining the National University of Singaore as a medical photographer. This was a position he kept until retirement in 2006. Alongside his professional duties Tan also developed a worldwide reputation as a travel photographer. His works, which he describes as “paintings in light and shadow”, have been published in important magazines and exhibited around the world. In 1985, Tan received the Cultural Medallion for his contributions to photography in Singapore.

Tan Lip Seng got started in photography at the age of 12 at the tail end of his time in primary school. His school would organise excursions for the students and wanting to record these excursions, Tan brought his brand new Kodak Box along with him to take photos.

Tan’s first forays into professional photography were intertwined with the early development of the Photographic Society of Singapore. During the 1960s, he actively promoted the art form and participated in numerous workshops and exchanges with sister photographic organisations in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Malaysia. He worked on the basics of composition, lighting and darkroom processing techniques, and was influenced greatly by the work of senior Singapore photographers such as Wu Peng Seng, Lee Lim and Yip Cheong Fun.

In the 1970s he experimented with and perfected a distinctive colour-derivation photomontage technique, which has come to be a trademark of his style. His growing reputation as an exponent on slides and photomontaging led to invitations around the world to conduct workshops and mount exhibitions. In 1978, he pioneered the visit of a group of photographers to China, initiating a long-term exchange project that would be beneficial to photographers from both countries.

In 1985, Tan received the Cultural Medallion for his contributions to photography in Singapore.

Tan has described his style as “painting with light and shadow”, and his works are known for their highly graphic elements—often stunning in composition, colour and subject matter. A frequent traveller, he has taken his camera and returned with award-winning shots of majestic landscapes, hidden communities and abstract features of life at large. He has recently been working with digital photography and manipulation.

Timeline

26 Jul 1942

Born in Singapore.

1948

Enrolled in Tuan Mong High School.

1954

Took up photography as a hobby at age 12.

1959

First photographic exhibition at Tuan Mong High School.

1960

Graduated from Tuan Mong High School.

May 1964

Medical photographer, National University of Singapore.

Associate member (ARPS), Royal Photographic Society, UK.

1967

Member, Photographic Society of America, USA.

1969

First Singaporean to be named as one of the World’s Top Ten Exhibitors and in the Who’s Who list, Photographic Society of America.

1970

Fellowship (FRPS), Royal Photographic Society, UK.

Five Star Exhibitor (Colour Slide Division), Photographic Society of America

Aug 1971 to 2006

Honorary advisor, Photographic Society, National University of Singapore.

1972

Received Excellence FIAP (EFIAP), International Federation of Photographic Art.

1985

Received Cultural Medallion for contributions to photography in Singapore.

Received Diamond Galaxy Exhibitor rating, Photographic Society of America.

1985 to 1998

Panel member, Photographic Art Advisory Committee, Ministry of Community Development, Singapore.

Panel member, Photographic Art Advisory Committee, Ministry of Information and the Arts, Singapore.

Panel member, Photographic Art Advisory Committee, National Arts Ccouncil, Singapore.

1986 to 2010

Overseas Service Representative, Royal Photographic Society, UK.

1988

Represented Singapore, 5th Symposium on ASEAN Travelling Exhibition of Painting (Photography and Children’s Art), Jakarta, Indonesia.

1994

Member, Advisory Panel on Visual Arts Exhibitions, Ministry of Information and the Arts, Singapore.

Associate member (APSA), Photographic Society of America.

1995

Member, Planning and Organising Committee of Singapore Art, National Arts Council.

1996

Judge, Northern Counties International Salon, UK.

Received 2nd Diamond Galaxy in the Color Slide Division, Photographic Society of America.

1997

Member, Planning and Organising Committee of Singapore Art, National Arts Council.

Excellence member (EPSA), Photographic Society of America.

1997 to 1999

Member, Theatre/Annual Grants Assessment Panel, National Arts Council, Singapore.

1998 to 2008

Arts advisor, National Arts Council, Singapore.

1998

Chairman, Photography Specialist Panel for Cultural Medallion and Young Artist Award, National Arts Council, Singapore.

Received Fenton Medal, Royal Photographic Society, UK. He is the first Singaporean to do so.

Honorary Life Member, Royal Photographic Society, UK.

1999

Member, Planning and Organising Committee of Singapore Art, National Arts Council.

Chairman, Photography Specialist Panel for Cultural Medallion and Young Artist Award, National Arts Council, Singapore.

Fellow (FPSA), Photographic Society of America.

2000

Member, Renaissance City Report, Ministry of Information and the Arts, Singapore.

2002

Vice-chairman, Photography Specialist Panel for Cultural Medallion and Young Artist Award, National Arts Council, Singapore.

2003

Chairman, Photography Specialist Panel for Cultural Medallion and Young Artist Award, National Arts Council, Singapore.

2004

Chairman, Photography Specialist Panel for Cultural Medallion and Young Artist Award, National Arts Council, Singapore.

2005

Named Photographer of the Year, Ngee Ann Cultural Centre.

2008

Work published as postage stamps for the “Singapore Today” National Day Celebration Series.

2009

Solo exhibition Painting with Light and Shadow – A 50 Year Chronicle, Ngee Ann Cultural Centre, Singapore.

Published book Light and Shadow – Tan Lip Seng’s 50 Years of Photography.

May 2010

Group exhibition – 17th International Joint Exchange of Photography Exhibition, Kyoto, Japan.

2011

Master (MPSA), Photographic Society of America.


TributeSG

TributeSG celebrates the arts community’s most senior members, and those who have made a lifetime of contribution to the arts. These artists, administrators, educators, patrons, and champions include many Singapore arts pioneers who laid the foundations of the vibrant arts and cultural scene we enjoy today. The many profiles in TributeSG let us into the minds and worlds of these pioneers, and help us understand our shared arts heritage. When we revisit their works and rediscover their journeys, we learn where we came from and how we came to be. Collectively, their stories tell the tale of the making of a nation’s artistic identity.

In putting together this collection, the TributeSG team consulted an external advisory panel, consisting of Arun Mahiznan, Choo Thiam Siew, J. P. Nathan, K. K. Seet, Kwok Kian Chow, and Iskandar Ismail. Those selected to be profiled in TributeSG met one of the following criteria: they were at least 60 years of age as of 12 Oct 2016, or deceased, or had received national recognition in the form of the Cultural Medallion. This journey of arts archival officially came to a close on 12 Oct 2016, after four years of extensive research, interviews and collation of information graciously provided by the TributeSG pioneers, their families and peers. TributeSG also benefited from enthusiastic help from like-minded friends and organisations who supported Esplanade’s cause—to remember, honour and celebrate Singapore’s arts pioneers.

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