Kouo Shang Wei



Kouo Shang Wei (b. 1924, Vietnam–d. 22 December 1988, Singapore) was one of the pioneer photographers of Singapore.1 He captured scenes of Singapore as a newly developing city from the 1950s to the 1980s.2 His subject matter included the Singapore River and samsui women at work.3 A number of his works, as well as his Zeiss Ikon camera, were donated by his family to the National Library Board and are exhibited at the Donors Gallery at the National Library Building.4 This donation was formalised on 31 October 2007 at a signing ceremony of the memorandum of understanding between Kouo’s family and the National Library Board, thus granting the library access to about 7,000 items from Kouo’s collection of photographs, slides and artefacts.5

Accomplishments
Kouo was most noted for his portrayal of samsui women.6 He had a keen interest in capturing their actions in everyday life, but their refusal to be photographed made them a particularly challenging subject. Samsui women believed that the camera could capture their souls. In order to get round this problem, Kouo would hide behind strategically-placed objects on construction sites and take pictures of them using a telephoto lens. Eventually, forty of his photographs on these women, out of over a hundred, were exhibited in conjunction with the launch of Singapore Broadcasting Corporation’s 1986 drama serial, Samsui Women.7

Kouo’s ability to capture unique details often resulted in an exquisite portrayal of his subjects. He has inspired younger generations of photographers with his creative techniques.8 An exhibition in honour of his works, along with those of his contemporaries Yip Cheong Fun and Lee Lim, was held at the Empress Place Museum in April 1992.9

Awards
Kouo’s photograph “Pigeons by the Singapore River” won him first prize in the Singapore Cityscape Today photo competition, organised by the Urban Redevelopment Authority in 1984.10

In commemoration of Kouo, the ASEAN Salon of Photography introduced the Kouo Shang Wei Memorial Award in 1992, to be awarded to the overall best submission in the colour slide category.11



Author

Nurhaizatul Jamila Jamil



References
1. D’ Cruz, N. (1988, December 29). Wife to fulfil river man Kouo’s wish. The New Paper, p. 8; Local lensman dies. (1988, December 27). The Straits Times, p. 8; 321 deaths. (1988, December 23). The Straits Times, p. 38; 《前人种树后人遮荫》 [Legacy of the pioneers]. (1992, April 1). 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Local lensman dies. (1988, December 27). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. D’ Cruz, N. (1988, December 29). Wife to fulfil river man Kouo’s wish. The New Paper, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. National Library Board. (n.d.). Donors showcase: Kouo Shang-Wei. Retrieved 2016, July 8 from National Library Board website: http://www.nlb.gov.sg/donors/kouo-shang-wei-%E9%83%AD%E5%B0%9A%E6%85%B0/
5. National Library Board. (2008). National Library Board annual report 2007/2008. Singapore: Author, p. 35. (Call no.: RCLOS q027.05957 SNLBAR-[AR])
6. Local lensman dies. (1988, December 27). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Cheong, C. C. (1992, April 2). Three men and a passion. The Straits Times, p. 12; 赵慕媛 [Zhao, M. Y.]. (1986, April 12). 《红头巾的沧桑》 [Sorrows of the samsui women]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Cheong, C. C. (1992, April 2). Three men and a passion. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Local lensman dies. (1988, December 27). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Local lensman dies. (1988, December 27). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; National Library Board. (n.d.). Donors showcase: Kouo Shang-Wei. Retrieved 2016, July 8 from National Library Board website: http://www.nlb.gov.sg/donors/kouo-shang wei-%E9%83%AD%E5%B0%9A%E6%85%B0/
11. 1992 ASEAN Salon: Introduction of Memorial Awards. (1992, September/October). PSS Journal, 3.



Further resource
Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with National Heritage Board, p. 414.

(Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])



The information in this article is valid as at 2009 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Award winners--Singapore--Biography
Arts>>Photography
Artists
Photographers--Singapore--Biography
Personalities>>Biographies>>Artists
Kouo, Shang Wei, 1931-1988