Ang Chwee Chai



Ang Chwee Chai (b. 1910–d. 1995, Singapore) was one of Singapore’s leading pioneers in photography.1 He received the Honorary Excellence Distinction from the Swiss-based International Federation of Photographic Art (FIAP) in 1963 and was awarded the Honorary Fellowship of the Photographic Society of Singapore (PSS) in 1974.2

Ang was conferred the Cultural Medallion for his artistic excellence, devotion, and development of photography in Singapore in 1983.3 One of the founding members of the Singapore Camera Club (now known as the PPS), Ang served as its president for 15 years and vice-president for 11 terms.4

Early years and education

Ang studied at the Jinan University in China and was part of the 80-member Jinan University Alumni Association in 1940. He returned to Singapore in 1932 after three years of studies, and was just three months short of his graduation when the Japanese moved into Shanghai.5

As a schoolboy in Shanghai, Ang recollected having to share a 20-cent roll of film with his classmate to pursue his passion in photography. “Those were the days when taking photos was a luxury,” he said. “When I first started taking up photography as a hobby, I didn’t know anything about it. So I decided to learn more about it by reading photographic journals and joining the Singapore Camera Club – as the Photographic Society of Singapore was then called in 1950".6

His art
Ang was a self-taught photographer. His excellence and artistic works came as a result of his exploration and experiments with different photographic techniques and styles. His work was held in high regard by photographers of his time.7


Best known for his cine film and colour slides, Ang participated in many worldwide exhibitions and competitions. His creativity, competence and artistry won him many awards and honours both in the local as well as the international photography scene.8

Achievements and contributions
In May 1950, five friends met at a warehouse in Boat Quay. Over coffee, they mooted the idea of setting up a photography club for the growing number of enthusiasts in Singapore. Within two months, an unofficial meeting was held at a borrowed premise off Jalan Besar. The Singapore Camera Club was created following the meeting with an initial membership of 30 people.9


At first the newly formed club held its meetings at a member’s home. As membership grew, the club was moved to a rented premise at 33 Kent Road. However, these premises soon became inadequate for the growing membership. Among many who rallied around to ensure the survival of the club were C. A. Gibson-Hill, Loke Wan Tho, William Tan (patron of the club), and Chu Siu Mong. Ang helped acquire the club’s new premises at 57 Pheng Geck Avenue.10

Ang became the second president of the PSS and served the society as its president for 15 years and vice-president for 11 terms.11

Under Ang’s tenure as president, the society saw significant developments. In 1978, the club organised the ASEAN Salon to replace the Singapore National Photographic Exhibition. It was not long before members were asking for more exposure, particularly from countries that had a long history of photography associations and clubs. PSS eventually became affiliated with The Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain, The Photographic Society of America and The International Federation of Photographic Art (FIAP).12

These affiliations opened doors for the society to host individuals and representatives of photographic bodies from abroad. They in turn reciprocated with society members making overseas visits. In 1978, the first trip to China was organised for Singaporean photographers.13

PSS began to see a good measure of international success. In 1980, the society organised one of the largest photography events in Southeast Asia. The World Photographic Congress saw more than 100 amateur and professional photographers taking part.14

PSS was also involved in organising the Singapore International Salon of Photography. The event aimed to spread photography as a hobby among more Singaporeans as well as promote international friendship and goodwill. According to Ang, the prestigious event “gained much prominence to become one of the world’s finest photographic salons.” Ang attributed this success to PSS’s three decades of efforts to promote photography as a creative art.15

Besides his involvement with PSS, Ang was active in many other photographic societies. He served for seven terms as honorary president of the Nanyang University Photographic Society and two terms as honorary president of the Singapore Malay Photographic Society. In 1980, he became a corporate member of the People’s Association. He led the Singapore delegation to the ASEAN Symposium of Art and Photography in Malaysia in 1982. The following year, the Ministry of Culture appointed Ang as chairman of the Photographic Art Advisory Committee.16

A genial and modest man who spoke little of his outstanding achievements, Ang was always generous in sharing his knowledge and experience in photography especially with the younger generation of photographers.17

Awards18
1951: Official, Photographic Society of Singapore.
1956:
Official, Photographic Society of Singapore.19

1960: Pan Malayan Five Best Cine Film award.
1960: Pan Malayan Five Best Cine Film award.
1963: Awarded the Honorary Excellence Distinction by the International Federation of Photographic Art (FIAP) based in Switzerland.
1964: Gold Plague Award from Warrnambool, International Salon (Australia).
1964: Bintang Bakti Masyarakyat (Public Service Star) for commendable public service.20

1965: Bronze medal, Rochester Festival of Religious Art (US).
1967: Gold medal, Provinsia De Como Villa Olmo International Salon (Italy).
1974: Honorary Fellowship of the Photographic Society of Singapore.
1979:
President, Photographic Society of Singapore.21

1982: Re-elected President, Photographic Society of Singapore.22



Author
Angeline Koh



References
1.
SingaporeUpdate.com (2013, January 25). Cultural Medallion winners through the years. Retrieved from http://www.singaporeupdate.com/arts_CulturalMedallionWinners.htm
2. Camera awards for 19 in Singapore. (1963, July 9). The Straits Times, p. 5;
Choo, S. E. (1983, November 21). Man who lets his photos do the talking. The Straits Times, p. 15; Low, M. M. (1985, August 9). Cultured pearls on a 'desert island'. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3.
Purushothaman, V. (Ed.). (2002). Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural medallion recipients 1979–2001. Singapore: National Arts Council, pp. 116–117. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR)
4.
Purushothaman, V. (Ed.). (2002). Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural medallion recipients 1979–2001. Singapore: National Arts Council, p. 116. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR)
5.
Low, M. M. (1986, May 27). Of grey hair, bulging bellies and politics. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6.
Choo, S. E. (1983, November 21). Man who lets his photos do the talking. The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7.
Purushothaman, V. (Ed.). (2002). Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural medallion recipients 1979–2001. Singapore: National Arts Council, p. 116. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR)
8.
Purushothaman, V. (Ed.). (2002). Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural medallion recipients 1979–2001. Singapore: National Arts Council, p. 116. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR)
9.
Web Archive Singapore. (2009, June 11). The Photographic Society of Singapore. Retrieved from http://was.nl.sg/wayback/20090610182857/http:/www.pss1950.org/history.html
10. Web Archive Singapore. (2009, June 11). The Photographic Society of Singapore. Retrieved from http://was.nl.sg/wayback/20090610182857/http:/www.pss1950.org/history.html

11.
Purushothaman, V. (Ed.). (2002). Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural medallion recipients 1979–2001. Singapore: National Arts Council, p. 116. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR)
12.
Web Archive Singapore. (2009, June 11). The Photographic Society of Singapore. Retrieved from http://was.nl.sg/wayback/20090610182857/http:/www.pss1950.org/history.html
13.
Web Archive Singapore. (2009, June 11). The Photographic Society of Singapore. Retrieved from http://was.nl.sg/wayback/20090610182857/http:/www.pss1950.org/history.html

14.
Web Archive Singapore. (2009, June 11). The Photographic Society of Singapore. Retrieved from http://was.nl.sg/wayback/20090610182857/http:/www.pss1950.org/history.html

15.
Ang, C. C. (1981, July 26). Message from society’s president. The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16.
Purushothaman, V. (Ed.). (2002). Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural medallion recipients 1979–2001. Singapore: National Arts Council, p. 116. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR)
17.
Choo, S. E. (1983, November 21). Man who lets his photos do the talking. The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Purushothaman, V. (Ed.). (2002). Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural medallion recipients 1979–2001. Singapore: National Arts Council, p. 116. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR)
18.
Choo, S. E. (1983, November 21). Man who lets his photos do the talking. The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19.
Photo society officials. (1956, July 8). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20.
Purushothaman, V. (Ed.). (2002). Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural medallion recipients 1979–2001. Singapore: National Arts Council, p. 116. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR)
21.
Photography officials. (1979, March 20). The Straits Times, p. 24; Photo society officials. (1979, March 18). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22.
Photo club officials. (1982, March 9). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.


Further resources

Honours to four Patrons of the Arts. (1983, November 10). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Low, M. M. (1985, August 9). Cultured pearls on a 'desert island'. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Page 2 Advertisements Column 2: Heartiest congratulations to Mr Ang Chwee Chai. (1983, December 2). Singapore Monitor, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

The Photographic Society of Singapore. (2012). Milestones. Retrieved from http://www.pss1950.org/about-pss/milestones



The information in this article is valid as at 3 January 2014 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
Personalities
Arts