Tan Lip Seng



Tan Lip Seng (b. 1942, Singapore–) is a prominent local photographer known worldwide for his slide and travel photography. He has described his photography style as “painting with light and shadow”.1 Tan was conferred the Cultural Medallion in 1985 in recognition of his outstanding achievements and contributions to the field of photography.2

Early years
A student at Tuan Mong High School, Tan picked up photography in 1954 when he was 12. Delighted by the results of his simple box camera, Tan wanted to pursue a diploma in photography.3 His father, a fruit merchant, did not approve of his hobby, preferring that he be in the medical field. Later, however, his father became more supportive and gave Tan $500 to buy a Rolleiflex camera.4


Tan set up his own dark room and devoted a considerable amount of time and effort to master darkroom processing. On Sunday afternoons, he would go out on photo shoots with the Photographic Society of Singapore (PSS) to places such as Mata Ikan village in Changi and Merdeka Bridge. He held his first photographic exhibition at his school when he was 17.5

Career

In 1964, Tan joined the Department of Medicine and Paediatrics at the University of Singapore as a medical photographer. It was a position he was to hold for 42 years, which turned out to be a happy compromise between fulfilling his love for photography and his father’s wish for him to be in the medical profession. At work, Tan would photograph subjects such as corpses, cancerous organs and brain tumours for research and autopsy. In his own time, Tan would head out to the open spaces for his creative works such as landscape, portraiture and wildlife.6

His achievements
Tan has been winning awards and honours for his photography works since 1961.7He has many ‘first’ and ‘top’ tagged to his long list of accomplishments. In 1969, he was the first Singaporean to be named as one of the world’s top ten exhibitors and was featured in the Who’s Who list of the Photographic Society of America.8 The following year, he became the first person in Singapore to be awarded a fellowship by the Royal Photographic Society (FRPS) of Great Britain for his achievements with pictorial colour transparencies.9

In 1971, he became the first Singaporean to be awarded a gold medal by the International Federation of Photographic Art (FIAP) based in Berne, Switzerland.10 He also became the first in Asia to obtain the USA Diamond Galaxy Exhibitor rating in 1985. He received a second Diamond Galaxy Exhibitor rating in 1996, making him the fifth person in the world to attain this honour.11

In 1997, he was the first person in Asia to be awarded the EPSA (Excellence member of the Photographic Society of America). Ngee Ann Cultural Centre named him “Photographer of the Year” in 2005. He was ranked as one of the world’s top ten pictorial colour slides exhibitors, a position he held for 20 successive years (from 1969 to 1988).12

His development
Tan’s works show a high degree of artistic feeling combined with good technique.13 His composition, lighting, colour contrasts and precision of skill create a mood known to hold viewers in awe.14


His photographic journey can be divided into five periods:15
(I) 1950–1968: During the first 10 years, Tan experimented with and mastered the composition and lighting aspects of photography. He also perfected dark room techniques of print enlargement and processing.

(II) 1969–1978: The following decade, Tan developed his unique style of colour-derivation montages. He experimented by meticulously combining multiple colour-slide transparencies into one to create the montages.

(III) 1979–1988: Tan was invited to conduct workshops and lectures for the photographic community in many countries as his work in the previous decade gain international acclaim. The places he visited became the subject of his photographs.

(IV) 1989–1998: Tan’s travels developed his interest in travel photography. His photos captured not only landscape but also the culture, people and social life of the many destinations he visited.

(V) 1999–2008: In this decade, Tan experimented with the processing and manipulation of digital media.

His art
Tan believes that a good photographer must master the basics. It is only when these techniques are second nature to the photographer then would he be able to concentrate on the emotional aspects of his photographic subject.16


Tan also believes that a good photographer is not afraid to break any rules. “To break the rules, however, you must know the rules,” says the Cultural Medallion recipient. “Get the basics right".17

Tan’s work as a medical photographer trained him to develop a keen ability to see intricate details and to quickly capture the right composition and angle. The need to be meticulous about each procedure in his post-photographic process trained him to be able to produce top quality work time and again.18

In 2009, Tan held his solo exhibition, Painting with Light & Shadow – A 50 Year Chronicle, at Ngee Ann Cultural Centre. His book of the same title was published that same year.19


His contributions

Tan’s hope for more opportunities to be given to local artists is clearly reflected in his numerous contributions to the photographic scene in Singapore.20 Over the years, he has taken on various roles in planning and advisory panels and organising committees under the Ministry of Community Development, the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts, and the National Arts Council of Singapore.21

Family22
Wife: Lai Cheng.
Children: Eng Kien and Eng Loy.

Education23

1948: Enrolled at 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.

Awards and accomplishments24

1964: Member of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain. Gained the distinction of being awarded the ARPS in Black And White (Pictorial category).
1967: Member of the Photographic Society of America.
1967: Artists award (A. FIAP), Federation Internationale De l’Art Photographic of Europe.25

1969: First Singaporean to be named as one of the world’s top ten exhibitors and included in the Who’s Who list of the Photographic Society of America.26
1970: First person in Singapore awarded a fellowship by the Royal Photographic Society (FRPS) of the Great Britain for his achievements with pictorial colour transparencies.27
1971: First Singaporean to win the FIAP gold medal in Berne, Switzerland.28
1972: Awarded Excellence FIAP (EFIAP), International Federation of Photographic Art.
1985: Cultural Medallion Award in recognition of his artistic talent and creativity and for his commendable achievement in photography.
1985:
First person in Asia to obtain the USA Diamond Galaxy Exhibitor rating.
1986–1998: Panel member, Photographic Art Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Community Development of Singapore, Ministry of Information And The Arts and the Singapore National Arts Council.
1986–2010: Overseas Service Representative of the FRPS.
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.
1995: Member, Planning and Organising Committee of Singapore Art, National Arts Council.29

1996: Fifth person in the world to obtain a second Diamond Galaxy Exhibitor rating.
1997–1999: Member, Theatre/Annual Grants Assessment Panel, National Arts Council.
1997: First person in Asia to awarded EPSA (Excellence member of the Photographic Society of America).
1997: Appointed International Representative in Singapore for the Photographic Society of America.
1998–2008: Arts Advisor, Singapore National Arts Council.
1998, 1999, 2003, 2004: Chairman, Photography Specialist Panel for Cultural Medallion and Young Artist Award, National Arts Council.
1998: Awarded the ‘Best Country Representative of the Year’ by the Photographic Society of America.
1999: Fellow (FPSA), Photographic Society of America.
1999: Involved in the Shanghai In The Eyes of World’s Top Photographers event.
2000: Member, Renaissance City Report, Ministry of Information and The Arts
2003: Featured in the documentary Self-Portrait II on the Arts Central Channel (Media Corp, National Television Channel), which was about his life and achievements as a photographer.
2005: Named ‘Photographer of the Year’ by Ngee Ann Cultural Centre.
2007: Awarded National Arts Council Cultural Medallion Grant.
2009: Solo exhibition, Painting with Light & Shadow – A 50 Year Chronicle at Ngee Ann Cultural Centre.
2009: Published Light & Shadow – Tan Lip Seng’s 50 Years of Photography.
2009: Invitation exhibition at World Renowned Photographer’s Exhibition in conjunction with The People’s Republic of China 60th Anniversary National Day Celebrations held in Shanghai, Beijing, Chongqing and Macau.
2010:
Interview by National Archives of Singapore for ‘Oral History’ (Photography).
2011: Honoured Master of the Photographic Society of America (MPSA).



Author

Angeline Koh



References
1. Tribute.sg. (2012). Tan Lip Seng. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Tan+Lip+Seng
2. National Arts Council. (2013, October 4). Cultural Medallion & Young Artist Award Recipients for Visual Arts. Retrieved from https://www.nac.gov.sg/art-forms/visual-arts/local-directory/cultural-medallion-young-artist-award-recipients-for-visual-arts
3.
Chandran, K. (1986, January 31). What makes Tan click. The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Teo, K. G. (Interviewer). (2010, February 11). Oral history interview with Tan Lip Seng. [Cassette recording no. 003478/5/1]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
5.
Teo, K. G. (Interviewer). (2010, February 11). Oral history interview with Tan Lip Seng. [Cassette recording no. 003478/5/1]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Yeo, Y. K. (2010, April 27). In Conversation: Mr. Tan Lip Seng. Retrieved from http://photoartsingapore.blogspot.sg/2010/04/in-conversation-mr-tan-lip-seng-by.html
6. Purushothaman, V. (Ed.). (2002). Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural medallion recipients 1979–2001. Singapore: National Arts Council, p. 124. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR);
Chandran, K. (1986, January 31). What makes Tan click. The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tribute.sg. (2012). Tan Lip Seng. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Tan+Lip+Seng
7. Purushothaman, V. (Ed.). (2002). Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural medallion recipients 1979–2001. Singapore: National Arts Council, p. 124. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR)
8.
Tribute.sg. (2012). Tan Lip Seng. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Tan+Lip+Seng
9. First Singaporean to win FRPS for colour works. (1970, December 14). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Lip Seng gets Europe’s top photo award. (1971, May 6). The Straits Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Facebook.com. (2013). Lip Seng Tan. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/lipsengtanfrps
12. Facebook.com. (2013). Lip Seng Tan. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/lipsengtanfrps
13. Honours for two more S’pore men. (1967, September 11). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Purushothaman, V. (Ed.). (2002). Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural medallion recipients 1979–2001. Singapore: National Arts Council, p. 124. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR)
15.
Teo, K. G. (Interviewer). (2010, February 11). Oral history interview with Tan Lip Seng. [Cassette recording no. 003478/5/3]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website:http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Yeo, Y. K. (2010, April 27). In Conversation: Mr. Tan Lip Seng. Retrieved from http://photoartsingapore.blogspot.sg/2010/04/in-conversation-mr-tan-lip-seng-by.html
16. Yeo, Y. K. (2010, April 27). In Conversation: Mr. Tan Lip Seng. Retrieved from http://photoartsingapore.blogspot.sg/2010/04/in-conversation-mr-tan-lip-seng-by.html
17. Yeo, Y. K. (2010, April 27). In Conversation: Mr. Tan Lip Seng. Retrieved from http://photoartsingapore.blogspot.sg/2010/04/in-conversation-mr-tan-lip-seng-by.html
18. Yeo, Y. K. (2010, April 27). In Conversation: Mr. Tan Lip Seng. Retrieved from http://photoartsingapore.blogspot.sg/2010/04/in-conversation-mr-tan-lip-seng-by.html
19. Facebook.com. (2013). Lip Seng Tan. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/lipsengtanfrps
20. Teo, K. G. (Interviewer). (2010, February 11). Oral history interview with Tan Lip Seng. [Cassette recording no. 003478/5/3]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website:http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
21. Facebook.com. (2013). Lip Seng Tan. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/lipsengtanfrps
22. Full Metal Photographer. (2006, June 6). Guest blog: Lip Seng's photo art gallery. Retrieved from http://fmphoto.blogspot.sg/2006/06/guest-blog-lip-sengs-photo-art-gallery.html
23. Tribute.sg. (2012). Tan Lip Seng. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Tan+Lip+Seng
24. Facebook.com. (2013). Lip Seng Tan. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/lipsengtanfrps
25. Honours for two more S’pore men. (1967, September 11). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Tribute.sg. (2012). Tan Lip Seng. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Tan+Lip+Seng
27. First Singaporean to win FRPS for colour works. (1970, December 14). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Lip Seng gets Europe’s top photo award. (1971, May 6). The Straits Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29.Tribute.sg. (2012). Tan Lip Seng. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Tan+Lip+Seng



The information in this article is valid as at 7 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