Wu Peng Seng



Wu Peng Seng (b. 1915, Shantou, China–d. 23 May 2006, Singapore), also known as Goh Peng Seng,1 was a pioneer photographer in Singapore known for his landscape photography and photographic travelogues. Wu was involved in photography for more than half a decade, during which time he won numerous awards and honorary fellowships for his achievements and contributions to the photographic arts.2 For his contributions to the field of photography, Wu was awarded the Cultural Medallion for Photography in 1990.3

Early life and career
Born in Shantou, China, Wu moved to Hong Kong to study at Pui Ying College and graduated in 1940. He then enrolled in Guang Hua University in Shanghai, China. His studies in Shanghai were disrupted due to World War II and in 1946 he relocated to Haiphong, Vietnam. Wu subsequently moved to Penang, Malaya, in 1948 where he started an import and export business. In the early 1950s, Wu gave up his business and came to Singapore.4


After arriving in Singapore, Wu worked for two to three years taking photographs for a friend who published a small newspaper. When the newspaper folded, Wu worked for a British Chemical Company selling photographic materials. A few years later, he became an agent for a brand of pens and continued with this business until he retired in 1978.5

In 1956, Wu opened a studio in Tiong Bahru with another well-known photographer, Lee Lim. However, this studio was more an extension of his hobby and not a business.6 The studio closed in the 1990s.7

Artistic career
Wu’s interest in photography was probably cultivated by his father, a Qing dynasty official who had an interest in photography. The senior Wu owned an old box camera that used glass plates coated with light-sensitive chemicals to capture images. One of Wu’s older brothers noticed his interest in photography and bought him a camera when he was a teenager. The young Wu learnt the art of photography by himself through extensive reading and looking at well-taken pictures at exhibitions.8


Wu had an insatiable desire to capture what he saw on film. His camera was with him wherever he went.9 During his university days in Shanghai, the general climate was very tense because of the war with Japan. However, this did not stop the young Wu from smuggling a camera into his bag while on a field trip to Hangzhou even though he knew that he could get into serious trouble for doing so.10

Shortly after Wu settled in Singapore in the 1950s, he joined the Photographic Society of Singapore (PSS). His weekends were spent organising salons and collecting pictures from members to be sent for competitions.11

For his photographic achievements, Wu received more than 16 awards from the United States, Great Britain, Sweden, France, USSR, Poland and Austria. His works had been exhibited in countries like Singapore, Vietnam, Austria, New Zealand and Hong Kong.12

He was also affiliated to five international photographic societies and received the Honorary Excellence Distinction by the International Federation of Photographic Art (HonEFIAP) in 1965, which was the highest honour the society could bestow on an individual.13

Stylistic conventions
Wu’s speciality was landscape photography. His pictures had a keen sense of composition and were subtle in style, rich in tonal qualities and precise in printing. Much attention was given to lighting and colour contrast.14


The subjects of Wu's photographs were mostly ordinary things such as birds, animals, trees, children, people and greenery.15 His landscape photographs reminded one of the idyllic country life of bygone days, featuring scenes such as geese swimming leisurely in a pond, coconut trees swaying in the breeze, fishermen casting their nets in the hope of a good catch, or a kampong maiden going about her daily chores.16

Wu found beauty in the most mundane of places, even at construction sites. In his photograph entitled Construction (1958), Wu took a picture of a construction worker involved in building a temporary exhibition hall at the old Paya Lebar Airport; a cement worker featured in another shot.17

Although he had been to countries like Nepal, South Africa, Canada, India and the United States, China was his inspiration. He travelled to China 12 times on photographic trips and his most memorable location was the Silk Road.18

Wu believed that if he missed the perfect moment, he would lose a good picture forever. This belief was evident when he was in action. He would do whatever it took to pursue his subjects, even if it meant being scolded or chased away. He scaled mountains and travelled to far-flung places in search of beauty and the perfect picture.19

Wu’s photographs are not only works of art but have also become historical records of Singapore’s past.20 His photograph Casting the Net, which shows a fisherman casting his net, was featured in the Singapore Art Museum’s Earth and Water: Mapping Art in Southeast Asia (2011) exhibition showcasing the life, society and traditions of Southeast Asia.21

Wu’s advice to the younger generation of photographers was to experiment and to expose themselves to a wide variety of styles so that they would eventually find their own.22

Wu’s photographic skills and career inspired a younger generation of photographers such as David Tay Poey Cher and Tan Lip Seng, who have also gone on to become Cultural Medallion winners themselves.23

Wu passed away from liver cancer in 2006 at the age of 91.24 Following his death, Wu’s family donated 20 of his works to the National Heritage Board and they are now part of the Singapore Art Museum’s permanent collection.25

Awards26
1950: Golden Trophy, Chinese International Salon, New York, USA.
1950: Silver Medal, 1st Singapore Open Photo Exhibition, Singapore.
1954: Bronze Medal, Murray Bridge International Salon, England.
1960: Silver Medal, Newcastle-on-Tyne Salon, England.
1960: Silver Plate, 9th Mexico International Photo Exhibition”, Mexico.
1960: Bronze Medal, Foto-Cine-Club-De Montpercier Photo Exhibition, France.
1962: Silver Plate, 9th Mozambique Salon, East Africa.
1962: Bronze Plate, Master Photo Exhibition, Sweden.
1962: Silver Medal, Valparaiso International Salon, Chile.
1963: Golden Medal, Pictorial Photography Exhibition, Saigon, Vietnam.
1964: Silver Plate, World Photo Exhibition, Berlin, East Germany.
1964: Bronze Medal, 16th Bordeaux International Salon, France.
1966: Silver Plate, Photo Exhibition of Wien, Vienna, Austria.
1966: Silver Medal, St Politen Salon, Poland.
1967: Gold Plate, 10th Interfoto Trest, Czechoslovakia.
1969: Gold Plate, Ten World Top Photographers Exhibitions, Austria.
1990: Cultural Medallion for Photography, Singapore.

Photographic honours27
1956: Associateship of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain (A.RPS).

1957: Associateship of the International Federation of Photographic Art, Switzerland (A.FIAP).
1960: Fellowship of the RPS of Great Britain (FRPS).
1963: Excellence of the FIAP, Switzerland (E.FIAP).
1965: Hon. Excellence of the FIAP, Switzerland (Hon., E.FIAP).
1965: Hon. Member of the Chinese Photographic Association of Hong Kong (Hon. CPA).
1969: Include in list of Top Ten Photographers of the World by St Potter Photographic Society, Austria.
1975: Hon. Fellowship of the Photographic Society of Singapore (Hon., F.PSS).
1987: Hon. Fellowship of the Photographic Society of Thailand (Hon., F.PST).

Exhibitions28
Solo exhibitions
1947: First solo photographic exhibition, Haiphong, Vietnam.

1996: 60 Years in Reminiscence photographic exhibition, Singapore.

Group exhibitions
1965: Seven Man Photo Exhibition, Singapore and Thailand.
1993: Past, Present and Future photographic exhibition, Singapore.



Author
Chor Poh Chin



References
1. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board, p. 597. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); 摄影家乘城逝世 [She ying jia wu cheng cheng zhe shi]. (2006, May 27). 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 35. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board, p. 597. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); Purushothaman, V. (Ed.). (2002). Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural medallion recipients 1979–2001. Singapore: National Arts Council, p. 128. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR)
3. 吴秉诚六十年回顾摄影集 = Peng Seng Wu photographic art 60 years in reminiscence. (1996). 新加坡. L’Atelier Productions, p. 72. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 779.092 WPS)
4. Seah, L. (1997, January 24). He scales 600-m high mountains to shoot scenery. The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Seah, L. (1997, January 24). He scales 600-m high mountains to shoot scenery. The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Seah, L. (1997, January 24). He scales 600-m high mountains to shoot scenery. The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Seeing beauty in everyday life. (2008, April 17). The Straits Times, p. 47. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Seah, L. (1997, January 24). He scales 600-m high mountains to shoot scenery. The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. 美的旅程 [Mei de lu cheng]. (1996, October 19). 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 48. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Seah, L. (1997, January 24). He scales 600-m high mountains to shoot scenery. The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Seah, L. (1997, January 24). He scales 600-m high mountains to shoot scenery. The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Kong, L. (1991, March 26). Seven silver pieces. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with the National Heritage Board, p. 597. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); 吴秉诚六十年回顾摄影集 = Peng Seng Wu photographic art 60 years in reminiscence. (1996). 新加坡: L’Atelier Productions, p. 72. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 779.092 WPS)
14. Purushothaman, V. (Ed.). (2002). Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural medallion recipients 1979–2001. Singapore: National Arts Council, p. 128. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR)
15. Seeing beauty in everyday life. (2008, April 17). The Straits Times, p. 47. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. 美的旅程 [Mei de lu cheng]. (1996, October 19). 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 48. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Purushothaman, V. (Ed.). (2002). Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural medallion recipients 1979–2001. Singapore: National Arts Council, p. 128. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR); National Heritage Board. (2012). Singapore Collections Online. Retrieved from http://www.sgcool.sg/eMP/eMuseumPlus
18.
Purushothaman, V. (Ed.). (2002). Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural medallion recipients 1979–2001. Singapore: National Arts Council, p. 128. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR)
19. 美的旅程 [Mei de lu cheng]. (1996, October 19). 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 48. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. 美的旅程 [Mei de lu cheng]. (1996, October 19). 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 48. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Singapore Art Museum. Exhibitions. Retrieved from http://www.singaporeartmuseum.sg/exhibitions
22.
Purushothaman, V. (Ed.). (2002). Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural medallion recipients 1979–2001. Singapore: National Arts Council, p. 128. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR)
23. David Tay Gives Insights into his Photography Style. [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://myneighbourhoodgems.sg/blog/-/blogs/david-tay-gives-insights-into-his-photography-style; Tribute.sg. (2012). Tan Lip Seng. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Tan+Lip+Seng
24. 摄影家乘城逝世 [She ying jia wu cheng cheng zhe shi]. (2006, May 27). 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 35. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Seeing beauty in everyday life. (2008, April 17). The Straits Times, p. 47. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singapore Art Museum. Exhibitions. Retrieved from http://www.singaporeartmuseum.sg/exhibitions
26.
Tribute.sg. (2012). Wu Peng Seng. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Wu+Peng+Seng
27. Tribute.sg. (2012). Wu Peng Seng. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Wu+Peng+Seng
28. Tribute.sg. (2012). Wu Peng Seng. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Wu+Peng+Seng



The information in this article is valid as at 15 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
Photographers
Wu, Bingcheng, 1918-2006
Personalities
Cultural Medallion Recipients (Photography)
Personalities>>Biographies>>Artists>>Cultural Medallion Recipients
Award winners
Arts