'Lee Kuan Yew was not a fearsome man': Photographer

'Lee Kuan Yew was not a fearsome man': Photographer
Mr Sosrowardoyo is the man behind the distinctive black-and-white photograph (inset) which is being used as the obituary photograph of Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

When Mr Tara Sosrowardoyo got the call to do a portrait photo shoot with then Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, he could not believe his ears.

The professional photographer remembers trepidation kicking in after taking the call from his friend, Ms Lee Chor Lin, then director of the National Museum of Singapore, in October 2004.

"I immediately rescheduled all the prior jobs I had taken up on the dates she mentioned," he told The New Paper from Jakarta, Indonesia, yesterday.

Mr Sosrowardoyo, 63, an Indonesian who is married to former Malaysian prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad's daughter Marina, is the man behind the distinctive black-and-white photograph which is being used as the obituary photograph of Mr Lee.

"I just thought I was doing the shoot for the museum's archival record of the man at that point in his life," said Mr Sosrowardoyo, who became a professional photographer in 1978.

He recalled how he drove from Kuala Lumpur, where he is based, to Singapore the day before the shoot. He went to the Istana office the next day where he met Mr Lee.

It was the first and, as it turned out, the last time he saw the man.

Mr Sosrowardoyo, who has photographed other prominent politicians, like former Indonesian president Megawati Sukarnoputri and former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, described the shoot with Mr Lee as a "rather unique situation".

"I suspected Mr Lee knew that Dr Mahathir was my father-in-law, but both of us never brought it up or even mentioned it", he said. The photographer recalled Mr Lee's handshake as "firm and sincere".

He said: "It was intimidating when I first met him. (But) I snapped out of it when I realised it was surprisingly easy to build the photographer-subject rapport with Mr Lee.

"It felt like a certain kind of trust developed the moment the shoot began."

The hour-long session, he said, was astonishingly relaxed.

Although Mr Sosrowardoyo is unable to recall details of their conversation during the shoot, he remembers sharing laughs with Mr Lee.

"He was cooperative and very obliging. He had such a kind and pleasant attitude," he said.

"He definitely wasn't the fearsome man that everyone thought he was."


This article was first published on March 28, 2015.
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