FOR the past 18 years, a lot of Singapore's history has passed through Mr Looi Tai Yew's hands.
The 62-year-old senior technical support officer at the National Archives of Singapore (NAS) audio-visual lab manually cleans, repairs, and archives old audio-visual material, preserving the sights and sounds of the nation's past.
Said Mr Looi: "Maybe this film is not valuable now, but it could be a precious treasure for future generations." The importance of archivists like him was highlighted by Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim at the opening ceremony of the 19th South-east Asia-Pacific Audio Visual Archive Association Conference last Wednesday.
Dr Yaacob said: "With his vast experience with film and analogue video formats, Mr Looi has guided colleagues and volunteers from the Asian Film Archive on how to assess and hand-clean old films and obsolete video formats."
He called for archivists to "upgrade their skills constantly to keep up with the evolving trends and technologies", and stressed the need for mentors such as Mr Looi to impart their experience to the younger generation of archivists.
Dr Yaacob added that the public can expect faster access to NAS recordings by the middle of the year. The Straits Times understands this is due to a shorter time taken to process applications.
During a first-time behind- the-scenes media tour of the NAS lab on Monday, Mr Looi demonstrated the process of salvaging battered film strips.
He cleans about three to four reels of film daily. It usually takes a couple of hours to digitise a 10-minute clip, although once he worked for a whole week to salvage a damaged single 16mm reel of an English documentary.
NAS has in its archives more than 130,000 audio-visual records from Singapore's past, ranging from news broadcasts to documentaries and movies.
They include a 1941 Peranakan home movie, the Berita Singapura series charting Singapore's socio- economic growth in the 1960s, and some turn-of-the-century vinyl records.
Mr Looi enjoys it most when he gets to restore moments from his own past, such as Singapore street scenes from the 1970s. He said: "It's very nice, when you see an old memory of your own."
This article was first published on April 28, 2015.
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