Lee Kuan Yew photo touches visitors

Then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew announcing Singapore’s separation from Malaysia on Aug 9, 1965

With tears in his eyes, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew announced Singapore's separation from Malaysia in 1965.

The moment garnered the most votes - 150 of 3,349 - from visitors to the ongoing photo exhibition We: Defining Stories, held at the National Museum of Singapore (NMS), who were asked to pick the photo that left the deepest impression on them.

The next most popular snapshot with 124 votes, out of a pool of about 400 photos on show, also features Mr Lee.

But the photo, shot by former Straits Times photographer George Gascon in 1998, is a more light-hearted one.

It features Mr Lee and his wife Kwa Geok Choo smiling and posing next to a wax sculpture of himself at Madame Tussaud's wax museum.

It was "blink and you will miss it", recalls Mr Gascon, 62, who worked at the broadsheet for a decade. "His smile was fleeting... even though he was surrounded by other media, we got the shot."

The photographs on show at the four-month-long exhibition, by the NMS and The Straits Times, come from both the newspaper's archives and the museum's collection. To date, more than 22,000 people have visited the show, which opened on April 27.

The showcase details defining moments in Singapore's history from 1950 to last year. Photos are divided into six sections; Merdeka - the Malay word for freedom - Home, Challenges, Heroes, So Singaporean and Our Stories.

Visitor Jackson Cheng, 42, who voted for the 1965 photo of Mr Lee, said he is "thankful that Mr Lee had stood firm" in the face of the immense challenge of leading a new nation. Mr Cheng wrote on the poll slip: "Had he crumbled in despair... our lives would certainly have been much harder".

Coming in third was a shot of a Workers' Party rally in Hougang Central during the 2011 General Election. It was taken by deputy photo editor Wang Hui Fen, 42. Her shot captured the sheer number of attendees - estimated to be 15,000 - that night.

This photo got 93 votes.

Two other favourites come from the section So Singaporean, which celebrates the behavioural quirks of Singaporeans.

These include a 1983 photo of then director of the Singapore Zoological Gardens Bernard Harrison lighting a candle on a mountain of bananas to celebrate the zoo's 10th anniversary, along with Ah Meng the orang utan.

NMS curator Priscilla Chua said the exhibition has prompted visitors to share their own personal memories in relation to important moments in the nation's history.

Ms Chua said: "The reactions towards each of these pictures really show how a captured poignant moment can powerfully resonate with our visitors - from intimate portrayals of iconic individuals, to emotionally charged gatherings, and even photos that bring a smile to your face, like our dear Ah Meng atop a mountain of bananas."


This article was first published on June 15, 2014.
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