Meet SEA Games' oldest volunteer

When he went to Siem Reap in Cambodia last year, he spent hours climbing temple stairs in search of the perfect shot.

Come June, when the SEA Games begin, Mr Joseph Tan will climb stadium steps to snap photos of foreign dignitaries.

At 87, he is the oldest among the 17,000 SEA Games volunteers for an array of jobs, from directing crowds to providing medical assistance. They will be paid a travel allowance.

Mr Tan specialises in portraiture and has photographed the Thai King and Bruneian royalty.

He does not see his age as a barrier to his passion. "Photography is my love, I will not stop as long as I'm healthy and can still move," he said.

He jumped at the opportunity to volunteer at the SEA Games when his student told him about it.

Mr Vincent Fong, 56, has been Mr Tan's photography student for five years and looks up to his master not only because of his skills but also his positive attitude.

"I respect him as a master because he really walks the talk, he radiates passion and energy. Even at his age, he can wake up at 3am to prepare for a shoot later in the day," said Mr Fong.

Mr Tan gave up a lucrative job with Shell in 1969 to pursue photography full-time, despite calling it foolish. His wife, who died 10 years ago, was a pillar of support for him.

"She was the one who encouraged me to go for photography. I dedicated the book I published in 2012 to her," he said.

Mr Tan has six daughters, three sons, 14 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

His motto: "With determination, willpower and a will to succeed, you will surely succeed."

Mr Tan still actively engages in photography, operating from his studio, Joseph Master Photography, in Chai Chee. He started his shop in 1992.

In recent years, he has been volunteering to photograph community events, give talks and teach.


"I'm 87, I cannot pretend to be 37. I give back to society through teaching and volunteering," said Mr Tan, who has taught photography in secondary schools and in ITE.

"I want to pass on my passion in photography to young people and let them enjoy the joys of photography."

For the SEA Games, he spent about $9,000 on a new camera and lens.

He said: "I'm really looking forward to the Games, I'm just waiting to collect my uniform and go for it!"

Mr Muhammad Rostam Umar, Chief of Manpower and Games Engagement, said: "We are heartened to see individuals stepping up to volunteer for the SEA Games. Age is no limit, as long as the volunteer is able to perform the assigned role competently.

"Mr Tan is a fine example of someone who does not allow his age to stop him from pursuing his passion for volunteering through photography. He will be an inspiration to many."

This article was first published on April 22, 2015.
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