ST photo exhibition: Photographers still starstruck after all these years

Even as he crouched on the airport tarmac to snap the shot, Mr Simon Ker could feel the Pope's presence.

Then 66, Pope John Paul II was on his first visit to Singapore, a five-hour stopover as part of his tour through Asia and the Pacific in 1986.

Mr Ker said: "It was one of the rare occasions the press was allowed to go onto the tarmac.

"The Pope had a custom of kissing the tarmac immediately upon arrival, and we had to catch that action."

Mr Ker, 56, who currently helms the photo desk at The New Paper, was a photographer with The Straits Times from 1982 to 1988.

"As a junior photographer then, I was really excited and honoured to be so close to such a powerful man," he said.

The Pope met then-President Wee Kim Wee and then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew at the Istana. He then celebrated mass and delivered a sermon at the National Stadium to a crowd of more than 70,000.

Mr Ker added: "Throughout my career, I have covered other important people, like politicians. But Pope John Paul II stood out.

"You could really feel his presence."

Retired photographer Tan Suan Ann, 70, also recalled having taken many photos of celebrities.

He was with The Straits Times for 29 years, from 1976 to 2005.


"As photographers, we would be happy and excited to photograph celebrities, because we wouldn't get a chance to meet them otherwise," he said.

In 1988, he helped capture a memorable shot of the 12 finalists in the first Star Search talent competition organised by the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation, now known as MediaCorp.

Some of the finalists went on to launch successful careers on-screen and have become veterans of Caldecott Hill.

There was Zoe Tay, who won the title, Aileen Tan, who was first-runner-up, and Chen Hanwei.

Mr Tan recalled the mood that day: "It was exciting. There was a lot of applause and shouts."

There were many other memorable stars photographed by The Straits Times over the years, such as Hollywood darling Elizabeth Taylor, superstar Michael Jackson and boxing heavyweight great Muhammad Ali.

Mr Tan has this advice to offer aspiring photographers: "When photographing celebrities, your eyes must be sharp and your ears long. Then you can look out for where the action is and catch a good shot."


WHEN: Till Aug 31

WHERE: Exhibition Gallery 1 of the National Museum of Singapore

OPENING HOURS: 10am to 6pm daily

SECTIONS: The exhibition is divided into six sections: Merdeka (freedom in Malay), Home, Challenges, Heroes, So Singaporean and Our Stories. Entry is free.


This article was published on May 15 in The New Paper.

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