Yip Cheong Fun

Singapore Infopedia


Yip Cheong Fun (b. 1903, Hong Kong–d. 16 September 1989, Singapore),1 or “Old Man Yip”, was one of Singapore’s top pioneer photographers.2 In his lifetime, he received more than 50 worldwide photography awards. In 1980, he was named by the Photographic Society of New York as one of the 10 Honorary Outstanding Photographers of the Century (Seascapes). Yip was awarded the Cultural Medallion for photography in 1984.3

Early life
Yip was born in Hong Kong in 1903 and came to Singapore with his parents when he was just seven months old. His father died in 1907 and he was sent to live with relatives in China two years later, as his mother had to work. Neglected by his relatives, Yip returned to Singapore in 1913 and was reunited with his mother. He later studied at a private school in Chinatown.4  

Yip was a technical supervisor with United Engineers in his younger days. He was also passionate about photography, which he had picked up as a hobby in his 20s.5 His first camera was a Rolleiflex that he had bought in 1936 to take photos for his family album. Yip left United Engineers in 1942 and started a small engineering workshop at the back of his house. However, he continued his passion for photography and even built a dark room.

From then on, Yip’s love for photography grew, and he captured Singapore’s landscapes before the onset of urban redevelopment. He took photographs of harbours, plantations and kampong (Malay for “village”). He also travelled to Johor, Malaysia, by train every weekend to photograph the scenery there as well. However, World War II disrupted Yip’s photography after the Japanese confiscated his camera. As soon as the war was over, he bought a new camera and resumed his hobby.7

In 1960, Yip joined Tien Wah Press as a commercial photographer and technician. He retired from the company in 1973.Yip began submitting his pictures for competitions and exhibitions in overseas salons when he was in his 50s and won many awards.9 He remained an amateur photographer throughout his life.10 

Upon retirement, Yip and his wife ran a provision shop in Kreta Ayer, selling items such as parking coupons, tidbits, drinks, cigarettes and photographic films.11

Yip was one of the photographers, along with the late Kouo Shang Wei and Lim Lee, who captured the atmosphere of “old” Singapore from the 1950s to late 1980s.12 In 1984, Yip was honoured with the Cultural Medallion for photography, as his works “identified with Singaporean society and mirrored the nation’s way of life and history”.13

Yip’s seascapes became one of his trademarks.14 Rowing At Dawn (1955), Yip’s first entry into a salon competition, was his most awarded photograph, both locally and internationally. It received many gold medals and awards since it was first submitted for competition.15 The photograph, featuring a solitary boatman rowing in the misty morning light, was one of Yip’s many seascape works.16 His seascape prints clinched him the title of Outstanding Photographer of the Century (Seascapes) by the Photographic Society of New York in 1980.17

Yip was also well-known for his black-and-white photography, and won many awards in the black-and-white print categories in competitions.18 In 1978, for instance, he won the Merlion Pewter Award for Fisherman’s Hurry, a monochrome print featuring two men wading towards the shore with their day’s catch on their shoulders.19

In all, Yip received more than 50 awards since he started entering his photographs into competitions in the 1950s.20 In 2006, 22 of his black-and-white photographs were featured in the publication Blooms in a Glimpse: Story of Kreta Ayer.21 In the same year, the National Library, Singapore held an exhibition featuring the oeuvre of his works, which included Rowing at Dawn, one of his most acclaimed works.22 His work, Morning Round (1949), is now part of the DBS Singapore Gallery at the National Gallery Singapore.23

Selected awards and honours
1961: Receives Honorary Fellowship, Royal Photographic Society, UK.24
1969: Listed in the International Salon of Photography Who’s Who, Photographic Society of America.25
1971: Receives Merlion Pewter Award for Fishermen’s Hurry, 29th Singapore International Salon of Photography.26
1972, 1983: Receives Honorary Distinction, Federation Internationale de l’art Photographique.27
1974: Receives Honorary Fellowship, Photographic Society of Singapore. 
1978: Receives Honorary Life Membership, Photographic Society of Singapore.28
1980: Named one of 10 Honorary Outstanding Photographers of the Century (Seascapes), Photographic Society of New York, USA. 
1984: Receives Cultural Medallion (Photography), Singapore.29

Yip passed away on 16 September 1989 at the age of 86. He was survived by his wife Leong Lin, four sons, two daughters, 15 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren.30

Nureza Ahmad

1. “Photographer Yip Cheong Fun Dies,” Straits Times, 19 September 1989, 3; “Deaths: Yip Cheong Fun,” Straits Times, 18 September 1989, 27. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Cheong Chi Chin, “Three Men and a Passion,” Straits Times, 2 April 1992, 12 (From NewspaperSG); “Photographer Yip Cheong Fun Dies”; Corrie Tan, “Remembering Yip Cheong Fun,” Straits Times, 1 April 2006, 4; Richard Seah, “Photography Is Fun,” Business Times, 21 July 1986, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
3. “Over 60 Years of Clicking,” Straits Times, 7 November 1984, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Bridget Tracy Tan, An Ingenious Reverie: The Photography of Yip Cheong Fun (Singapore: National Library Board and Singapore Heritage Society, 2006), 138. (Call no. RSING 779.092 TAN)
5. “Photographer Yip Cheong Fun Dies.”
6. Tan, Ingenious Reverie, 138; Tan, “Remembering Yip Cheong Fun.”
7. “Over 60 Years of Clicking”; Teo Han Wue, An ‘Escapee’ from Gambling Who Became a Top Lensman,” Straits Times, 22 November 1983, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Tan, Ingenious Reverie, 138.
9. “Over 60 Years of Clicking”; Irene Toh, “Capturing That Magical Moment,” Singapore Monitor, 22 November 1984, 18. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Yip Cheong Fun, Yip Cheong Fun’s Pictorial Collection (Singapore: Yip Cheong Fun, 1986), 141 (Call no. RSING 770.924 YIP); Seah, “Photography Is Fun”; Richard Seah, “Old Man Yip and the Sea,” Business Times, 28 July 1986, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
11. Teo, “‘Escapee’ from Gambling Who Became a Top Lensman”; “Photographer Yip Cheong Fun Dies”; Seah, “Photography Is Fun.”
12. Cheong, “Three Men and a Passion.” 
13. “Over 60 Years of Clicking.”
14. Cheong, “Three Men and a Passion”; Seah, “Old Man Yip and the Sea.” 
15. Cheong, “Three Men and a Passion”; “Over 60 Years of Clicking.”
16. Cheong, “Three Men and a Passion.”
17. “Over 60 Years of Clicking.”
18. Lim Sin Thai, “The Enduring Power of Black-and-White,” Straits Times, 15 October 1989, 10; “Five S’pore Lensmen Win Top Awards in Exhibition,” Straits Times, 2 July 1978, 25. (From NewspaperSG)
19. “Five S’pore Lensmen Win Top Awards in Exhibition.”
20. “Over 60 Years of Clicking”; Seah, “Photography Is Fun.”
21. Elsen Teo, “Glimpses of a Chinatown Childhood,” Straits Times, 9 June 2006, 15. (From NewspaperSG)
22. “Exhibition of Late Yip Cheong Fun’s Photography Works at National Library,” Channel NewsAsia, 15 March 2006. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
23. Yip Cheong Fun, “Morning Round,” artwork, 1949.
24. Tan, Ingenious Reverie, 138.
25. “Over 60 Years of Clicking”; “12 S’pore Lensmen Listed in US Who’s Who,” Straits Times, 16 July 1970, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
26. “Five S’pore Lensmen Win Top Awards in Exhibition.”
27. “Over 60 Years of Clicking”; “Photographer Yip Cheong Fun Dies”; Toh, “Capturing That Magical Moment”; Teo, “‘Escapee’ from Gambling Who Became a Top Lensman.”
28. Tan, Ingenious Reverie, 138.
29. “Over 60 Years of Clicking”; “Photographer Yip Cheong Fun Dies”; Seah, “Old Man Yip and the Sea.” 
30. “Photographer Yip Cheong Fun Dies”; “Deaths: Yip Cheong Fun.”

Further resources
About Yip Cheong Fun,” Yip Cheong-Fun Gallery, accessed 21 October 2016.

Yip Cheong Fun, Photographs, 1954–1960. (From National Archives of Singapore)

Yip Cheong Fun, Yip Cheong Fun’s Pictorial Collection (Singapore: Yip Cheong Fun, 1986). (Call no. RSING 770.924 YIP)

The information in this article is valid as at 2017 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.


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