That Split Second: Black-and-White Photography by Hor Kwok Kin

Featuring nine photographic works by self-taught photographer Hor Kwok Kin FRPS, APSS (1939, Ipoh - ), this presentation of former sights and sites in Tanjong Pagar, Chinatown and Kallang aims to provide a glimpse of insight into the body of work by the working-class photographer. Hor’s prodigious oeuvre – an amalgamation of pictorialist philosophy and modernist aesthetic – could be classified alongside other prominent photographers such as his friend and mentor, Cultural Medallion recipient Yip Cheong Fun. Most of these important archives of Singapore, which date back to the 1960s and 70s, will be made available to the public for the first time.

On the Photographer

With local and regional photographic societies and salon exhibitions sprouting up during the key nation-building years, Hor Kwok Kin arrived to Singapore’s pulsating photography scene in 1958. He first worked at Loong Yick Kee Restaurant in Bugis before venturing out in the 1980s to set up his own cze char (stir-fry) stall as a chef. Through an advertisement in the phonebook, he discovered and eventually purchased his first camera, a Leica M3, after saving five months’ worth of salary. A picture of Marina Bay in that same year marked the beginning of his decades-long career as a photographer. Hor persisted in his pursuit of photography despite having to work his fingers to the bone, spending almost every waking hour on his off days and during rest hours with his camera in hand. His inability to afford the equipment and services that wealthier photographers had access to propelled Hor to convert the toilet of the restaurant into a darkroom to facilitate his film processing using a self-mixed chemical concoction in replacement of the conventional developing agent. To Hor, photography is a means to escape the daily drudgery. In recognition of his outstanding artistic output, Hor was awarded the Associate Membership of both The Royal Photography Society (United Kingdom) and the Photographic Society of Singapore in 1986. He was further promoted to the esteemed position of Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society in 1992.

On the Photographs

The guiding motif in Hor Kwok Kin’s oeuvre, as was the stylistic approach of the prevailing photography movement between the 1950s and 1970s, is the emphasis on expression and beauty of subject matter, tonality and composition. His pictures of quotidian life in Singapore also allude to documentary humanist photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson’s spontaneous street photography. Interestingly, it was the discovery of the Leica camera that prompted both Cartier-Bresson and Hor to each embark on their hunt for split-second moments out in the streets. Informed by modernist photography, Hor’s work could be characterised by precise compositions and lighting, clean lines, hard edges and high tonal contrast. The employment of geometric shapes within the built infrastructure as well as textures and patterns in everyday scenes as a framing device and/or leading line is seemingly analogous to the everyday interactions between people and buildings. Through the intimate visual study of Hor Kwok Kin’s photographic compositions of the bygones in Tanjong Pagar, Chinatown and Kallang, viewers are invited to reflect on the symbiotic relationship between man and their built environment, past and present. This photo essay is prepared by artcommune gallery. Visit for more information on Mr. Hor Kwok Kin's photographic prints.

About artcommune gallery

Founded in 2009 by Mr. Ho Sou Ping, artcommune gallery specialises in Singapore’s Modern visual art and represents the finest and most important artists in the country’s visual art canon, from revered pioneer masters Cheong Soo Pieng and Chen Wen Hsi, to leading second-generation painters of varying styles including Lim Tze Peng, Ong Kim Seng, Tan Choh Tee, Tong Chin Sye and Wong Keen.

 Enjoyed this programme? Let us know what you think here and receive a $5 Grab Food voucher*.
*limited to the first 500 complete responses

Category // Stories