Clock Tower

David TanOver the years, many photos were taken of the imposing ACS Clock Tower standing tall on the hill, but the most notable is perhaps the black and white masterpiece by Teddy Yong Men Win and the late David Tan Sing Hwa. What is remarkable about this photo was how the two young amateur photographers went about planning, innovating and executing the shot 62 years ago in 1957 without the aid of today’s professional photographic accessories.

Teddy and David were mostly in the same class since Standard 1 in 1949. When they found that they had a common interest in photography, they eventually became the school’s ‘unofficial’ photographers at school events and sports meets such as athletics, swimming and inter-school games. They were also responsible for forming a photographic club where they taught the younger boys how to develop and print Teddy Yongtheir own photos. For their photographic contributions and probably also in recognition of the Clock Tower masterpiece they took, Teddy and David were the first two students to be awarded the ACS Colours for Photography.

When the ACS Echo invited Teddy to share how the Clock Tower photograph was taken, he readily agreed as it was an opportunity for him to pay tribute to his dear friend and classmate, David, who passed on in 2014.

David and I shared our love for photography for many years, and our proudest effort was in the photograph of the ACS Clock Tower which we cherish dearly. We used to look back fondly on that piece of work and reminisced on the effort we had put in”, Teddy said.

Painter at workWhy don’t we ‘paint’ the Clock Tower?

Back in 1950s, very few buildings in Singapore were floodlit. Victoria Memorial Hall was one of a few, and possibly the Supreme Court and the Municipal Building. They looked so beautiful and majestic at night against the black night sky.

I mentioned to David one day in 1957: “Wouldn’t our Clock Tower look spectacular if it were floodlit, and we took a photo of it?” He agreed, but we knew that ACS was not about to install floodlights any time soon, if at all! That set me thinking; maybe we could “paint” the Clock Tower with light. And then I came up with a plan and discussed it with David.

CameraPlanning the shoot - Cameras, Flash Guns and a Little Help from Ah Nai

We could use flash guns to “paint” the building. But how do we get so many flashguns to fire simultaneously? Even if we could borrow enough flashguns, there were no wireless remotes in those days to trigger them off. It was eventually decided that we could use a hand-held magnesium bulb flash gun to set off the flash manually, and we could do this at one spot at a time with the camera shutter kept open throughout the “painting” session. An electronic flashgun will be used to “fill in” the secondary areas. This way, we would be methodically “painting” the building with light. We determined where the magnesium bulbs would be used, and where the electronic flashgun would be used. We also determined the locations where these flashguns would be activated. The whole plan sounded feasible.

We then arranged with our school caretaker – Mr. Nai (or more fondly know as Ah Nai to all the students) – to open certain doors and windows to allow me to get to the positions that I needed to set off the flashes. As Mr Nai knew both of us well, he agreed. He operated his popular beef kway teow stall in the School’s canteen, and David’s father operated a drinks stall there as well. And he knew that both David and I often helped out at the drinks stall during recess.

Lights, camera, action!How we did it

On a selected moonless night, David and I arrived at school at around 6 pm. David brought his two cameras – a Rolleiflex (120 roll film), and another (the model of which I now cannot remember). I brought along my two cameras – a Zeiss Ikon Nettar II (120 roll film) and a Zeiss Ikon Contaflex I (35 mm). We mounted the four cameras on tripods and positioned them along the pavement of Dunearn Road. I also brought along my handheld flash gun and six large magnesium flash bulbs, and my Mecablitz electronic flash. David was in charge of the cameras, and I would be the one running around to the predetermined locations to set off the flashes. I had to do the complete round of flashing as quickly as possible.

At around 7.15 pm, Mr. Nai opened the Library door for me and the door of the room just below the clock. At about 7.20 pm, David activated all the four cameras with the camera speed set at “B”. Different apertures were set for the four cameras used. When David shouted to me that all the cameras were activated, I immediately went outside the roof level above the car porch and fired two magnesium bulbs consecutively at the front of the Clock Tower. I then ran up to the floor below the clock, crawled out of the window, and fired another magnesium bulb at the left side of the Clock Tower. Next, I ran down one floor and crawled through a window onto the flat roof of the second storey and used my electronic flash to fill up a bit of the side wall with light. My next stop was the porch, where I again used a magnesium bulb to light up the interior of the porch. After that, I went to the left and right wings of the building to fill in some light with my electronic flash. My final stop was behind the small pine tree in the foreground to light up the slope. All this took me about 3 minutes to complete.The buddies David and Teddy

 Mission Accomplished!

We could only make one attempt at taking our photograph, as we had limited resources. In all, we used four magnesium bulbs, and about 12 electronic flashes. The next day, we sent our films for developing and printing of the proof copies. All the photographs turned out well. We selected the best one, had it enlarged, and presented it to the Principal.

I believe that this is the only night photograph of our school Clock Tower that ACS has possession of, and David and I are very proud and honoured to have been able to do this for our School.

Edward “Teddy” Yong Men Win
ACS Class of 1957

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