A hobby is defined as ‘an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation but not as a main occupation’. If the hobby continues for over half a lifetime, it can only be interpreted as passion. Long time resident in Bangkok, Hong Kong-born world-renowned David Lau has persistently honed his skills in photography for over 50 years. As owner of Thai Scala Restaurant at Siam Paragon and various other catering businesses, I asked him to explain his love of photography, “I cannot describe it, photography has always been my passion since I was young”. Being a naughty and unruly child, David was sent to boarding school at the age of 8, where he discovered the art. In the dark room for film processing, he found his sanctuary.
Learning from the best
David Lau attended Mary Knox College in Hong Kong. He learned photography from the famous Hong Kong photography guru Mr. Tang Shu Fung, who took David under his wings. At the age of 13, he entered a public competition in the name of the school, and won the award for Best Photo. Consequently, he helped to set up the dark room in his school, and started to share his knowledge with other students.
For more than five decades, David collected numerous awards and trophies of photography along the way, namely FPSEA, ARPS, APSHK, FYMCAPC, HON. FBPS ARPST, HON. YMCAPC, SE35MMPS, and T1-PPD (C). Many of the accreditations were professional photography titles through proper examinations. In 1981, the Photographic Society of America (PSA) credited him as the “7th world ranked photographer” for colour print section.
David’s photography portfolios and skills can rival any professional photographers. I candidly asked him why he did not pursue it as a career, “Growing up with an authoritarian father, I was not allowed to contemplate my own career. My Dad would joke that a poorly paid artist cannot feed a family. As the eldest son, I was destined to carry on the family business”. Luckily, David continued his passion on the sideline to create images to keep all those “Aha” moments to share with the community.
Serving the community
“Taking photography is an easy hobby, but how do use the photographs we take to serve the community?” a question David thought to himself. He found the answer by holding photo exhibitions of his work in Bangkok, to encourage cultural exchange. His objective is to share the eye catching images of all the exotic and exquisite places of the world to other people, who may not financially or physically able to experience them in real life.
Since 2011 to present, David Lau held 25 country photo exhibitions in co-operation with many Embassies in Thailand at Siam Paragon. The first exhibition titled “Treasure of Sichuan” was coordinated with the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China. Throughout the nine years to follow, countries such as India, Indonesia, Kenya, Maldives, Mongolia, Morocco, Nepal, Russia, and Tanzania were shared with the Thai public.
In parallel with the photo exhibitions, David published books on some of the countries photos. His second photography book, Tibet: Road to Heaven, published in 2011, is the image collection of Tibet. The book gathers together 110 selections, representing the finest images of his experience in the Road to Heaven. This book offers a significant impression of the vast, peaceful, and exuberant land with the mystical cultural heritage. It takes the readers on the spectacular journey in Tibet. Meanwhile, all the proceeds from the book sale would be donated to the V. Vajiramedhi Charitable Fund for the purpose of constructing its Forest Temple.
During the Nepal earthquake in 2015, a photo exhibition Save Nepal was quickly organised to raise funds by selling photos and T-shirts during the event. In 2017, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees invited David Lau to the refugee camps and resulted in an exhibition titled For refugees around the world.
Photo exhibitions are perfect channel to commemorate many significant occasions. In 2015, The Celebrations on the Auspicious Occasion of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn’s 5th Cycle Birthday Anniversary was held in cooperation with Thai-Chinese Cultural & Relationship Council in Thailand. The following year, The 70th Anniversary Celebrations of his Majesty the King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s (Rama IX) Accession to the Throne was organised through the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in 2016.
Vision for the future generation
I openly asked David, “Can photography skills be learned or honed to perfection?” Impartially he replied, “Photography is an art in which all basics can surely be learned. It is also a gift that requires actual talent.” Further explained, “To take a perfect photo, there are three components. First is planning, you need to have a plan in your head. Second factor is composition, the process of producing your image. The final part is lighting and shadow. A good example on the importance of lighting is the best time to take outdoors photos is before 10am or after 4pm. Sunset photos, with the correct brightness offer certain special aura on the images.” With all these new gadget phones such as Huawei that come with outstanding built-in camera, it is not a challenge to take good photos.
“What is your vision for the new generation?” I inquired the grandfather of two, “For the young generation, I would like to encourage children to take up a good hobby and pursue them with focus. It does not necessarily be photography, but a craft will give the kids a sense of value.”