THE LONGEST-SERVING SPH INTERN
Yes, I challenge anyone to beat my record of 18 months as an intern at SPH. I didn’t intend to serve that long actually. And most newsmakers didn’t know I was an intern, because I usually didn’t tell them I was one.
As a newly-minted scholar, I was expected to serve an internship every year = 6 months of internship for three of my remaining undergrad years.
I did my first internship at The New Paper, and naturally went to the Straits Times next. I returned to TNP for the last mandatory internship.
It was during the third internship that my career took a drastic change in direction. I had started to pick up photography in Dec 1998, after visiting gorgeous Nepal with Liu Xinyi and her family. I bought a Canon film SLR and brought it along with me on my ST and TNP news assignments so I could do some hands-on training, as well as see if I could get my own photos published in the press.
It was fascinating, learning how to develop, cut and examine your own negatives in the old Times House Group Photo Services office. Other older photogs would give me a strange look but leave me be.
One day in TNP, I had to do this story on a downtrodden family and I took my own photos because there were no photogs available. When I came back with the negatives, then photo boss Philip Lim looked at them and said : “From how you’ve framed the shots, you know what you want in the frame. You have a future as a photojournalist in my department.”
It’s always good to be praised, but what I didn’t know was that a few days later, Philip was to ask me: “I’d like you to join my department, but you have until tomorrow to tell me if you want to.” Being young and unaware of the risks involved, I thought hard about it and said what the heck.
I had no wish to follow the paths of all other scholars before me, I wanted to learn a new skill, and back then, I really wanted to be the best photojournalist I could be.
And boy, did Philip pile on the assignments to get my skills up to speed. I was doing up to four assignments a day, and covered soccer with a manual 300mm f2.8 lens. I covered every damned thing from fashion to product shoots to car accidents, and there was even the famous nipple hair incident (that’s for another day). My back ached from carrying a 14kg camera bag with loads of batteries and film but I was lovin’ it.
So I went on to do my 6-month professional internship with TNP Photo, and because I had finished my 3rd-year modules early in NTU, I volunteered to work another 6 months as a part-timer, also in Photo. That’s how I did 18 months.
The payoff? On my first day of full-time work in 2001, the photo I took won SPH’s Feature Picture Of The Year.