As a photographer for The Straits Times, Kevin Lim’s daily assignments typically cover general and sports news. However, it was his experience in disaster photography that was the focus of his talk at the World Press Photo Exhibition held at the National Museum of Singapore in February.
Lim spoke to more than 180 members of the public, alongside his wife Neo Xiao Bin (CS’07), who is also a ST photographer. Both Lim and Neo, together with Desmond Lim (CS’07) and Alphonsus Chern (CS’07), two other alumni from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, had several of their photos featured at the prestigious showcase. The annual World Press Photo Exhibition features award-winning images by media photographers, photojournalists and documentary photographers from around the world.
Having covered disasters such as the Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philipines in 2013 and AirAsia QZ8501 crash in 2014, Lim said it is always a challenge to keep emotions under control during such assignments.
“I think it is a human process to get involved. If you don’t feel anything, you won’t be able to convey emotions in the pictures. The key thing is to know how to manage your emotions and not let it get the better of you.”
Kevin Lim, The Straits Times photojournalist
“I think it is a human process to get involved. If you don’t feel anything, you won’t be able to convey emotions in the pictures,” he said. “The key thing is to know how to manage your emotions and not let it get the better of you.”
With emotions in check, being present at the scene is equally crucial for disaster photographers.
“There is no predictability when it comes to disasters,” Lim explained. “If we are not on ground zero, there are no pictures, and if there are no pictures, there is no story.”
Lim vividly recalls his first disaster coverage — the 2010 Sumatra Tsunami that hit the Mentawai Islands.
Besides the difficulty of finding a boatman to bring him across the choppy waters, another thing that struck him when he landed at the disaster site, was that the air was filled with the overwhelming stench of rotting, dead bodies.
“People were not really crying but you could notice that they were in a shock,” said Lim. “They had just lost everything.”
Seeing individuals in these circumstances gave Lim new perspectives in life, and prompted him to question his purpose as a photojournalist.
“It is not only about capturing death,” he said. “It is just as much about showing hope.”
As a journalism major while at WKWSCI, Lim joined The Nanyang Chronicle — a student-run campus newspaper. It was during this stint that Lim found and developed his interest for photojournalism.
Despite picking up photography much later than his peers, Lim was undaunted.
“To learn from your weaknesses, it can become a strength,” he said. “If you have passion and a real interest, people can see it in your work. And this work will be something you look forward to waking up for (each day).”