It was quite early when we arrived at Lim’s Photo Studio situated along Jalan Abdullah. In spite of being quite early, we had to wait for our turn as there were two other families who came earlier than us. I was wearing a bright flowery shirt grandma had just completed sewing yesterday evening. Immediately after she completed her job, I was called for fitting and I would grin widely feeling very proud of my new shirt. Every time when grandma tailored a new dress, the remnant of the cloth would surely be my new shirt. Sometime when she changed a new curtain for the windows, the balance of the cloth would be my shirt. I was still small and it would not need much cloth to make one.
Earlier in the morning after our breakfast of toasted bread spread with Planta Margarine and 434 Muar coffee, I went straight to our house tembok looking for the beca man. During my growing days, we never had a toaster (in fact we never heard of one) and so our bread was placed on top of mesh wire placed on top of a stove filled with burning arang. We seldom had butter as it was quite costly compared to the margarine. Grandpa was a Clerk at the government office and perhaps his salary was just enough to last us for the whole month. Every time when he received his monthly salary, the sundry shop owner whom we called “Kadir” would come over with his bicycle and a rattan basket full of groceries for our one month stock. Among them would be a big tin of Planta Margarine for our daily breakfast.
“Wah, lawanya baju. Nak pegi mana ni?” (Wow, that’s a nice shirt. Where are you going?), shouted Kak Fuzi from her house just a few steps away from ours. She was a year older than me and had always been my very close companion.
“Nak pegi kedai gambo, ambek gambo” (Going to the photo studio, taking my photograph), I replied while still sitting at the tembok for the beca man to pass by. “Nak ikut?” ( Would you like to come along?), I asked her without even getting approval from grandma as I knew she would always approved with Kak Fuzi coming along. After all the trishaw could fit nicely with the three of us on it. “Nak, nak” (Yes, yes) answered Kak Fuzi almost immediately and within seconds she was running towards the tembok.
We hardly took photographs during our growing years simply because we never had any camera at home. My grandparents were not rich but they were not poor either. So every time we needed to take pictures, we had to go to town and the only place we knew was “Lim’s Photo Studio”.
“Teksi, teksi”, I called out loud to the beca man who was approaching towards our direction. Those days we called a beca a taxi. I kept waving at him while shouting out loud. I told Kak Fuzi to keep an eye on the beca man as I had to inform grandma that we now had a teksi to take us to town.
On the beca, I squatted in front holding to the steel bar while Kak Fuzi and grandma sat. I’ve always liked squatting at the front because I would always imagine I was on a wagon shooting at the ‘Red Indians’ and all of ‘them’ would fall from their horses and died. Sometimes I would imagine being a ‘superman’ like the one I watched on some comics and pretended that the road down below was a big sea like the Muar River. When we reached “Lim’s Photo Studio” I was already a ‘Tarzan’ except with the shirt on. Immediately I jumped from the trishaw like how Tarzan did and ran straight to the studio.
The owner Mr. Lim was inside a room taking pictures of someone and there were two other families waiting for their turn. Grandma paid the beca man and walked into the studio shop followed by Kak Fuzi.
We had to wait for quite sometime before our turn came. “Aaah, mali mali” (Aaah, come, come), Mr. Lim said as he invited the three of us inside the studio. It was quite dark and there was a stool, a hanger where many clothes were hanging and some ties and bows. What fascinated me was the background; a canvass spread from up to down with pictures of coconut tress slanting and a small mountain quite far away. The clouds too were drawn with the sun so bright but the room was still dark.
About a week earlier, grandma received a request from my paternal grandmother to have my picture taken so that it could be sent to my father who was serving as a junior diplomat in India. It was 1956 and my father had married a close relative, approximately four years after my mother passed away. He wanted to know how I looked like as we seldom met given that he was always overseas. Now I was at Lim’s Photo Studio to pose for my father.
Grandma told Mr. Lim to take my picture first and so I was ushered to the stool and sat. Mr. Lim then adjusted my shoulder and told me to look straight. My hair was combed center-parting, grinning widely with one of my front tooth missing and with my new flowery shirt on, I looked just like Alfred Newman of “Mad Magazine”. Then Mr. Lim went to his camera set that was covered by a black cloth and told me to get ready.
He would then said, “Ok, Leli, leli” (Ok, ready, ready) and I understood that by now I had to keep on smiling with my eyes looking straight at the camera. He then poked his face inside the black cloth where the camera was maybe adjusting the frame to get a good view of me. Then he showed back his face and said to me, “Aiya..mana itu satu gigi? Tikus makan kah?” (Aiya..where’s one of your front tooth? Had it been eaten by a mouse?). Immediately I closed my mouth but still grinning widely. Then he suggested that I did just that and not to show-off my missing front tooth. “Ok aah, Leli, leli” and a sudden flash of light appeared that almost frightened me. Ok done, I’ve got my picture taken. Grandma thought that since the three of us were at the studio, Kak Fuzi might as well took hers too and later grandma alone. We had to wait about a week to get our pictures developed.
Taking pictures in the 50s was a rare occasion. We either had to go the photo studio or had the photographer himself paying us a visit with extra cost. Once grandpa suggested that we called the photographer to our house and have all our pictures taken. It was during one Hari Raya festival when most of our family members were around that we had a group family photo taken.
As years passed and as technology began to advance, photography technology too improved and Lim’s Photo Studio managed to keep up with the trend. We could have pictures of many variations; like having your picture taken on top of a mountain with the clouds just above your head; a picture of yourself holding a smaller version of own self standing on your palm and a picture of you shaking hands with your own self. All these were done in the studio.
A camera of the late fifties although was not too big, it was heavy and the most famous was “Cannon”. Some of you readers may have some other known cameras but for me growing in a small town, this was the only camera known to me. It was still in black and white and for the film we only knew “Kodak”. We still needed to wait for three to four days to have our pictures developed.
During any public celebration, like the merdeka celebration, festivals conducted in public places or even weddings, owners of these photo studios would be taking lots of pictures of people attending. If he happened to take your picture, he would approach you and tell you to have your picture at his studio in three or four days time. By that time, his studio would be crowded with people like you whose pictures would be paraded on a big cardboard. You could then placed your order of any picture you wished and he would then develop the picture but you still need to wait for a day or two. You could request to develop a single picture in multiples.
Those having picnics with no camera could still use the service of the studio who would then send a photographer to take the pictures. You could satisfy yourself with varieties of posing positions to your likings but you still need to wait for three to four days to find out how they turned out. During the waiting days, you would have sleepless nights and very eager to have a look at these photos. Once developed and handed to you, the whole neighbourhood would come by to your house to have a look and when they returned home, you could have all these photos to yourself admiring endlessly. You would look at the photos while eating and sometimes even bringing them to the toilet. Before you dozed off to sleep, you would still be looking at the photos grinning widely alone. The next day when you woke up, you would look again at the photos sometime even forgetting to brush your teeth.
At the end of every school term, there would surely be a class photography session conducted by most schools. These pictures would in later years become very precious. I believe all schools today still conduct photography sessions and do tell your children to keep these photos. In their later years these photos will be priceless.
Old pictures bring back so many fond memories. I regret that I have lost most of the pictures I took during my growing days but I still keep pictures of my wedding day. In those days, we had photo albums and would be gladly shown to any visitor that dropped by. Once a school girl whom I admired gave me her photo which I put it in my album. Later when I got married, my wife asked me who this girl was. I told her that she was Kak Fuzi’s friend and because Kak Fuzi did not have an album of her own, she asked me to put the picture in my album. Telling a white lie is not a serious sin I guess.