Capturing Asia View Gallery

a SIX MAN camera dynasty from singapore covering asia

Willie Phua trained and led a dynasty of six TV cameramen, all from Singapore. The other five were Phua Tin Loon, sons Sebastian (departed) and Joe, Jone Chang and Tan Suan Ann. Joe and Jone are still active in international television in Asia.

At various stages of their careers, the five Willie Phua tutored worked for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) covering Asia, sometimes with Willie Phua, and sometimes working alone.

Willie is pictured here in Manila, c 1986, with his cameramen nephews, Sebastian Phua (centre) and younger brother Joe Phua. 

Willie close 'brother cousin' Phua Tin Loon (pictured below, second from right) worked with Willie Phua in his photographic shop in Singapore in the early 'sixties and later went on to become a sound recordist and cameraman, initially assisting Willie.

Loon, who was boirn in Thailand, is pictured below in Hainan - birthplace of his parents in the same village that Willie Phua came from - in late 2009 with his family, son Joe (left) and other son  Jason on his right, who is not a cameraman. Loon's wife Ivy is on the right.

Joe Phua now is contracted to international TV networks and is managing director of Infocus Asia with offices in Singapore, Bangkok and Beijing. His work is seen on major television networks, including Britain and the United States, and elsewhere around the world. In May of 2010 he covered the 'red shirt' protests and riots in Bangkok.


Phua Tin Loon in his retirement is grateful to his friend and cousin: "You must understand, without Willie, I wouldn’t have anything today; probably pouring coffee and washing up in a coffee shop in Bangkok. Willie was the teacher."

After working his way up as a dark room assistant in photography shops, Willie Phua set up Mayfair Photo in Singapore and this led to his interest in moving pictures.

'It was all started by Willie" says the jovial Phua Tin Loon. "My sons say he could be hard; the need to be punctual etc. But he helped them all, me and my sons. Hainanese cousin Tan Suan Ann, also a photographer, came to work at Mayfair Photo with Willie's help. Also Jone Chang [Chang Chun Yuen] too. He is son of the elder brother of Willie’s wife Cindy. Chang worked with Willie for a long time as his sound recordist and video editor and is also a cameraman."

The Chinese in Singapore, as expatriate Chinese elsewhere, are clannish and stick together. With Willie Phua’s backing, another Hainanese cousin, Tan Suan Ann, a gentle fellow, but a larrikin in his youth, became a stringer cameraman for the government network Radio Television Singapore (RTS). He also filmed at weddings and birthday parties and was a popular cameraman for jobs associated with the Chinese Chamber of Commerce. Tan recalls:

"It was from Willie that I picked up all the skills—still cameras and movies. Willie taught me about news sense and that a story must have a start and a finish. I travelled with Willie a few times, usually on assignment to Malaysia, and Willie began to trust me with the camera."

Tan began to get more and more assignments overseas, but chose in the end to stay in Singapore with his young family, working as a photographer for the Straits Times. He remains a popular stills photographer in Singapore, and says Willie Phua taught him more than photography:

"He taught me a lot of discipline; how to treat people and that’s very important. I see how he treats friends
and others."

Phua Tin Loon learnt first to be a stills photographer, then frequently worked as a part-time cameraman for the ABC, the Visnews film agency (now Reuters TV), and other outlets. He often travelled Asia with Willie Phua as Willie’s assistant or as his sound recordist.

There were years when Loon was often in the thick of dangerous situations, especially during the gradual but violent decline of the Philippine president, Ferdinand Marcos, in the 1980s. These days he says he enjoys watching television, rather than capturing the vision on camera.

Phua clan images have been seen around the world for decades and have included brutal wars and civil unrest, economic booms and crashes, the rise and fall of dictators, great natural disasters, coups, assassinations, acts of genocide and the emergence of economic giants, China and India.

Pictured below are Phua Tin Loon (left) recording sound and Willie Phua with camera during an anti-Marcos protest in Manila, c 1986.


sebastian phua starting out as a cameraman in own right

The story of Sebastian Phua's early training froim the ABC's Scan in-house magazine, c 1982.



Phua Tin Loon, Willie Phua's 'brother cousin', father of Sebastian and Joe Phua. Loon was both cameraman and sound recordist during his TV career. He is now happily retired in Singapore. Loon remains full of praise for Willie Phua's media coaching of his sons.

Joe Phua shooting for the ABC at a rally in Pakistan in the early 1990s.

Sebastian Phua, Joe's older brother, was a cameraman for the ABC and was based in Singapore, Hong Kong and then Beijing.

Sebastian is pictured above covering the massive refugee relief programme on the Thai-Cambodian border in June 1984. Sebastian had a great love of Australia. He is pictured below in Beijing, where he was based as the ABC's bureau cameraman, in the late 1990s.

Seb or Sebas, as he was known, died of lung cancer in Beijing in March 2003. He was reknown for the artistry of his camera work and for having a personality that made him friends with people in many nations.

Jone Chang, a relative from Cindy Phua's side of the family, has been cameraman, sound recordist and video editor.

He is pictured here in Tiananmen Square in 1989 before the tanks rolled in.

Tan Suan Ann, a Phua cousin from Hainan, China, who worked as both cameraman and sound recordist with Willie Phua for Visnews and the ABC in Singapore in the 'sixties. A skilled photographer, he has Willie Phua's sense of humour and he still likes the occasional' pork chop'.

He has accompanied Willie Phua on his last two trips to Hainan. Their ancestral homes are close to each other on the island.

Willie Phua and biographer Bob Wurth on the Golden Eagle Trans Siberian Express crossing Russia in August 2010.