Hong Kong's most stubborn photo studio

Hong Kong's most stubborn photo studio

A look inside the time capsule that is Sammy Studio where producing a standard passport photo is a nostalgic ode to film photography

sammy photo studioThis photo studio has been in operation for nearly a century.

Sammy Photo Studio is in an old walk-up buildling in Yau Ma Tei. Things haven't changed much there for half a century.

The current owner is master photographer Lam Kwok Shing who shoots only in film and touches up photos by hand. The process requires long hours of intense staring and is a possible cause of cataracts. 

Lam, now in his 60s, is stubbornly against adopting digital photography. It isn't because he's too old to learn. Lam is simply too in love with film.

"Retouching someone's portrait is like filling in the blemishes on the face of the moon," waxes Lam.
sammy photo studioLam Kwok Shing is the third generation owner of Sammy.

Lam began as an apprentice at the studio in 1971 when it was still known as Jim Jim Studio. Many celebrities used to patronize the place, including Liza Wang and George Lam. Jim Jim has a long history that starts before the Japanese occupation.

Training to become a photographer, Lam spent most of his days working alone in darkrooms with little human contact apart from his customers. But he didn't mind it. Lam was fascinated by the meticulous touching up of photos.

"We use pencils to cover up the flaws on someone's face, but at the same time we can't do too much or our corrections will be obvious," he says.

Lam has no computer program to rely on. He must distinguish a huge range of colors and draw hair-thin lines. His tools are pencils the thickness of needles and his own eyes.
sammy photo studioNeedle-thin pencils for touching up photos.

Sammy Studio used to provide all kinds of services during its heyday, but Lam says "these days, all we do is wait." It's an era when even a child has little trouble snapping and processing photos with a digital camera.

Lam finds it hard to attach much value to images captured so easily. "A picture should be cherished. It allows to you freeze and capture a moment," he says as he gazes at a black and white family portrait taken when he was still a child.

The portrait used to hang on the wall of his family's public housing apartment. For him, it was all the family had to bond everybody together through bad times.

Lam insists his business will keep running even if there’s only one customer left. 

Sammy Photo Studio, 17 Pak Hoi Street, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon, tel +852 2783 9460

sammy photo studioPolishing the pencils to a killer point.sammy photo studioLong hours spent staring at photos can cause damage to eyes.sammy photo studioSammy Photo Studio: Refusing to change with the times and yet surviving.