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Lot 028

b. Johor, 1939

BECA, 1985

Titled, signed and dated ‘Beca Eric Peris 1985’ on bottom
of grey matt-board
Silver gelatin print on fibre-based paper, edition 1 of 5
49cm x 60cm

Private collection, Kuala Lumpur.

ESTIMATE  RM 5,000 - 8,000
A pioneering photo-journalist who started working for the New Straits Times, Eric Peris had scoured the length and breadth of the country, for both rustic charms and urban street heritage – to record them for posterity in his own inimitable style. Eric confided that when he was taking the picture in a back lane in the heritage precincts in Penang, he was more interested in the old swinging door rather than the stationary trishaw. It is a picture-perfect nostalgia, with all the right elements there – the old door with short zinc awning, with the trishaw and bicycle, the weather-beaten wall with the obligatory splotches and graffiti partly lime-washed over and chipped fragments near the shallow drain.

The word ‘beca’ is derived from the Hokkien dialect, be(h)-chia, meaning ‘horse-cart’ and it is also referred to as ‘lang-chia’ (man-driven cart). The first trishaws hit the roads of Penang in 1936, first known as cycle rickshaws, until the word became formalised in 1947 when adopted by the Trishaw Peddlers Association. Trishaws are now used as novelty rides and for tourists wanting to get a closer view of fascinating sights.

In a recent interview with HBArt, Eric revealed: “Beca tells us about our cultural background. When I first encountered the beca, the bicycle, the old door and the wall after a long walkabout in Penang, instantaneously I recognise culture in front of me. All these archaic elements remind us of our history. In the past, beca and bicycle are luxurious modes of transportations for those who can afford them. It is interesting to know that beca peddlers at the time pay a daily rental of RM1. If they manage to make RM2, they will rest under a tree, or even go home like this particular peddler. This picture not only has an element of surprise, it truly captures the juxtaposition of time and place. If we revisit the lane today, the door may have been removed. There is a sense of nostalgia in it.” This black-and-white photograph is marked in edition 1 of 5 but the artist reiterated that he had produced only one print in this series.

Eric Peris is one of the greatest fine-art photographers specialising in a poetic divine kind of humanism. He worked first in black-and-white before turning to hand-tinting and other technical ‘deconstructions’ like in his ukiyo-e pictures. He was a photojournalist since 1969 when he joined the now defunct magazine Fanfare and retired as Photo Editor of The New Straits Times (1991-95). He had been a columnist, co-ordinator, director, consultant and adviser of numerous local and regional photography societies, competitions, events, excursions, programmes and conducted several photojournalism courses. He has had more than 33 solo exhibitions since Through Thai Windows and Doorways in 1982. His book Images of Gitanjali a photographic interpretation of Rabindranath Tagore’s prize-winning literary work is as much a collector’s item as the photography tribute. He studied Physics (Nuclear Physics and Cosmology) at the Singapore University from 1963 to 1969. His parents were also both artists, while his Paris-trained father, O. Don Peris (1893-1975), served as royal artist in the Johor court of Sultan Sir Ibrahim.