Marco Polo Hotel (80s Singapore)

MARCO POLO HOTEL SINGAPORE© Michael Chua Photography
Circa 1983 – Marco Polo Hotel Singapore
The assignment was from Ogilvy & Mather Advertising. I was commissioned to do a series of photographs for one of their clients, the Marco Polo Hotel. They were to be used in an up market brochure for promotion and marketing purposes.

In all my shoots, I make it a point to understand the marketing aspect. The client is a hotel. And what are they selling? Their rooms, services and amenities like restaurants. It is therefore vital that I make a shot of the hotel exterior that captures the eye. That’s easier said than done. I scouted for prime locations around the hotel where I can get a spectacular image but to no avail. The collage at the top shows how awful the hotel can look.

Out of desperation, I turned to my arsenal of lenses. I happened to own a very specialized lens, a Nikon 8mm f/2.8 circular fisheye. This lens has an extremely wide 180º angle of view and the resulting image is circular, not rectangular. I tested the composition by day and found that it’s possible to get a good shot. However, the shot needed to be done at dusk. That’s when the hotel lights come on and when it’s contrasted with the deep blue in the sky, that’s the magic moment.

When the time came, I positioned my Nikon F2 right at the entrance of the hotel. The camera was mounted on a tripod, with the lens aiming upwards. I must have been quite a sight because numerous cars slowed down to see what on earth was that piece of glass on the camera. I deliberately shot with long exposure because I don’t want to record any cars or guests. Exposure I believe was at f/8, about 8 sec. This caused the car lights to be recorded as streaks. An unintended benefit from this is the light streaks helped to anchor the hotel visually downwards. Without them, the eye will wander upwards and that’s not good because the main subject, the hotel, fills only half the frame.

When the brochure was finally published, this shot was used for the cover. I was told later by the advertising agency that Marco Polo Hotel was very pleased with the brochure. It was a challenging assignment but rewarding. Not just financially. I was given total creative freedom to express the client’s product in whatever way I deemed best. And because of that, I created something beautiful out of nothing.

The Suite

MARCO POLO HOTEL SUITE© Michael Chua Photography
Circa 1983 – Marco Polo Hotel Singapore Suite

The photo above is one of the standard suites in Marco Polo Hotel. In my view, this is a more important shot than their penthouse because most of the business come from standard rooms.

When shooting hotel suites, I always try to make the image suggests comfort and space. This is important because that’s what I want in a room when I stay in a hotel. The way to make a suite look comfortable is by using soft lighting.

In this image, the main light source is from the window. There’s a light fill on the right otherwise the right side of the bed covers will be too dark. The fill light is from the tungsten modelling lamp on my flash head bouncing off a white umbrella.

To give the illusion of space, I used a wide angle lens. But it was not an ordinary lens. It was a Nikon Perspective Control 28mm f/4. With a normal wide angle lens, the room will look distorted the minute I tilt the lens downwards. That must be avoided at all cost. The Nikon PC 28mm f/4 works like the rise and fall controls in a View Camera. I have full control of the vertical perspective. Film for both shots was Kodak Ektachrome Professional 64.

the man behind the hotel’s success

It was this assignment that I had the privilege of meeting one of the brightest minds in the hotel industry, a Mr Dario Regazzoni. He was the general manager of Marco Polo Hotel then.

I was in my mid twenties while he was possibly in his early forties. What struck me was his personality and how successful Marco Polo Hotel was under his leadership. He was not just passionate with his job. He had that ability to see where the industry was heading. What one would describe as a strategic thinker. On top of that, he had a zest for life.

I honestly don’t know how he found the balance. I’ve not come across another man like him. Flamboyant yet humble but highly intelligent.