The Wonderful Life of a Photographer – Laurence Lai

Every trade has its masters. There are many professional photographers, but Laurence Lai is probably the first photographer in Hong Kong to have his own gallery to sell his own works. With customers ranging from the general public to political and economic elites, his photos, which can be selling for up to thousands of dollars each, are always marketable. Some of his works can even be found in the Harvard University Library!

Laurence was well aware of his talent in photography and art when he was young and he is particularly good at taking scenery photos and photos with a nice local touch. Worried that he would lose the passion if he turned his hobby into a job, Laurence did not pursue a career in photography. Rather, he chose to study textile and design in a technical institute. Upon graduation, he started and then ran a successful garments business, but felt that the work was highly stressful.

One Sunday, when walking around Chai Wan, Laurence saw an art bazaar, which he found the person-in-charge was just so happened to be his friend.  Knowing Laurence was a photography lover, his friend asked if he was interested to sell his photos at one of the booths. Laurence agreed to give it a try. To his great surprise, his photos were so well received that all 120 photos he brought along were almost sold out on the very first day. In 2000, Laurence made an important decision in his life – he gave up his garments business and became a professional photographer, selling his works at different art bazaars.

From Peak to Rock Bottom
In 2003, Laurence moved his business to The Peak Galleria, starting out with a sale kiosk, which gradually expanded to 4 shops. He even stepped into the catering industry and opened a Chinese restaurant at The Peak Galleria. At the peak of his business, the annual sales of his photos reached to near 20 million dollars. However, the market began to take a bad turn in 2013 and, together with other kinds of unfavourable conditions, left him no choice but to move out of the Peak – His business literally fell from its peak and hit the rock bottom!

Laurence has been the breadwinner of the family, and the monthly household expenses were over 80K dollars – at the time when he had no income, the whole family could only live off his savings and those days lasted for a long 9 months!

Having decided to follow Christ at a large evangelical meeting in 1997 and being a regular church-goer, Laurence, who was then suffering such a huge setback, took a step further and learnt to kneel and pray every day.

One day, when he passed by the Star Ferry Pier in Central, he happened to see a shop very suitable for use as a gallery. He approached and asked the landlord about it, but the rent was way too high. He boldly counter-proposed to the landlord a rent that he could afford, but did not get any feedback for 3 or 4 weeks. Without letting this set back their hope, Laurence and his wife kept praying. In the end they heard from the landlord that he was willing to rent the shop to them at the proposed rent. Laurence recalls the moment he heard the surprising news that he was so happy he actually cried!

Life Restructured
Laurence admitted that at the lowest point of his life, he did blame God for taking back all that was given to him. After going through the hard times, he now realises that God actually loves him much and has helped him to develop right values all over again. ‘Back then, every day my mind was on many trivial matters. I spent all my energy on work and I spoke to others in haste.’ Now, although with only one gallery and income incomparable with how much he earned at the height of his career, he enjoys a more relaxed and peaceful life.

Today, Laurence uses his talent and networking to help many charitable organisations. For instance, he works with HOPE worldwide to collect used cameras and give those to lowincome families, and he teaches photography skills for free. He also works with the Silver Lining Foundation to collect used books and send them to children in the mountainous areas in mainland China. Recently, Laurence has acted as a judge of the ‘Dream Puzzle’ project of The Salvation Army, where at the same time he shared his experience of starting a business. ‘Fame and wealth used to be my priorities. Now my emphasis is on eternal wealth – by caring about others with the love of Christ, it is to store up treasures in heaven.’

A born optimistic, Laurence believes that there is a plan for everything. ‘When one door closes, another one opens.’
Full version: