Ronni Pinsler is an independent photographer who has made invaluable contributions to Singapore heritage by documenting the nation’s changing landscape between the 1970s and 1990s. He is best known for his extraordinary efforts recording the multifaceted practices of local Taoism and has captured many valuable images of Singapore, focusing on vanishing local street scenes and people portraits. He received the prestigious Supporter of Heritage award from the National Heritage Board in April 2010 in honour of his generous permanent loan of a comprehensive collection of his work to the National Archives of Singapore.
His work appeared in various publications including National Geographic, Actuel, and Silver Kris magazines. His photographs were used to illustrate CS Wong’s An Illustrated Cycle of Chinese Festivals in Malaysia and Singapore
He is known for his efforts in recording the multi-faceted Taoist religion in the region, recording legends and historical biographies of the Deities. And has amassed a collection of over 1000 Chinese deities over the last 40 years. The collection includes 200 scrolls, religious paintings, and the assorted Taoist and Buddhist paraphernalia including temple banners and gowns worn by Taoist and Buddhist priests.
Ronni’s interest in Singapore’s culture began in the early 1970s, when he began exploring the streets of Singapore, befriending local people from all walks of life- shopkeepers, hawkers, Chinese opera actors, secret society members, and Taoist temple priests, to discover more about their everyday lives. This interaction led him to take a special interest in Taoist practices. He sought and gained access to various local Taoist temples, whose officials allowed him to document their customs, and he was eventually invited to sit on the committees of several of these temples like the then Leng Hiang Tua Temple at Clarke Quay. Today, he is respected as an authority on Taoist practices and for his insights into the local culture of Singapore in the 1970s and 1980s. His photography was showcased in several books.
He also produced a documentary for German Television in the late 1970s, Entertaining the Gods, which had to be filmed “under the radar”. It was the story of a Chinese opera troupe that performed in the temples and street of old Singapore. Times change and last year the film received its first viewing in Singapore at the National Library. It was a sell-out.
Ronni has received many awards for his photography, including this recent one from the Prime Minister of Singapore for his photographs of the old Singapore river life.
Ronni Pinsler who was honoured as a “Supporter of Heritage” at the National Heritage Board’s prestigious Patron of Heritage Awards, held on 23 April 2010 at the Asian Civilisations Museum. Over 16,000 images personally taken by Pinsler have been entrusted with NAS on permanent loan, along with 30 films films made by his father (Jean Pinsler) and himself have also been deposited with NAS.
Ronni continues to search for rare and unusual aspects of Chinese folk culture, visiting temples where he lives in Penang but also travelling internationally with the main aim of visiting temples and recording the deities.
With the passing of Keith Stevens in 2015, his mentor and friend, Ronni vowed to continue with the great sinologist’s work combining it with his own on going documentation project. Ronni acquired Keith’s documented fieldwork and in 2016 together with his technical expert and website designer Richard Brewer, initiated the bookofxianshen project . Ronni and Richard laid out the plans to share with the world the unrivalled work of Keith Stevens to create an unsurpassed resource listing as many as possible of the Deities in Chinese religion and to present it digitally on the bookofxianshen website.
His collection of over 16,000 photographs and films of the fast-vanishing tangible and intangible heritage of Singapore can be found in the National Archives of Singapore.