Photographing the Trump-Kim Summit

Photojournalist Kevin Lim’s (CS’09) photos of the iconic Trump-Kim meeting were featured on the cover of TIME magazine and other top news publications.

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Two weeks before the historic Trump-Kim Summit, Kevin Lim (CS’09) was informed by his photo editor that his name would be submitted to the White House for media clearance, but access was not guaranteed. The 36-year-old executive photojournalist at The Straits Times did not dwell much on it.

“It’s always a process of learning, relearning, and sometimes unlearning old habits so that I can always stay sharp and leave every assignment feeling satisfied.”

KEVIN LIM (CS'09), Executive Photojournalist at The Straits Times

It was only at noon the day before the summit that Lim received confirmation that he would be the only Singaporean photojournalist covering the summit.

Held at the Capella Hotel in Sentosa on June 12, the summit marked the first ever meeting between a leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and an incumbent United States president. Only five other photographers from the U.S. and four from North Korea had been granted access by the White House.

“The magnitude of it didn’t strike me until my colleague saw me in the office that day and told me, ‘the whole Singapore is depending on you for pictures,’” said Lim, who is currently in his ninth year at The Straits Times’ photo desk.

He added: “I tried to steady myself, but there was a lot of anxiety. The whole magnitude of it consumed my mind, though not in a bad way.”

Fuelled by only one hour of sleep, Lim got up at 2.30 that morning to prepare for the shoot. Unlike previous assignments, Lim did not know what to expect.

Just to be safe, he even brought a ladder in case he was blocked by taller photographers, he said. Lim was only allowed in to the courtyard after three layers of security screening by local, American and North Korean authorities.

His initial anxieties did not get in the way. Lim’s photos were eventually featured on top news publications like TIME magazine, Associated Press, Financial Times and German publication Diewelt Kompakt, among others.

Formalities between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un lasted less than a minute, and the handshake only 12 seconds, so there was no time to focus on anything else, said Lim.

Being on the ground and thinking on his feet were both a test of his mettle and standing against world-class photographers.

Covering the summit was an experience in itself because of how much mental preparation it took, said Lim. “The biggest hurdle was managing myself. I told myself to keep calm and keep my focus. You cannot risk missing out on a single moment.”

Looking back, Lim said he was pleased that it was a job completed without regrets. He said: “I felt relieved that I came out of it unscathed, with no major bruises and my ego intact, and a memorable crop of pictures.

“The onus was on me to deliver, and I’m glad I delivered.”

This spirit of excellence has helped him bag various photography awards over the years. Just earlier this year, Lim clinched ST’s Excellence in Journalism (Photojournalism) quarterly award for the April to June period. He was one of three winners.

“It’s always a process of learning, relearning, and sometimes unlearning old habits so that I can always stay sharp and leave every assignment feeling satisfied,” said Lim.

“The moment you start to think of yourself as a finished article, that ‘oh, I am a Trump-Kim photographer and that’s the pinnacle of my career,’ you stop progressing. I can’t just rest on my laurels and think that that’s my peak,” he said.

Over the years, as part of shooting for news and sports at ST, Lim has also covered key regional events like the Malaysia elections in 2013, and the 2016 Rio Olympics where he captured Joseph Schooling’s win of Singapore’s first Olympic gold, and Usain Bolt’s golden swan song, among others.

“The good thing about this job is that I don’t know what will come next. It’s this uncertainty that keeps us on our toes so that when something comes along, we are ready to go.”

While Lim has come a long way since picking up the camera at The Nanyang Chronicle in 2006 as the photo editor, his goal as a photojournalist has not changed since day one.

“My ultimate goal is to capture moments and tell stories. For even one photo to touch and influence someone out there, that is a success to me.”