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Temple City Teacher Featured in Photo Exhibit

July 20th, 2009 by Temple City Tribune

Savay Lieu is “Silent Artist with a Memorable Voice.”

IMG_4532English teacher and tennis coach at Temple City High School Savay Lieu is the featured artist this month at the Pasadena Heritage Wine Company. His photography will be displayed there at his first public exhibition, which opened on Saturday, July 11, 2009, at 6:30 p.m. and will continue through Friday, July 21, 2009. I caught up with Mr. Lieu and his photographs at the opening night of his exhibit in Pasadena.

Born in Laos in South East Asia to parents of Chinese descent, Lieu is the youngest of six siblings. After fleeing the country during a devastating civil war which lasted between 1953 and 1975, Lieu and his family lived as refugees in neighboring Thailand for three years, before gaining entry into the United States in November, 1979. After graduating from Alhambra High School in 1981, Lieu went on to study at Pasadena City College and later UCLA, graduating with a B.A. degree in History/Art History and a minor in Education. After earning teaching credentials at Cal Poly Pomona, Lieu went on to became a teacher at Temple City High School, teaching ninth grade English including honors, as well as becoming coach of the Boy’s Junior Varsity Tennis Team. He is also the co-coach of the Girl’s Varsity Tennis Team, Co-advisor for the junior class and advisor for the Future Business Leaders of America. He has been at Temple City High School for nine years now.

IMG_4536But aside from teaching, Lieu has another passion which has recently gained him notice in the community: photography. On his website, savayonline.com, Lieu explains, “I strive to photograph what I see, what I feel, and what I think is important… Thanks to photography, I am allowed to be the artist that I know I can be.”

Saturday night was the opening of Mr. Lieu’s first public exhibition, sort of. “We held a fundraiser at the high school for the annual senior Yosemite trip. We began selling pictures to raise money and it all kind of took off from there.”

“It’s hard to say when my interest in photography first came about. I would say about 15 years ago was when it first caught my interest. It kind of just, incubated in me, and I started taking photographs over the summers, just doing it for fun.”

“I found that I am more connected with photographs. They are an extension of what I see.”

Lieu says that he worked with visual arts, painting, and drawing before photography, but found taking photos the most intriguing.

“Photos are like babies. They have personalities of their own and represent ideas of their own,” said a quote on his exhibit.

Lieu works with a Canon Digital I D Mark III. His favorite subjects are landscapes, urban settings, sports and wildlife. “Those are my interests. The urban setting is all around us. And I have always been an outdoors person. Mostly my photographs are all my memories, from different trips and such”

When asked about his life in Laos, Lieu said, “I’m really lucky where I’m at right now. There is no real opportunity over there, for anything. Business is not happening, it is very rural. So I am very fortunate and happy.”

At his exhibition were Lieu’s family and friends, including his parents, brother, sister-in-law, and aunt. Many turned out for the opening night, to enjoy Lieu’s photographic work and a glass of wine. Featured in the display were a variety of Lieu’s photographs, which included pictures of nature; birds, trees, and beaches, as well as urban settings, from modern buildings to French alleyways.

“My photographs are of places where I have mostly traveled in the past. I have shot in France, including Paris, St. Malo, and Chablis. I have some pictures here from Hawaii, but most of my work is done locally, sometimes near the Bay Area or the Central Coast.”

I also had the chance to speak with Deanne Sciarrotta, long time friend and colleague of Savay’s.

“Believe it or not, I was a substitute teacher for Savay when I first met him. I’ve known him for the past 6 years now. I’m a guidance counselor at the high school.”

When asked how it all started, Sciarrotta went into detail about this year’s Temple City High School senior class trip to Yosemite.

IMG_4534“This year, Savay and I were the chaperons for the trip. It’s a week trip north to Yosemite with the seniors, and the two instructors who had been going on the trip weren’t any more. So we went up there. He took his camera with him and I noticed he took many pictures. Now coming back from Yosemite, gas prices had almost doubled, and we were like $500 short! So we thought about what we could do to raise the money. But we wanted something different, you know other than the usually sugary stuff. We didn’t want to sell things that you don’t want. And then I remembered his photographs. He had a lot of the students, and of Yosemite. So we decided to try it out. We put some of the photos up on the walls, and began selling them for discount to some of the teachers, and soon enough more people were interested, and his photos became popular amongst the parents.”

“One day we had come here (Heritage Wine Company), to have a drink, and I noticed some surf boards on the wall, I’m a surfer, and I had an idea. I went and asked the girl behind the counter about the display and she said they had an artist of the month. I told her about Savay, and one day they contacted us and said they wanted to feature his photographs. It was very exciting.”

When asked about Lieu, Sciarrotta said, “He’s very talented, and very humble. He’s not the one to go tell anyone about what he’s doing. That’s why I’m here!” she added lightheartedly.

“He’s a good mentor for a lot of young men, and very respected.”

“His photographs are especially unique. He has a way of looking at things that you would typically look at. What he leaves behind after he sees something is amazing.”

“If I could describe Savay and his work, it would be that he is ‘a silent artist with a memorable voice,’” a quote from the display.

Heritage Wine Company, which is hosting Mr. Lieu’s exhibit, is Pasadena’s premier wine bar located in historic Old Town Pasadena. Established in 2002 and now under new ownership, the Pasadena wine shop features a vivid array of varietals from around the world and a comfortably stylish tasting bar.

All of Lieu’s work is on sale, both at the Pasadena Heritage Wine Company during the month of July, and online at savayonline.com.

Lieu would like to thank Heritage Wine Company for recognizing his work and featuring it. When asked about future endeavors he quietly and thoughtfully replies, “the future is a mystery…as it should be.”

By Kyle Khandikian

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