Surrounded by inebriated inspired behaviour, a succulent mix of sweaty men and scantily clad women, blaring music, hot strobe lights and risks of feet-on-feet crushes is all part of a day’s work for Ungku [link: www.ardent-images.com]. The 30-year-old photographer has been covering events at Zouk, Home Club and other party centrals, music festivals and gigs for over 5 years. You can’t miss the big guy and if you’re looking to go from one point of the packed club to the other, he doubles up as an excellent frontman. ActuallyMag finds out more about the gentle giant behind the lenses.
Are you one of those that started out with a camera when you were younger?
I never had a camera growing up and my family did not own one. The only time I took pictures was during the Hari Raya celebrations and even then it was a relative’s.
For my 23rd birthday, my aunt gave me a cheap digital camera, the type you could use as a webcam as well and I was hooked. I’ve never put a camera down ever since.
What got you hooked?
I love the fact that photography is formless. It allows you to explore your creative side and try to translate what you see into a picture. Everybody sees the same scene a different way and I think that the different mentalities at that time and different ways we all grow up somehow translate into making a picture. So I may see it a certain way but you may see it in another and its very interesting to see how others perceive things.
Also I think in this digital age, it’s almost like the golden era of photography for me. It’s almost like an explosion of people sharing photos and ideas online. Chase Jarvis called it the Web 2.0 for photographers. It’s so exciting and inspiring to see it all. It pushes me as well.
The internet is a new kind of school.
I had no teacher and did not attend any courses, but when I picked up photography, I was in Temasek Polytechnic at the time and I had access to the school library and YouTube (laughs).
I am not ashamed to say I learnt the bulk of what I know now from watching YouTube videos and books and whatever reference material I could find online. I would try to learn something new every week and then go out during the weekend and try to emulate what I had learnt.
I also pick up whatever I could from friends and people in the industry and just try to learn as much as I can.
In respect to the advance of technology, how do you tend to deliver your shots?
I am a firm believer of getting the shot right out of the camera as far as possible, and I always shoot to deliver. Almost all of my shots have very little editing unless the client stipulates that they want something done to the shot to suit their brief.
I hate it when people say they will fix it later in Photoshop. It’s a lazy solution and re-shooting can just take a few seconds to a few minutes as compared to the hours on Photoshop later on.
Now I’m not knocking on Photoshop or digital imaging, because as a creative avenue to express your vision, it’s a powerful tool (but not as a lazy photographer’s fix it tool).
I guess I’m old school like that.
You take mostly photos for gigs and club nights. What drew you to it?
I have always been going for the drum n bass gigs and other club nights and enjoyed the great music at those gigs and thought, why not grab some pictures of my own? I would always try to put my interpretation of the music that was playing or try to shoot a DJ or performer in relation to the style or music that they play.
It’s always interesting for me to go and shoot a gig or a club night and discover new music. I am a music lover first and foremost, photographer second.
You’ve shot some of the biggest names in the music industry, when were you more of a fan than a photographer?
My favourite coverage has to be the one and only Good Vibrations Festival a few years ago. I was watching and shooting the many great acts and caught my heroes Jurassic 5 and Beastie Boys. I was star struck and had to pinch myself a few times to bring me back to earth and try to get the shots.
Having covered nightlife in Singapore, what’s your opinion of it away from the lenses?
I think we have so much room to grow. In a utopian world, we have great events every weekend and even weekdays, but organizers and establishments always have to struggle with the bottom-line and it’s really not easy.
I can only hope that more people here are open-minded to other music and support the many great events and gigs out here. If no one comes, there will be no more gigs and events. Simple as that.
Was there anything you had seen while on the job that shocked you?
Nothing shocks me these days, all thanks to the internet and Jackass. Either that or Singapore is too tame and controlled.
What’s your idea of a perfect image and which of that you’ve taken are your favourites?
Something that captures the mood of the moment, and need not necessarily be technically perfect. But it must fully express the emotions and intensity of that moment in time. Goldie – very emotive when he DJ’s and shooting him made for plenty of great pictures. Crystal Castles – one of the shots made it to the Zouk 20th Anniversary Book. Zambiacongo Capoeira Group – Having two Brazilian Capoeira Masters flown in for me to shoot here in Singapore was amazing.
- Zul Andra