Interviews

Night Vision: Behind the cracked lens of Singapore’s nightlife hotshots (Pt. 1)

By Zul AndraEvents - 24 July 2013 1:18 PM | Updated 3:53 PM

Night Vision: Behind the cracked lens of Singapore’s nightlife hotshots (Pt. 1)

From left: Afiq Omar, Aloysius Lim, Olivia Sari-Goerlach, Martin Yeoh and Ungku Ibrahim

The list of nightlife photo and videographers who have been violated, belittled and abused reads like a tragic domestic violence episode of ‘Crime Watch’. A female photographer was groped resulting in a scuffle, a male photographer had a full glass hurled at him and another found vomit in his camera bag. Photographers have also had their cameras snatched by over eager patrons, and almost smashed by angry ones.

Let me recount my own experience. It was a Saturday, 10pm. I was reviewing a particular club and with me was the paper’s photographer. We shot the space; I had a pint, he had a cola. Everything was fine and dandy.

Minutes later, a commotion ensued. A burly patron was trying to break through a ring of equally burly bouncers, and suddenly we were in the midst of chaos. The patron was going for us. He wasn’t happy that we photographed he and his wife, even though we captured them in a sea of patrons.

He got physical and demanded we delete the photo. I assured him that it wouldn’t be published. He showed me his appreciation with a middle finger from a hand that was missing a wedding ring. He stomped away, leaving a trail of expletives and threats of a lawsuit.

The photographer was visibly shaken. Upset, he left in a huff. Oh well, the cola was getting diluted anyway.

Welcome to the treacherous world of nightlife photo and videography — an industry that makes Bear Grylls’ ‘Man vs. Wild’ look like a Girl Scout activity.

BEHIND THE CRACKED LENS

“Drunk guys won’t take you [female photographers] seriously. This is partially the reason why I chopped off my hair,” says Nicole Lee, 24, who only started club and concert photography full-time last year and quickly realized that she needed to be tougher on the ground. The lanky photographer was physically harassed by a drunken reveller — leading to the male perpetrator being kicked out of the club.

Jana Zilcayova, 29, understands Nicole’s plight. “The worst thing is when DJs think that you’ll sleep with them just because you’re behind the decks,” says the tattooed Slovakian-born, Singapore-based commercial and club photographer who spots model-like features.

Olivia Sari
DJ Marky by Olivia Sari-Goerlach

Olivia Sari-Goerlach, 31, who recently launched a coffee table book of DJ portraitures with Home Club, has been relatively lucky. But taking portraitures isn’t a breeze either as she faced disobliging artists.

37-year-old William Lai is a distinctive figure in the nightlife circuit. It’s hard to miss him when he’s lugging around two to three cameras and bags of equipment –a patron unassumingly complimented on his getup during Halloween at Zouk thinking it was a costume.

Veteran nightlife photographers Ungku Ibrahim, 31, and Vincent Chan, in his 40s, have been in the industry for seven and 20 years respectively. The former was the unfortunate photographer who found a pool of vomit in his camera bag, while the latter had guests asking him for free food and drinks.

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Crystal Castles by Ungku Ibrahim

Another seasoned concert photographer and mentor of Esplanade’s Yfest-Budding Photographers programme, Aloysius Lim, 34, had two concertgoers demanding to be paid to be in photos, and has encountered equally obnoxious artists.

For photographer Afiq Omar things got a little capricious. He once met a patron who “threatened to beat me up if I didn’t upload his photo.” The 25-year-old added, “I met him again on another night and he said the same thing.”

Having covered Zouk and Ku De Ta for the past two and a half years, Afiq once found himself in the middle of a club brawl and sustained some bruises from it. His reaction? “Oh well, job hazard.”

“What irritates me the most is when people ask me to take photos when I’m obviously holding a big video camera,” Martin Yeoh grunts candidly. The 36-year-old founder of video production company Midlifecrisis Productions crafted — together with Bert Lighting House — ZoukOut’s first-ever aerial shot in 2011.

A remote control helicopter was needed for the shot, and permission to fly it was nearly stonewalled but Martin managed to get it off the ground at the very last minute for arguably the most spectacular view of ZoukOut ever seen (Watch clip above).

THE MONEY SHOT

So what makes a great shot?

From the technical to the esoteric and the interactive to the visceral, the money shot is as rare as it comes

Dominic Phua, 32, who covered ZoukOut in 2010 and Java Jazz in Jakarta, points to capturing the visual romance. “It’s almost a sense of, ‘Oh, we’ll worry about whatever tomorrow, but for now it’s just us and the music.’”

Afiq asserts that it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. “Moving through rowdy crowds and in-between rooms can be very tiring, and affect your mood and energy. It’ll show in your photos.”

ZoukOut by Afiq Omar

“A pleasant enough background, attractive people, a fun and exciting moment are all key ingredients for a great photo,” says 27-year-old Thomas Tan who covers parties at Pangaea and Attica.

But for that ideal group or individual clubbing photos, all of them agreed that it usually takes one element: alcohol.

“Early on in the night, I smile and ask nicely, but anytime after 2am, it's really enough to point and shoot. That's normally when I get my best people shots — when everyone's happy and drunk,” explained Zhi Wei, 20, who shoots at Zouk and kyo and once had a drunk clubber hurl a full glass at him.

However, there are lines drawn.

Aloysius doesn’t take pictures of people eating; if a couple is having, as Dominic puts it, ‘a moment,’ he’ll leave them be.

Vincent realises that VIPs aren’t always happy to have their photos taken. Ungku opines that two types of people who usually refuse to be photographed are those who don’t want to be there or are not supposed to — like cheating boyfriends, he explained.

To capture the finest moments of nightlife these frontliners take the punches in their stride. It’s all in a night’s work.

But with all the job hazards, there’s one aspect of the job that they can’t take. Read more in part 2 of ‘Behind The Cracked Lens of Singapore’s Nightlife Hotshots’.


Zul Andra (@zulandra) has a finger on Singapore’s nightlife, music and entertainment pulse and has interviewed hundreds of local and international personalities from the likes of Carl Cox and Lamb of God to BBC TV presenter Simon Reeve. With columns in Esquire, Juice and The New Paper, he currently writes for inSing.com, HungryGoWhere.com, Time Out, Travel+Leisure and Scoot's in-flight magazine. He has also produced editorial content for Musicity and RedBull.sg and maintains an award-nominated blog, Kiss My Culture. Previously a staff writer and web editor at 'I-S' magazine, his work has been published in TODAY, Nylon and ZIGGY.