Man at His Best

Eddie Sung: What I've Learned

The rock concert photographer shares his best shots in life.

BY WAYNE CHEONG | Jan 1, 2016 | Arts

Photograph by Louis Kwok

Oh, I’ve always been [a rock photographer]. My father recognised the artist in me, but you can’t make money from being a rock photographer. So I went to get my degree, my MBA, then worked in consulting firms and invested well, but there was always this thing burning within me. When 9/11 happened and after my daughter was born, I retired at 44. It was time for my art to come out. Life’s too short when planes start to land in buildings instead of runways.

No schedule. There’s no schedule to art. You just go with the flow.

I read a lot. All kinds. Music, art, photography, finance, management. I buy a SGD20 to SGD30 book from Book Depository and get one idea out of it. That’s worth the price of the book.

No, no, no. I don’t have a technique when it comes to shooting. Zero. You feel it; you shoot. Very easy wat. Once you get the hang of it, go with it. After a while, you experiment lah.

Roger McGuinn and his wife came to my house and he saw my son’s one-dollar guitar. It’s one of those obiang [“old-fashioned” in Hokkien] plastic ones. I bought it in Manila. He took it, tuned it a bit and played “Mr Tambourine Man”. So you don’t need good cameras. Just something you can feel and can shoot with. Small, big, doesn’t matter. Feel. You gotta feel it.

It’s a privileged position to be called on stage to shoot. When Slipknot were here for their gig at Fort Canning, I was at the side, just en-joying the show, when suddenly [Joey Jordison, ex-drummer] beckoned me over. I knew some shit was gonna happen, so I shot him first. Then, a few seconds later, he told me to get on the drum riser to take a picture of him and the crowd. Bam, just like that, the planets aligned. Later, they e-mailed me, asking if they could use that shot for their live record. How to say no, right?

Yes. Yes. Positivity. Be a positive force, and a positive force will come back to you.

My mission statement in life ah has always been one thing: to be a blessing to the less fortunate. Simple. I always tell people to follow their heart and good things will follow, but don’t forget the poor.

I don’t understand a lot of things, but when it comes to music, there is good music and there is bad music. Regardless of the language, you can feel it.

When people ask, how’s the concert? How’s the crowd? I have no idea. You’re not jiving to the music; you focus on the [singer] like a sniper, you know? I can shoot one shot and wait for 10 minutes [or the right moment] for the next.

I always shoot for myself. Always.

I’m not afraid of death. [I’m afraid of ] public speaking.

The last time I spoke in public was in front of a crowd for Canon, but that’s because the Halogen Foundation said, “You need to impart something to the young leaders, give something back to the community.” So my topic was the top 10 hits of life: be careful how you speak, sugarcoat what you say... things like that, but in a Jedi way that young people could understand.

I love sound checks. That’s the only moment when you are intimate with the artist. One of my favourite sound checks was with Kitaro. He was just doing his own thing when I told him not to move and just smile because of the way that the light was shining on him.

There are times when if the mood doesn’t hit me, I won’t shoot. The Pinholes asked me to shoot them and I wanted to try out this new camera that I had just bought. I went to the studio, but I didn’t feel it. The camera didn’t feel right. The poor guys were all dressed up. They were sad that I couldn’t shoot them, but I came back another day with my Canon and all was good.

I have my own quiet time and it’s one of those things that I can’t quite explain. You have to go inside yourself, know your strengths and weaknesses, know your destiny. Quiet time involves me [retreating to my den and playing my music]. It happens about three times a day. Bob Dylan, ELO... all the tunes just blasting away.

That’s why I’m not on social media. Too much noise lah. No Facebook. No Twitter. Nothing. I’m basically a recluse. I live in this castle. See my fence? I’m cut off from the outside. If I want to see people, I go out.

One day, I want to shoot Willie Nelson because that guy is wisdom personified. But the only problem would be the smell of the [grass]. I probably wouldn’t be able to focus.

I’m still in my first childhood. I never left.

First published in Esquire Singapore's January 2016 issue.