We catch up with world-renowned rock photographer Eddie Sung as he celebrates fifteen years of capturing and hanging out with rock legends. He un-noosed his “silken ties” from the corporate world when he was 44 years young, grew a beard, picked up his camera and captured the Wilderness of rock music and its inhabitants.
Q – Congratulations in clocking fifteen years of retiring and shooting rock stars full time. What’s “retyrement”? How has your journey been so far?
Wow, how time flies when you’re having fun.
I never use the word “retiring” because there’s nothing “tiring” about what I’m doing now.
In 2002, I discarded my “silken ties” from my corporate world, which was starting to tighten around my neck like a noose.
I call the second half of my Life – my Retyrement. It’s about putting on new “tyres” and going on a fresh journey, off-ramp from the Highway, and see (and photographing) interesting magical sights along the Byways of Life.
Q- Which is more interesting to you, the Highways or the Byways?
To me, the Byways are more intriguing and fascinating than the fast-paced, soul-less, never-ending ambitious Highways that we rush along. Always focusing at the unreachable far-off Horizon, never appreciating the rich scenery on the sides of the Road of Life.
As tourists, we know that the best part of the trip is the intentional getting lost where one truly sees the essence of the Land. Indeed, not all who wander are lost.
In my road trips in the US as a college student, I usually organized 2-week road trips during every school break. Once we went eastwards, in a rented van, from Texas to Key West in Florida. Along the highway, I saw a sign that said Tuscaloosa. I asked my fellow passengers whether anyone had been to Tuscaloosa?. Then I took the off-ramp to their amusement. Driving along the highway much later, I asked if anyone been to Tallahassee? This time they were not so amused. All I can say is I’m not afraid of taking off-ramps and getting intentionally lost. And be geographically enriched and more worldly.
I can now boast that I’ve been to the Tuscaloosa’s and the Tallahassee’s of Life’s journeys.
Yes sir, I’m now enjoying my precious time in the Wilderness, savouring the Sights (especially in recording studios and backstage) and Sounds (soundchecks and on stage).
I love this picture of me with the profound word “Life” above me in my Straits Times Life segment write-up on me and my photographic journey.
I also recall fondly and proudly that soon after I retired from the corporate world and having swept the top prizes at the Lucie Awards (the Oscars of photography), my story made the front page of Business Times!
Having been interviewed by the respected business publication numerous times for my views on business climate in Singapore as an industry captain, I was super-proud of that front-page gesture from Business Times as I embarked on my artistic second half of my Life.
Q- What’s the purpose for, using your word, retyring? What were your milestones of achievements?
I used my retyrement to check off most of my items on my Bucket-list.
These days, I’m known not just for my iconic rock images, but also for having the gumption to retyre early to pursue my life-long dreams and tick off those big-ticket bucket list items in my Life.
I bought my first commercial property which I started my rock photography gallery called Monochrome & His Coloured Cousins. I’ve published three well-received books (Eclectic Sanctum, Monochrome Manifestos & Sonic Solitude) dedicated to my wife and children to remember their dad and the wondrous sights he was blessed to have experienced and captured. I also printed more books as gifts for my close friends, and for my rock star photo subjects.
My prints are on permanent display at Hard Rock Cafes.
My prints are represented by the legendary Morrison Hotel Gallery in NY and Los Angeles.
My images are featured in the CD Vinyl covers & artworks of Beach Boys, Blondie, Slipknot and Kitaro.
As well as on bands’ T-shirts, their official websites, in established local, regional and international publications.
I count several of childhood rock star heroes as my friends these days.
I had my solo rock photography exhibitions in both Singapore (my home) curated by Jeffrey Koh’s Flabslab and New York (art centre of the world, my second home) organised by Morrison Hotel Gallery.
Perhaps the most profound achievement involved my late father, John. As a young lad, my dad told me that I was an artist. I told him that pursuing art in Singapore cannot make one rich. So I went for my further studies, peaking with an MBA degree.
At 44, having made my pile in the international management consulting arena, I retired to pursue my artistic destiny.
When my full-page Canon endorsement advertisement came out in Straits Times, it was uncannily on my Dad’s 20 anniversary of his passing. I could feel him winking at me and telling me that I’m heading in the right direction.
My Reality has indeed exceeded my Dreams.
Q- How is your schedule different from those when you were a corporate head honcho?
First and foremost, I have the luxury of waking up whenever I WANT to.
I see my kids grow up every single day – millimetre by millimetre. I know a lot of my filthy-rich friends (forever busy chasing their next million) lament that they missed their kids’ growing up years. Not me, I was there for my kids.
Q- How did you managed to retire so early?
Aah, the sweet smell of Financial Freedom! Earlier on in my Life, I invested well. Having a good “eye” applies not just to photography; but to investments, the big choices one makes in Life as well.
I figured out that I already got what I need to be happy – a roof over my family’s head, there’s love and respect in the Home, nice and quirky food in the kitchen, great music blasting from my music room. The only one gainfully employed in my household these days, is my maid.
Q- What is your greatest takeaway from the corporate world? To what extent did it help you in post-retirement?
I learnt how to interact with People – with integrity, dignity, honesty and with a sense of humour.
I love to interact with people from all walks of Life – children (the less noisy ones), hawkers, artists, business leaders, musicians, toy designers/collectors, business owners, politicians, single-malt whisky appreciators, pastors, ex-convicts, cancer survivors, clowns (paid and “unpaid)”, people with six fingers etc. I learnt valuable lessons of Life from interacting with or just observing them.
My makan kakis know that it’s not what or where I eat but with whom I enjoy the meal with. That to me, is the highlight of every meal.
Q- How is your rock photography different from the others?
I shoot what I call “Stage Studio” shoots. Whilst shooting the rock stars on stage, I try to shoot them as if in a photo studio. I try to capture the Zen moments, when they take a split second to reflect, catch a breath, or look playfully into my lens.
Unlike the hired-hand photographers, I only shoot for myself. I never sign concert photo release papers. I don’t shoot every concert that comes to town. I only shoot the acts that I firmly love and respect. I give some images to the promoters as my token of appreciation for letting me shoot their concerts.
It’s never about who I photograph, more about HOW I photograph them. In my one shot, one kill style.
Q- Who was the first rock star that you photographed?
Kenny Loggins. I shot his facial expressions in b/w for my art project in college. I found it fun and exciting and said I could do this for the rest of my Life. I did … and am still doing it … with passion!
Q- Besides shooting rock music, which other genre do you like to photograph?
I always love photographing people. Especially their facial portraits. Every face has their unique story and journey to tell.
I tell people that we are born with a face not of our choosing BUT we die with a face we deserve! I use a special portraiture lens to capture their face – Canon 85mm f1.2 L lens.
Q- What made you retyre at such an early age?
I realise that Life was too short. People die on planes that land into buildings. I retired less than a year after the 9/11 attacks in NYC. Just after my daughter was born. I knew then the world would be a different world. There were greater personal callings in Life to achieve rather than spending more time at the office.
I note with cautionary interest that on 11/9 (2016) Donald Trump was elected President of the USA. Fasten your seat-belts for the bumpy turbulence ahead.
Q- What’s your latest photography project(s)?
My studio pix of Blondie, while they were recording their up-coming album Pollinator, was featured in the March 2017 issue of Mojo magazine.
I was lucky to have received an invitation to hang out with them for two weeks at Magic Shop studio in New York City, which the late David Bowie recorded his last two phenomenal albums – The next Day and Darkstar.
When Blondie beckoned me “to New York, I told my wife I got to go, that “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity. She replied, “Dear, your once-in-a-lifetime opportunity occurs almost every year.”
I also shot the cover of Rani Singam’s CD Single My Muse which is scheduled to be released at the end of February 2017. I joked that as “payment” to me, she can sing three songs during my wake. (Rani had officially sung beautiful songs during the Lee Kuan Yew’s wake at the Parliament House.) I admired her for doing that.
One song should be “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees. In the event that I couldn’t decide on the other two songs, she should sing Staying Alive two more times.
Q- Do you still shoot in film? You have a lot of cameras and lenses?
I’ve long stopped shooting film. I shoot digital as if it was film i.e. economically. I don’t shoot in Burst mode. The advantages of shooting digitally are plenty. My photographs are no longer printed in smelly chemically harmful darkrooms.
After a concert, when rock stars ask me whether I shot “any good shit”? I flip out my camera and can show them instantly what I shot, via the camera LCD screen.
Sometimes I’m rewarded with my images being featured in their albums, (CDs, DVDs & Vinyls). These include Beach Boys, Blondie, Slipknot and Kitaro.
I only use the latest Canon high-end camera models – Canon 5D Mk4 & Mk3. I’ve got a handful of essential high-end Canon L lenses. Let’s just say Canon makes great cameras and has been kind to me. Their Customer Support team is top notch in helping me get optimum performance from my camera/lens arsenal.
Q- Besides photography, what are your other indulges?
I love collecting art pieces, rock photography prints signed by the legendary photographers (my friends) themselves and designer toys.
I joke that those who say Money does not buy Happiness, are obviously buying the Wrong Toys! I collected toys when I was in primary school, and I’m still collecting toys. It keeps me young.
I warn people that up to the age of 30 years old, you form your habits; after that your habits control you! I used to buy vinyl albums since I was 13 years old. I now own about 7,000 CDs.
Q- In your dealings with people in the first and second half of your life, is there a marked difference in who they are?
For sure. During my corporate days as a head honcho, I dealt with academically successful business leaders. They were only known in Singapore and around the region.
In the second half of my Life as an Artist, I deal with school drop-outs who followed their God-given artistic gifts. They are Legends, household names known the world over.
Q- Who are your role models now?
In the first half of my Life, my role models were business books and corporate legends.
These days, my role models are legendary Rock Stars and Rock Photographers. They taught me to follow my heart always, have stamina/longevity, being humble, staying young always.
Q- Besides attaining fame in your rock photography and iconic b/w images, what other achievements have you attained?
My greatest achievements are my Children. Period.
Friends tell me how happy and how well behaved they are. That’s my report card.
Photography has been a God-given blessing to me. I repay this by blessing others with my photography. I hope my b/w images inspire people, to take up photography, to feel happy when they see my images. I always take nice portraits of my good friends and family members as my personal gifts to them.
Q- As a “retyree”/ famous rock photographer, what makes you happy?
These days, I’m just happy to be interviewed and respected for WHO I am, what I’ve accomplished and not for the company that I work for.
Q- Do you have any advice for people planning to retire in the near future?
Do not retire unless you have a Purpose. Mine was to showcase my brand of rock photography to the unsuspecting world. You will immediately not get many phone calls but the great thing is – you get to know who your real friends are.
Follow your heART! Don’t take Life seriously. It’ll do just fine without you.
To check out Eddie Sung’s rock images, please visit his website at www.eddie-sung.com