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This is the second of a three-part series on performance photographers.
If it weren’t for a fateful knee surgery in 2003, Aloysius Lim might have never picked up a camera, become a concert photographer, and shot the likes of Paramore, Robbie Williams and Elton John, among stalwarts of the Singaporean scene like Electrico.
It was during a three-month recovery period on medical leave from the Air Force that Aloysius developed a curiosity for toy cameras. Lomography—a form of film photography that often produces quirky, artistic visual effects—was gaining popularity in the early 2000s, so he bought a Lomo LCA on a whim. After a few false starts adjusting to the idiosyncrasies of analogue photography (“I loaded the film wrongly, twice!”), he started taking pictures of everyday sights around his neighbourhood. “That’s when my love for image-making began,” he shares.
Today, Aloysius’s practice is split between music and wedding photography. “People ask me why I chose the two most difficult forms of photography!” He laughs. “For wedding shoots, you’ve to be on your feet for maybe 10 to 12 hours from morning, and in concert photography, everyone’s running around in low light. Weddings are mellower, and you have more time and space to be creative than in a rock concert, but in both cases you have to be on your feet, alert, both eyes open when looking through the viewfinder.”
When Aloysius started in the mid-2000s, the idea of a music photographer was unheard of, especially in Singapore. Aloysius recounts feeling a bundle of nerves in his early years in the profession, and he’d often share his pictures on the Internet to get advice from music photographers overseas. With the rise of social media, particularly Instagram as a medium for publicity, the role of the music photographer has become increasingly valued by bands, promoters, music companies and fans alike. Aloysius himself is now a mentor for Baybeats' Budding Photographers programme.
Reflecting on what he has learnt about music photography over the past 15 years, Aloysius shares that it’s not so much technical ability that makes a difference, but calmness and focus. “As a mentor for Baybeats, I notice photographers who are starting out tend to go all out in the first couple of minutes, then burn out and not know what to shoot anymore.” It’s understandable to start with a burst of nerves and adrenalin, “since you have three songs and you want to nail a shot—that jumpshot, or some action that you're expecting.” But as thrilling as it is, what’s most crucial, Aloysius advises, is to take at least the first 30 seconds of a concert to calm down, take stock of your bearings, and play around with your camera settings. “You’ll find a sweet spot in the camera settings that will work. Then just focus on getting the composition right, getting the picture right.”
To share what he’s learnt, Aloysius took me through some of the highlights of his own journey as a gig photographer.
Electrico at Bar None, 25 Oct 2005
Soon after Aloysius caught the shutterbug, his friends, members of the band Electrico, returned from a hiatus to start performing again. They started playing what was called the Monday Sessions at Bar None, which used to be a weekly gig at the now-defunct Bar None in the JW Marriott Hotel. “They didn’t pay the bands, but they gave them a platform and a top-notch lighting and sound system. The idea was they’d give the bands the space—three or four bands a night—the bands would invite friends, friends come buy drinks and food, and they’d split the earnings with the musicians. That was how I started practicing, though it started out as just to support Electrico.”
The featured photo (above) was taken two years later at Bar None, but the venue—and the band—remain central to Aloysius’s beginnings in music photography.
Dancing with my fingers: Bernie Ng, dance photographer
Find out more >
Franz Ferdinand at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, 16 Feb 2016
“In 2006, I shot my first big show at the Indoor Stadium. I got in touch with the promoter who told me to be at the stadium at 7pm. I remember getting there early. I got the pass along with the other photographers, and at 7.45 someone brought us into the photo pit. We were told we had three songs to shoot and then leave—photographers are only permitted to shoot for three songs. But the adrenalin I got after those three songs was so crazy, I rushed to the ticketing counter afterwards to buy a ticket just for myself and went back in to enjoy the rest of the show.”
Plainsunset at the Esplanade Annexe, 3 Dec 2016
“I like small, intimate venues, like the Substation and the Esplanade’s Annexe. There’s no photo pit, you get to jostle with the fans and they talk to you, look out for you, the musicians crowd surf, it’s dark and dim but close and intimate—a very different vibe.”
“Bigger venues are harder to shoot only because the stage is so huge. The bigger the stage, the bigger your lenses, making your equipment very bulky, and it’s difficult to run around. The lights are nice in the bigger venues, but I’m not so keen on the stage size. But there have been small stages at the Indoor Stadium that I like.”
Candlelight: A Tribute to Queen at Chamber, The Arts House, 3 May 2021
While COVID-19 has disrupted live performance, some genres of performance are more fortunate than others. While massive arena rock concerts are likely not returning any time soon, classical musicians have found opportunities to play again. Phase 2 of the city’s reopening saw Aloysius shooting more classical shows, including concerts by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, and a new series of intimate shows called the Candlelight Series.
“The Candlelight Series has been interesting. I go down to shoot them whenever they play at a new venue—we’ve been to Victoria Theatre, Victoria Concert Hall, CHIJMES, the Arts House and many more.”
Gentle Bones at the Esplanade Concert Hall, 10 & 11 Jun 2016
In 2016, Gentle Bones made history as the first Singaporean musician to sell out the Esplanade Concert Hall on two consecutive nights. After the show, he stepped out of the concert hall for a post-show autograph session, to be greeted by a swarm of raving fans. “We stepped out of the concert hall and there was a mob of people, maybe 95% girls, waiting in a crowd, all screaming. I was right behind him, and immediately started shooting. That was really cool.”
House of Riot presents A Triple Bill: Charlie Lim, iNCH, The Great Spy Experiment at the Esplanade Concert Hall, 6 Jun 2015
“This was an emotional shoot for me because it was the Great Spy Experiment’s final show, which they played together with two other artists on the House of Riot record label. Charlie Lim was just starting out, gaining momentum and popularity, and Inch Chua was a seasoned performer, so everyone was looking forward to all three acts. There was a video crew doing interviews with people about the band during the soundcheck, which were played during their set. A lot of people were crying. I’m still very sad about it—to me they were the next big thing in Singapore and I thought they’d definitely be successful internationally, but they decided to call it a day. This picture is at the end of the set, with them huddling together and crying.”
Find out more about Aloysius Lim’s work by following him on Instagram.
Look out for Esplanade’s indie music festival Baybeats from 4 ̶ 7 Nov 2021.
Akanksha Raja is an arts writer who was formerly Assistant Editor at ArtsEquator.