Interview: Cipoi

If you’re in a band and you haven’t been snapped by Cipoi, then you probably need to gig more often. Known as one of KL’s resident gig-going music photographers, Ahmad Saiful (aka Cipoi) has captured the likes of Hujan, OAG, Kasabian and Yuna in action, as well as in intimate and creative shoots. From snapping flowers to rockstars and commercial clients, JUICE speaks to the man with the loudest pictures in town.

How did you get into photography?
It was a hobby at 1st. I was a late starter-it was after I finished my degree. I had like 3-4 friends that got into cameras, bought SLR film and shot people, nature, animals, scenery. I learnt the technical aspect during this time by using a film camera. After I was working in the corporate sector for a while, I managed to buy my 1st digital SLR. At the same time, I loved going to shows and learning how to do music photography. Almost weekly, I would go to concerts and gigs just to understand the nature of taking photos of bands performing. Plus, most of the bands were my friends. Now, I’m a dedicated full-time photographer. Up until now, I’m still learning to be better.

What was the 1st camera that you owned?
SLR (film) Camera Canon EOS300.

As far as you can remember, what was the 1st photograph you took?
A flower at my grandma’s house in Ampang.

What was your original field of study in college?
Degree in Business Administration majoring in Finance from UNITEN.

You’re really into local bands and have said that you want to promote local music through your photos. Do you have a particular favourite?
Yes, I love it when my photos give the feeling to people that they missed an awesome show and wished they could’ve been there. Plus, it shows that our independent music scene is still alive. Hmm…favourite band? Back in my school days, it was Carburetor Dung, Tabaraka, Butterfingers, The Bollocks, ACAB and Muck, among others. Now it’s got to be Love Me Butch, Incarnation, Cassandra, SevenCollar T-shirt, Pure Vibracion, Restraint, Nervewreck and Hujan.

What has been your best shoot to date?
I think it was with The Azenders; the plan went really well. I love when bands engage in the photo shoot, like planning for the props, wardrobe and location. We found a very weird and nice location. I like it very much and the band was really happy about it.

And what about your worst shoot?
So far, I haven’t had any. Mosquitoes might’ve been a problem, haha! And I really don’t like it when some of my equipment, especially the lighting parts, suddenly don’t work during a shoot. Yes, that sucks.

How do you come up with your photo-shoot concepts? What’s your approach to telling stories with your photos?
Well, it depends. For band photo shoots, normally I like to have a discussion with the band 1st. Then, we’ll come up with a style that both parties agree on. I like to play with the emotions of a subject. Some crazy ideas might turn out to be cool.

Are there any subjects that you shot who weren’t famous at the time, but you knew would make it big later?
Yup, it’s got to be Incarnation. I knew that they were gonna make some impact in the scene. They did by winning the Junksounds Awards 2009 for Best Metal/Hardcore Act. They also joined the Macbeth x Crooz Tour in December 2009 in Indonesia. We travelled by bus to 5 cities (Jakarta, Tambun, Bandung, Surabaya and Bali) in 2 weeks together with 10 other bands. Now, they are endorsed by Crooz, PeterSaysDenim and Macbeth.

What would be your dream photography job?
My dream is to photograph and travel with bands in Malaysia, and around the world. I hope that one day my photos will be featured in international music magazines and I’ll get international assignments.

Which other photographers do you look up to?
I love the works of Jeremy Saffer, Ryan Russell, Adam Elmakias, Craig Nye, Gage Young, Chapman Baehler, Todd Owyoung and Michael Muller. For Malaysian photographers, I love photographers like Shermen Mukhtar, Udey Ismail, Fad Manaf, Amrul Kareem, Fid Fathir, Syahrin Aziz, Fu Ken Ho, the Rupajiwa boys, Naim Palancut and Pek Thong.

Have you encountered any rockstar egos and how did you handle them?
Nope, thankfully, I’ve never encountered any bands or personalities with rockstar egos. Even some that I initially thought would give off some bad attitude turned out to be super-cool people.

What’s your view on digital photography and Photoshop vs traditional film? Is the latter a more honest medium?
I have total respect for people who still use traditional film as their medium, like Ryan Russell. I don’t judge photos from the Photoshop perspective, or whether you’re using digital or film. I view it from the way the subject is portrayed and the honesty of the subject.

What’s next for you in 2011?
I’m collaborating with a few music photographers in Malaysia to come out with a photo book on the Malaysian independent music scene. It’s still a work in progress; hopefully, we’ll manage to do it. I’m also planning a secret project collaboration with different art forms, hopefully to be exhibited in 2012. Besides that, I’m looking forward to working with more bands, events and corporate companies, and do more travelling.

Images: Cipoi

Check out Cipoi’s rockin’ photography at