For the past seven years, Zinho De Costa, the man behind the Instagram account @blindside.archive has been one of the most prominent photographers documenting Singapore’s punk, hardcore and metal scene (“media collaborator and archivist for independent music and spaces” reads the IG bio). The self-trained 26-year-old’s visceral, black-and-white images have a knack for immortalising moments of physical poetry amidst mayhem, which explains why he’s held in such high esteem by the community he represents.
“When I started out, all I was equipped with was the onboard flash on my Canon 600D and my ‘guesstimates’ with focus, and would then just fire shots blindly,” he explains of his photography style. “I knew that that camera would make colour images extremely crappy, so I turned to black-and-white and the sh*ttier the shot, the better it looked! My style was not born only out of practicality though. Shooting in black-and-white shows that at the heart of it all – regardless of race, gender, sexuality, religion, whatever – we’re all the same: people who love the thrill of a show.”
The work of photographer Zinho De Costa (above) are mostly anchored by images of the punk, hardcore and metal music scene here.
When he’s not busy shooting gigs, he can be found working with gig promoter Firstblood Productions; growling for experimental post-hardcore band Thomas The Death Train; filming documentaries; or covering major news (such as Putin’s first visit to Singapore).
Why did you start photographing the music scene here?
“I just wanted everyone to be able to see themselves having fun. Within these spaces where bands and artists take centre stage for fellow painters of light, I noticed that hardly any attention is given to the audience that’s going ballistic crowd killing (when moshers mosh against the crowd around the sides of the concert pit). I thought: Since bands are focused on playing and lost in that moment, I shall aim to capture and highlight what the bands miss out on and would only be able to see from my images.”
How were you trained?
“I trained myself for the most part, starting off with simple lessons during my polytechnic days and shooting street photography with my late grandfather’s film camera to sharpen my senses and muscle memory. I wanted to be a war photojournalist more than anything back then, but over the years, I realised that that wasn’t what I wanted to do because – in the words of the seasoned news photographer Franco Pagetti – ‘peace is more difficult to take pictures of’. (Local photographer/artist) Zulhelmi Azman of Crafter’s Collective took me under his wing and I honed my skills further with whatever jobs he threw my way.”
“I wanted to be a war photojournalist more than anything back then, but over the years, I realised that that wasn’t what I wanted to do because – in the words of the seasoned news photographer Franco Pagetti – ‘peace is more difficult to take pictures of’.”Zinho De Costa
Who are your primary influences?
“Angela Owens (the New York-based photojournalist and longtime punk concert photographer)! The energy and movements she captures in her gig photos are everything I want to see in my own work. At the same time, her photojournalistic work that’s centred around wildlife shows off her mastery as a photographer. Besides her, I have utmost respect for my peers whom I’ve shot alongside with because of the way they go about their craft: namely Gary Ng, Bryner Tan, Dzano Ramdzan, Png Eng Ngee, Muhammad Syukri Bin Jamberi, Farid Ilyasha, Ahmad Jamal, and Hairi Puteh. They are people who truly understand how to navigate hardcore, punk and metal shows and culture, and are the real deal locally and regionally.
Above all, there’s the AP photographer my aunt hired for her wedding, said to have shot only two weddings a year to keep the magic alive for himself. I can’t remember his name and don’t know if he’s even still in the business, but the way he focused on shooting all the moments the bride and groom missed – my grandfather grinning proudly with tears streaming down his cheeks; a much younger me hiding and peeking out from the church’s pews, for example – really inspired me and formed the base of my approach to photography.”
Zinho de Costa’s style of photography is defined by how he gets as close to the action as possible “and then joining in with my gear or fending bodies off of me for the best shots”.
Tell us about your creative approach as a music photographer.
“Over the years, I’ve narrowed it all down to having musical timing, usually working with a 2/4 time signature to get the moments I want whether it’s for event, street or gig photography. As pretentious as this might sound, the way the human body moves adheres to a particular innate timing so I work around that to capture some semblance of patterns amidst chaos. With concert photography especially, there’s no place for direction. Just embrace the chaos and keep your shutter finger ready. I love shooting as close to the action as possible and then joining in with my gear or fending bodies off of me for the best shots. It’s not out of the ordinary to see me two-stepping, swinging arms or stomping from side-to-side – camera in hand – though nowadays I’ll either pass my camera to someone or place it behind an amp to throw a couple of punches in the air, and a little kick here and there.
Also I love to use a hard flash on my subjects because when I started out, all I was equipped with was the onboard flash on my Canon 600D and my ‘guesstimates’ with focus, and would then just fire shots blindly. I knew that that camera would make colour images extremely crappy, so I turned to black-and-white and the shittier the shot, the better it looked! My style of photography’s not born only out of practicality though. Shooting in black-and-white shows that at the heart of it all – regardless of race, gender, sexuality, religion, whatever – we’re all the same: people who love the thrill of a show. That and we’re all gonna end up either six feet under so be kind to each other – it’s not that hard too. I’m not that serious or artsy about the way I shoot. I’m still very much a ‘f*ck it, get out there and shoot’ kinda guy.”
Isaac Steve Thomas, the late drummer of the local pop punk band Take-Off
What’s been your most meaningful experience as a music photographer?
“My work was used for the obituary and memorial photos of the late Isaac Steve Thomas (drummer of the local pop punk band Take-Off who passed away in 2020). Take-Off was the first ever band to ask me to be its designated photographer and prior to Isaac’s passing, I had shot the group playing at The Esplanade. When I got the text from vocalist/guitarist Bob (Delonge) that Isaac was gone, the impact of my images didn’t hit me till I visited the wake. Isaac’s family members and friends thanked me for capturing him in the way they wanted to remember him: as an absolute badass behind the kit with the Singapore skyline for the backdrop. Even till now, that remains surreal because I had never imagined my work to be used for something so solemn. Tell your friends and family you love them because you just never know.”
“Shooting in black-and-white shows that at the heart of it all – regardless of race, gender, sexuality, religion, whatever – we’re all the same: people who love the thrill of a show.”Zinho De Costa
From your observation as a music photographer, how would you say that the music scene here has evolved?
“It hasn’t changed much – like most things, we’re always stuck in a cycle. Venues open up and close down; fresh bands step up and older bands either continue steadily or sink into an indefinite hiatus. New people flock to new venues and get a rude awakening when the actual culture of shows and regular gig-goers is different from what they thought would happen at a show. We still get organisers who think their ideas are fresh, when the truth is the same had been done years before and forgotten… What I will say has changed is that the new kids have greater access to music and gear with every year that goes by, in turn increasing music literacy and the production quality of music. It doesn’t matter if you’re into hardcore, punk, metal, indie or hip-hop – there’s something for you somewhere.”
The scene at Hardcore 4 Hardcore
Has the crowd at the gigs here changed over the years?
“The newer kids definitely both know their stuff and don’t at the same time. By this I mean that they show a greater understanding of what goes into musical production and what sounds objectively good and bad, but they also tend to associate local DIY bands as terrible with bad production and writing (which is not true). Of course, there are older music enthusiasts who say the same because they don’t have a fundamental understanding of how local bands get from (writing music in a) notepad to studio, and that they’re either DIY or fund their own productions using local studios such as Verta Collective or 4th Wall Studios. Singaporean bands (often face the challenge of a) lack of funds and time to finesse their sound.
Another thing: A lot of newer kids in the scene think it’s cool to gatecrash shows, but don’t f*cking do that. Organisers spend a lot of money from their own pockets and without any sort of help to run these shows. How can you think it would be really funny to get in for free?”
Zinho De Costa believes that Destiny, the hardcore band, boasts the most impressive personal style in Singapore’s music scene
Which local musical act would you say is the most stylish?
“If I had to pick, it’d be the hardcore band Destiny. Everyone in the group always has fits that I wish my dumbass could pull off. I appreciate the band’s style to stay unforgivingly hardcore in terms of aesthetics, sound and mentality.”
And which are the acts to watch out for?
“(The alternative/grunge-influenced band) Bellied Star. Don’t let the ages of its members fool you – they range between 16 and 17 years old. This group plays sets that are tighter than most bands twice their age and combines all my favourite bits of grunge and garage rock with their own charm. They’ll knock your socks off.”
Alternative-slash-grunge-influenced band Bellied Star
Any tips for aspiring photographers?
“Respect the spaces, venues and genres that you’re shooting. Do your research into the different subcultures and their stage etiquette. Don’t get ahead of yourself and start calling yourself a photographer right out the gate – you need to earn that title. When will you know you’ve made it? Trust me, you’ll know – don’t be cringe. Lastly, what’s stopping you? Get your ass out there and shoot.”