'Sometimes, I would go without lunch for days. I saved the money to take my girlfriend out.'
Today, she is his wife. He met Elin, 34, when they were both in Anglican High and they married when they were 23. She works as his full-time print producer and they have no children.
Clang stayed only six months at Lasalle as he found it slow-going. He became a photographic assistant for Chua Soo Bin, a fine-art photographer who now owns an art gallery featuring contemporary Chinese artists. Later, he joined Willie Tang, whom he calls 'the most famous Singaporean photographer before me', at The Picture Farm.
In 1994, he set up his first studio, John Clang's Place, in King George's Avenue near Lavender Street and furnished it with furniture that people had discarded. He worked with a $2,000 second-hand Toyo 4.5 camera and a low-powered $200 Bowen 200D light.
His first break was a commercial shoot for Singapore Airlines and, after that, jobs poured in from fashion magazines and commercial clients.
But Clang, being embarrassed of his minimal resources, was reluctant to let anyone see his set: 'I had to mark the floor with lots of masking tape and shift the light around, double-exposing the film. If they still insisted on seeing the set, I would open all the windows to let the light in and say, 'This shoot doesn't require any additional light, we'll use the sunlight'.'
He admits that he wanted people to think he was wealthy: 'I did not come from a rich family. That was my insecurity and why I had to build a facade. When I made my first pile at 23, I rented a condo in Paterson Road in the heart of town. I wanted to be a part of that elite society and understand what it felt like to live rich, even though I was not.'
In building the impression that he was 'a great artist who needed to work alone in his space', he also gained a reputation for being a prima donna. And that, in the world of fashion and celebrity, makes one even more sought after.
As he puts it: 'I was the hot new young photographer who wouldn't let anyone near my studio.'
CLANG is certain he will never move back to Singapore as he thinks the photography scene here is too small for him.
'But I'll always be a Singaporean,' he says, adding the 'embarrassing' tidbit that his taste in music is 'horrible, worse than my (sense of) colour' because he listens only to Cantopop.
He calls his family, now living in a flat in Sembawang, often and stays with his in-laws in Toa Payoh whenever he and Elin come home.
Despite working with famous models such as Sophie Dahl and Anouck Lepere, and R&B group Destiny's Child, he remains completely unfazed by fame.
He may shoot beautiful pictures for a living but he much prefers to focus on his personal work.