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Interviewer: Adrián Pérez Treviño
Hi Rutger! It’s a great pleasure to talk to you and I must say, I’m a big fan of your work! For the people who don’t know you very much, would you tell us about yourself?
I’m a 41 year old professional photographer, based in the Netherlands, and been photographing EDM for about 15 years now. Besides that I do a lot of travel photography, wintersports photography and underwater photography. Kind of a nice combination that keeps me challenged all year round because it’s so varied. The good thing is that all these specific photography fields interconnect at some point, you get to combine the different skills.
How much have you been photographing DJs?
A terrible lot but actually I’ve never been huge at shooting DJ’s, I try to capture everything, not just the artists. An EDM event is so much more than that, the energy is so overwhelming, you need to get that on camera too. The people raving, the crowds, the details – each tells its own story but combined it should bring you over, make you feel you were there. That’s why I’ve recently started doing 101-series, a hundred-and-one photos of each event I cover.
What was the first time you ever did so?
My first DJ photo was in late 1995 when I started working for a Dutch hardhouse magazine called “Strobe”, I’ve long forgotten who it was but I can still remember the excitement of getting on the stage, feeling everyone’s eyes, and approaching the DJ. You got to remember, it was all film in those days. No checking your shots: you had to nail it, every time. My most iconic photo of that period was an amazing 1996 frontal shot of Carl Cox at the famous “I Love Techno” event in Belgium. It had awesome lights and no other photographer saw what I was seeing. That was the first time I really had the feeling I could do special shots.
You have some photos that are an icon of what a festival is, for example, some of the famous are the ones of Sensation White in 2002. What is your goal every time you assist a festival?
I’ve been with Sensation since the first edition, the first one in 2000 I wasn’t yet working for ID&T, the organisers, but they really wanted my photos and bought them afterwards. The next year I was working for them and have ever been since. I’m the longest working photographer for them. As I said before, my strength is capturing the whole event, the storytelling as it is. However, in that time I was really known for being able to capture the massiveness of some of these events. Still, I really love to get the most iconic moment of the event but with so many more photographers as there are today it’s much harder to do so. I feel I’ve done so much pioneering in those days.
You have some fantastic photos of Tomorrowland, how do you know is the precise moment to take a picture of something at a place that has so much elements to look at?
Shooting a lot of actions sports has taught me to look ahead, I’m always ready to shoot, always very on edge. If you would talk to me while I was working you might actually find me rude since I would looking over your shoulders at the same time: always keeping an eye on things. I’m terribly bad at relaxing while I’m working. After a while you tend to keep an eye on the lights too, they’re repetetive which makes it possible to capture what you’ve seen before. Technically you often don’t even think about your camera settings anymore, it’s become a part of me.
I saw that you published a special issue of DJs for National Geographic. I think is fantastic to have this opportunity but how did they approach to you for this?
It has been my lifelong dream to publish for NatGeo, then I started working for their based travel magazine (Dutch edition) last year and after talking I asked the magazine itself if I could come over and pitch an idea I had in my mind for over two years. Canon headquearters near Amsterdam helped me out in doing some great prints which I took along. I don’t think that it took more than 5 minutes to convince them: they loved the idea even though it’s kind of an edgy subject for a magazine like this. I think the chief-editor said it well that he, as someone from a previous music area, “would love to understand what brings 30.000 people together to dance on a DJ playing music that someone else made”. That curiosity became the focus of the piece.
What would be the difference between the wild life pictures you take and shooting at a Dance Event?
Both things require patience and a keen sense of looking ahead. But obviously the hours are slightly better doing nature stuff. Most of my nature stuff is a sidespin from my travel photography, I don’t see myself (yet) lying in the bushes for hours to catch a shot of a special bird or something. But I like the unpredictability of animals, you got to be alert and ready to shoot. So actually, there more in common than you think.
In you experience, how would you define the evolution of the Electronic Scene in Europe?
In Europe things have been very stable for ages, the popularity of EDM has always been there, it’s not like in the US right now where things have exploded. EDM music has always been present on the radio, maybe a little more these days but nothing dramatic. I kind of really like the outdoor events where there is so much emphasis on the whole setting, like Mysteryland and ultimately Tomorrowland these days. It’s good to see companies like ID&T really investing in quality to make sure they will still be around in the next decade. In Europe the time has come for crappy organizers to leave the ranks, and that is a good thing.
Do you think there is still culture or there is more of a “boom” with commercial tracks going to the radio?
There is still loads of culture around, maybe not so much more at the biggest events but there are so many good smaller events with highly dedicated crowds that still do well and should continue to do so. Looking at myself, I’ve been loving EDM since it started in late 80′s and I cannot imagine it ever changing for myself. In this regard it was such a privilege, as chief photographer for the Ultra Music Festival, to be solely allowed to photograph the legendary guys from Kraftwerk (had to skip Skrillex to do so which I didn’t really mind…). What I’m trying to say, even though EDM is huge now, it will always be around in my opinion. Maybe not at this scale, maybe it will.
What do you think about the job that other photographers are doing at the EDM events?
There are some amazing guys that I work with these days and I love the tight-knittedness among most of the true EDM photographers. Almost without exception they are dedicated and respectful for eachother’s work. Being based in the Netherlands, with so much happening, has had its advantages with loads of high-profile work. Personally I really love guys that can shoot all-round and not just focus on DJ shots, repeating the same photo over and over again. There is so much that you can do at an event, I like people that manage to do so. It can be very stimulating to see unknown guys (or girls) really blowing your mind with shots and angles that you didn’t see for yourself. It humbles you and keeps you alert for the next time.
What is the equipment that is always with you at the events?
I’m a total Canon man, always have been and I love the support I get from their HQ in the Netherlands. Dedicated pro-support is a lifeline since I tend to break a lot of equipment. The travelling, the vibrations and the dust are killing for your equipment. It’s good that people back you up when you need it.
I normally carry two camera’s: one setup for wide-angle and one for telelens shots. I tend not to use too much flash as simply don’t like it. I love to go for a more natural feel, looking for the edge, taking photos that are sometimes barely sharp. Which can be immensely powerful.
If you could give us some essential tips for the photographers dedicated to concerts and gigs, what would they be?
First of all, when you’re starting: be respectful for your colleagues on stage. Wait for the other guy to finish before rattling off! Don’t focus too much on artists photos anyway, at any event there’s tons of people doing that already. If you want to stand out, try to capture the crowd, the people and emotions.
Also, shoot a lot of photos and use jpeg instead of raw if you don’t want to be behind your computer all day afterwards. Switch off your display: only review a photo when you have to. It will make you more self-conscious about what you are doing and thing before you set up at a shot.
Is there something special you are working at for the end of this 2012?
Yes, there’s some really cool stuff in the pipeline but I really can’t say anything about that yet. Other than that I hope to pitch my EDM idea for the international edition of National Geographic, with EDM booming in the US it might just be the time for me!