Apr 09

“Unicorns In The Viewfinder”



I’m certain you’ve seen his work before. Some of his shots have become iconic, immortalized as pivotal moments, of some of the largest and most influential EDM festivals and events in contemporary history. His subject material ranges from masterful, artistic shots of some of biggest names in the business to unparalleled aerial views of the stage and the accompanying raging crowds below, succinctly illustrating the growing scale and momentum of the global EDM phenomenon. Humble, pleasant, and professional, this man is by any other terms a “photography Yoda.” He takes is job very seriously, as he should, but it’s an obvious benefit when you are doing something that you love. You have to respect that. I spoke with Rutger Geerling about: how photography became his professional focus, how he has reached the upper echelon of international EDM event photographers, where he sees the future of festivals going, and how photography has had a direct impact on his life.


How did you get into photography in the first place? Did you have a mentor? 

Even as a kid I was fascinated by photography and I knew it was something that I’d greatly enjoy. So during my studies (Masters in Public Administration) I finally decided saving enough money for a decent camera and I was instantly hooked. By photographing for University magazines and doing tons of free work (architecture, skateboarding, snowboarding) I slowly got better. This was mostly black and white stuff that I developed and printed myself in my bathroom. I figured I liked it so much that I wanted to see if I could make a living out of it. This was about 5 years after I started. I was able to start working for a friend’s publishing house (they had a snowboard and a music magazine) and the whole thing got going after I had my masters.


Was there a defining moment where you knew you wanted to do this full-time?

It was mostly because I hated my studies (I did finish it) and loved shooting that I decided to push this. I was really active in the skateboard business around that time so trying to be self-employed wasn’t that scary to me, I had plenty of friends that were. Back in these days, pre-digital, the competition wasn’t as fierce as it is nowadays.


Who was your first major client? (can be either your personal definition of “major” or actual company size/influence)

The client that really got me going was Philip Morris who were looking for a professional EDM photographer for their Chesterfield Labelland dance events. An editor from ID&T Magazine had referred me and that really started my career in the big leagues. Once you start working for those kinds of companies things really change. For instance, I rarely had to look for work afterwards, mostly clients have come to me since then.


When did you break into EDM event photography?

There were a few defining moments, obviously working as ID&T senior photographer was important to me, Chesterfield was the next and working for Bacardi a few years later was important since they completely let me do my own thing, so I got to develop my own style which is very natural, warm and edgy sometimes. Working for Q-dance and their photographers made my work enjoyable because of the enormous respect between all of us. Internationally, Ultra two years ago was a major breakthrough since they spend a lot of time crediting their photographers, and they are really proud having you work for them.


How did you become affiliated with some of the global powerhouses in the EDM community? (ID&T, Ultra, etc.) 

I’m senior photographer for ID&T, Tomorrowland (ID&T) and Ultra. That’s about enough for me but I do have some clients on the side. None as big as these two though.


What have been some of your favorite events to shoot? Favorite artists to shoot? 

That has got to be Distant Heat in the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan. Such an incredible place for an EDM event (Armin and Markus Schulz have both played there). The setting, a Unesco World Heritage site, is just out of this world, with massive red walls of rock surrounding the stage.


My favorite DJ to photograph is probably Carl Cox, you can go really artistic with the man, he’s so intense. Armin has been of my favorite artists to work with over the past few years, I put a lot of effort in becoming his photographer for the launch of his new world tour “Intense” which, in my opinion, is a groundbreaking show that has set the bar for the years to come. I really went all out for three nights and some of these shots are almost out of this world.


What kind of impact does your schedule have on your family?

I have always traveled a lot but ever since having kids five years ago I’ve managed to cut back from 6-7 months per year to about 3. That is still a lot, however: when I’m home, I’m home and I totally take care of them. I really don’t want to be a father who has missed out on his kids growing up. With the youngest almost in school now I’ probably going to travel a little more but usually I keep it as short as possible (sometimes flying in on the first day of an event and flying out immediately afterwards).


What is your personal definition of what makes a “good” photograph?

To me a good photograph has to tell a story and make the viewer curious or fascinated. Which, sadly, are not always the photos that most people like. If I post an overview shot on my Facebook I know it will attract a lot of likes while a more artistic shot will attract only a few. So, you need to balance them a little but my personal favorites are usually not the photos people like without telling them why I like the shot.


Where has been your favorite location to shoot? 

Under water, I love scuba diving photography. Nothing in the world relaxes me more and challenges me more.


Where do you see the future of EDM going now that some of the major European festivals have been brought stateside? Is this expansion a good thing?

I’m not too good with crystal balls but you will probably see less festival organizers. There’s a consolidation going on in which a few big companies will eat up the small ones. Not sure if that’s always a good thing, I think some of them could be over-invested and the returns are risky. Hopefully, all big festivals will try to keep their own identity and not copy too much, that way it will stay interesting to most fans – DJ’s and photographers. Right now most festivals have their own character and that is really an important thing to stay!


Whether it’s hosting workshops or giving friendly advice, Rutger welcomes the new class of shutterbugs. As there will always be more than enough photos to take and places to be, it’s refreshing to know that someone so established understands and appreciates the cultivation and progression of this art form. There’s always politics in business, but if artistic expression and a sense of family, both traditional and extended, are paramount, the rest will tend to work itself out as it should. I know that is trite, contrived, and overly simplified, but that philosophy seems rewarding to embrace. Given the stigma that some professionals, once achieving veteran-status, become hardened, unavailable, and sometimes even outright unfriendly, it’s a pleasure to know that this guy is a stark contrast to that notion. Regardless if he’s scuba diving or rocking the diamond-studded unicorn pass of all unicorn passes, Rutger always has a smile on his face and a friendly word to offer.