Holland’s legendary photographer shows us what 20 years of dance music looks like.
Photo by Rudgr.com
Art has brought us landscapes, seascapes and cityscapes, but our generation has seen a new environment flourish: the Clubscape. Our Clubscape series aims to provide you a behind-the-scenes perspective on how rave culture is experienced, captured, and illuminated by electronic music's best photographers.
After completing his master's degree in public administration, Rutger Geerling didn't follow the obvious career path. Instead, he got behind a camera. Trying to expand his skills, Geerling experimented with travel photography, photojournalism, and shooting extreme sports. But, he soon discovered that dance music was his calling.
In his early career days—when film rolls were still ubiquitous—Geerling noticed how barely anyone in Holland was taking professional photos at music events. That gave him enough incentive to capture the world of nightlife. Between snapping events hosted in his homeland and traveling the world for music festivals, Geerling realized that dance music photography was here to stay. It wasn't until Ultra Miami in 2012 that he saw a real career ahead of him. "At Ultra, I was treated like a rockstar. They really enjoyed my photography. Some people say it takes 10,000 hours to master something, and if that's true, that was my 10,000 hour weekend," he told THUMP. "That series went viral and the festival promoted my name. I was like okay, I should be proud of what I'm doing. I should promote myself." Fast forward three years and Geerling is releasing his 328-page photo book, THIS IS MY CHURCH, which features photos from his 20-year career in dance music culture. THUMP sat down to talk about the process of publishing his work, talking to DJs about photography, and how the clubscape has evolved in the last two decades.
THUMP: What made you decide to publish a series of photos?
Rutger: A few years ago, there was a book on 25 years of dance music in Holland. My archives go way back, so I gave the guy who made the book a third of the images. He said, "If you're ever going to do a book, you call me first." That same week a friend of mine also said, "Why don't you do a book?" It was already in the back of my mind because I knew I was approaching 20 years of work. I thought, why not? We sat down together and literally wrote what we were going to do on a napkin, and we did it.
Was it difficult to narrow down 20 years worth of photos?
I started with a preselection of 35,000 images. I had to lock myself in a room for a week, but I managed to bring it down to 2000. The publisher and I agreed that when I reached 2000 photos, we would sit down together for a weekend and narrow it down to 1000. That was really, really hard.
What did you look for in the photos you selected?
I think my strength is storytelling. I can do the DJ photo; I can do the laser photo; I can do the crowd photo, but I like to tell the story and show people what's going on. There's so much more depth to dance music than most people know about, and I want to show that. I want to celebrate it. There will always be people who look down on it, but I want to show people how beautiful it is.
In the book, you get DJs to comment on the photographs you've taken of them, how did they respond to the images?
I didn't just want to do a photo book, I wanted to give it a bit more depth. With a photo book, you look through it once and that's it. I think my photos have more to tell than just a photo of an artist. We figured it would be nice to call the DJs and have them comment on their photos. I didn't really ask them questions, I just showed them the photos; I literally went to Tiesto with these huge prints and sat down with him for an hour. I have photos from Tiesto before he was famous. He didn't even remember these photos anymore, he was like "Oh my God, I looked so crazy back then." He was still smoking cigarettes in the photo, so that gave him a really cool edge.
Was it hard to get DJs to open up?
Most of them know me really well. I see them quite often, so they don't have this barrier up. I just let them do the talking mostly, it's their stories. They open up really quickly if they see an old photo in the interview. I sat down with Hardwell and Martin Garrix and it was different because I wasn't talking to them about the next album, I was talking about moments in time and what those moments meant for them. I have so many quotes from Hardwell, I could fill a book with his quotes alone. It was very natural and that's what I was hoping for.
Why did you decide to name the book This Is My Church?
I did an interview with a Mexican blogger last year, and he named [his book] Unicorns In The Viewfinder. That was my favourite title, I loved that title, but it's just too far off for most people. I named it This is My Church because it is. Dance music sometimes feels like a cathedral and I'm one of the players. I'm not a religious person, but some of these moments are imprinted in your brain so massively.
DJs rarely get to reflect on their photos. Has a DJ ever approached you for photography tips?
R3hab. I gave him a lot of tips and I taught him how to set up his camera. I told him which lenses to buy. He's very keen on photography. I talked about photography with Dimitri Vegas before we shot anything. At Tomorrowland, we sat down for half an hour just figuring out what we were going to do — it gives me a lot of stimulus. I love that guy, he's so energetic and he really understands the importance of photography.
How does it make you feel that, in a way, you're capturing this culture from the beginning?
It's amazing actually, I just closed the deal on an important history book for Dutch school children and they're going to use one of my 20-year-old photos from the hardcore scene of Dutch dance music. Twenty years is a really long time, Martin Garrix wasn't even born when I started. The good thing about the book is it's more tangible. There are some photos that don't really come alive on screen but come alive in a book. That's the problem with Internet and Facebook. If I don't post a photo of a famous DJ, or a massive power shot, usually nobody cares. With the book, people will care because they are forced to look at it.
What do you want people to see when they look at your photo for the first time?
I just hope they see positivity. I want them to see joy, really because that's what it's really all about. I'm very privileged. I work in surroundings that are all very positive. There's happy people, there's happy DJs, there's amazing music there's incredible people. I never have to deal with shit, or if it is shit, it's all minor. I live off the energy of people partying and dancing; if there's not a good crowd, I don't do well, and if the crowd is ecstatic, I explode. I want to show people that beauty.
'THIS IS MY CHURCH' will be released on Friday, October 16th. To purchase, click here.