Chances are if you’ve seen an image from a festival or tour or club night that not only made you stop and gaze upon its beauty, but made you feel like you were there—or really bummed that you weren’t—the photographer simple know as “Rukes” in EDM circles (a typo of the word “rules” that stuck so he ran with it) was probably the man behind the lens. Drew Ressler (aka Rukes) spends most of his time taking pictures as he tours the world with top-shelf talent or bouncing around from festival to festival. Who are some of those distinguished DJs? Swedish House Mafia, deadmau5, Avicii, Zedd, Steve Aoki, Skrillex, Porter Robinson, Calvin Harris, Dirty South, Dada Life, Sub Focus and even rocker Tommy Lee. If there were medals handed out for photography, Rukes would hold gold.
For our New York readers (or those headed to the city for Electric Zoo, perhaps?) on August 29, W Hotel in Times Square (The Living Room W: 1567 Broadway @ 47th Street) has an exhibition launching called “Inside The Booth.” It’s an exclusive, interactive exhibit by the high-profile photographer which also happens to be his first-ever exhibit anywhere in the world. The photo gallery above are some of the images to be featured in the exhibit. The show will spotlight never before seen images of deadmau5, Kaskade, Zedd, Steve Aoki, Dada Life and Dirty South. Next to each DJs photograph, a listening station will be installed, letting you enjoy said artist’s music…
“I owe Hybrid both for the soundtrack of my life, and for giving me the first kick to keep doing what I do now.”
How and why did you get your start? Is there anyone you owe “big time?”
I basically started photography as just a hobby to go out to the nightlife scene. It never really interested me, aside from the music aspect, so taking pics was a good way to get my foot in the door.
I started shooting the bar scene in the OC (while I lived in the SFV, so it was a big commute) for some work on weekends when I wasn’t on my 9-5+ job of game testing. When I saw some DJs I liked, such as BT, Hybrid, Sasha, etc… started to play at Hollywood venues; I took notice and made sure to get a photo pass to try some “concert” photography.
Of course my parents helping me get started with my first camera are probably the people I owe “big time” the most. But on the musician side, I would have to say Hybrid. They still are my favorite electronic group. Mike Truman is a big photography buff, and even way back then when I was taking really crappy pics, he still saw something in me and was the first person to compliment my work and tell me I have a good eye. So I owe Hybrid both for the soundtrack of my life, and for giving me the first kick to keep doing what I do now.
Talk about the first instance when someone paid to publish one of your photos.
That’s kind of rare, to have a magazine want to pay for a photo in the first place. That’s why I tend to avoid magazines. I think the first magazine offered me just $20 for one of my pics in a small corner of a page—way back when I first started. I think the money was just used for bait. Never ended up paying me, ignored all my emails.
What does still photography have over video/film? Contrariwise?
“Once I saw those pics, I felt ‘wait, did I just take that?’ and decided that I needed to work on how to get pictures like that as much as possible.”
However now that video is part of the DSLR format, much like when cheap DSLR’s came on the market and everyone decided to become a photographer, now everyone has decided to become a videographer, oversaturating the market. There are very few videographers that get it right, such as Eyewax, but much like when DSLRs were cheap, too many people think that just because they have the equipment; that’s all they need to have to be able to create quality work.
Digital photography, friend or foe? Gilded facilitator of the imagination or soul-erasing process-killer?
Definitely friend. I like to embrace new technology, and digital photography helps people get better pictures, plain and simple. Of course film has its own look and severe challenges—nowadays it is nice to be able to see your photo after you take it, and make any adjustments to improve upon future photos if it’s not up to par. Not to mention good autofocus. I’m a stickler for properly focused pics, so looking at old pics that have good content but are out of focus still bugs me.
Of course there are filters that emulate film nowadays too; however I never use any of those. I prefer to keep my pics more “natural” or with a more generic filter that doesn’t emulate a specific camera.
I don’t really have any favorites, but if I had to pick one, probably Kubrick. I think he loved wide angle shots as much as I do.
“I think any girl that would fall for something like that is probably way too stupid to date in the long run, or even deal with for one night (eh, maybe).”
If you had four hours and unlimited money in a city of your choice where would it be and what would you get up to?
For the fun way, probably Tokyo. Just because it’s my favorite city. If I did have unlimited money, I would stay at the best hotel, eat at the best restaurants, shop like crazy for anything cool, etc. And of course donate as much as possible to every charity I could find. For the cheating way, probably Las Vegas and maybe spend 4-hours betting insane amounts of money so I could win real money that I could use anytime past the 4 hours. That’s more of a “wish for more wishes” cheat, I’m guessing.
You knew you wanted to be a photographer when…
I took some amazing pics that completely stood out from the rest of the gallery, such as Junkie XL at The Factory and Christopher Lawrence at Together As One. Once I saw those pics, I felt “wait, did I just take that?” and decided that I needed to work on how to get pictures like that as much as possible.
The opposite sex seems to like photographers. How does the “you’re pretty” pick-up line work with you…or does it?
I actually try to avoid all that. There are a lot of severely gullible girls out there, and at the same time, there are a lot of shitty photographers that try to use “I’m a photographer” to pick up girls. I think any girl that would fall for something like that is probably way too stupid to date in the long run, or even deal with for one night (eh, maybe). I’d rather concentrate on my work and actually take good photos, and then let people come to me and say, “Wow, you are Rukes? Your photos are amazing!” than try to do the whole “Do you know who I am?” cheeseball routine.
Did you love the film Pecker?
Yeah, I do like that movie, but it’s more art photography oriented. For me, the ultimate film would have to be Almost Famous; I get tons and tons of people commenting on how that movie is like my life.
What percentage of your skills were you born with? How did you go about acquiring additional skills? Learning from others? Teaching the self?
I guess 50% I was born with, and 50% I taught. I have always been a very visual person; picking apart detailed graphics in videogames, preferring to watch a documentary to learn rather than a textbook, etc… Growing up like that, I just began to realize what looked “good” to me and what was a bit “off.” After that, learning how to work a DSLR, I was able to put all that to good use and realize that with the proper skills by teaching myself how to use a camera, I could make sure what I take looks good to me, visually.
Speak about the hierarchy of skill (craftsmanship), style (your unique aesthetic) and emotive content in your work—and/or in the work of those you admire.
I like to keep my photos angular, such as profile shots, wide shots, etc. For me that just “clicks” in my mind as my style. I don’t really like portrait-angled shots (especially the cheesy ones where people tilt the picture a bit to the side to be “edgy”), since people do see “landscape-oriented” in real life. I like my photos to have precise focus. Even if a photo looks amazing, but isn’t in proper focus, 9 times out of 10 I will just trash it. Action is always good, so trying to capture some sort of energy is always a plus.
I try to avoid black & white or similar types of filters whenever possible. I prefer to use color to capture the emotion in a photo, rather than forcing emotion by removing all the color. Of course some photos are good but have some problems that can be rectified by removing the color, so that’s an exception, and why you can see some black and white type photos here and there.
I also love depth of field. Nothing to me looks better, or is harder to photograph. Getting a perfect photo of a DJ at f/1.2 at the right moment is an amazing feeling, compared to just putting the camera at a much higher aperture with room for error.
Take us from alpha to omega with a project.
For the most part, having every single lens I own in one bag is a necessity. There are always times where if I would have left a specific lens behind, I would have found a use for it.
At work, the more room I have on stage, the better. Often times at smaller clubs, I can be limited to just behind the DJ, with no room to go in the crowd, or even monitors on the side of the DJ I can’t get around.
Lighting is also a key factor; I love it when the lighting person uses lots of colors and especially strobes at big moments. I rarely use flash, and I don’t like the “strobist” technique in a club where you mount the flash somewhere. That makes every picture look the same, since the light is coming from the same exact spot.
Finally, security is usually the big issue. A lot of times, security can be pretty clueless, so I definitely need to be able to go wherever I want, whenever I want. Even then, sometimes security at a certain venue can cause issues…so security is probably my biggest worry before going to a new venue.
Whatever the setup, I try to do my best with the options I have!
“Whenever I am hanging out with Skrillex and he gets to his UFO talking, it can be pretty convincing.”
What’s the secret to your success?
I think the secret is just figuring out what I want to do, and working hard to do it. I have always tried to avoid looking at any other photographers’ work, since every photographer is different, there would always be a few things I would notice that would make me go “oh wow, I wish I could do that.” The downfall of that is, you can easily spend your entire life trying to emulate every photographer under the sun and never develop your own unique style.
Also, one thing I always like to follow is that I will take better pictures in the future. I will always get amazing pics here and there that even blow my mind, but my mindset is that the next pictures I take will be better.
Describe a moment of what may or may not have been “paranoia” in your life. In the end, what was “true?”
Honestly, every single time I go to a new venue I haven’t been before, I always get paranoid on how everything will work out. 99% of the time, everything ends up fine and I stop getting nervous by the time I’m working, but I’m always on guard in case the “worst” happens, i.e. something that makes it tough to do my job, like clueless security.
Have you ever had a brush with the paranormal or supernatural?
Not really, but then again whenever I am hanging out with Skrillex and he gets to his UFO talking, it can be pretty convincing. I mean I do love the supernatural, story wise. Ghost stories are always a fun read.
“Sometimes playing dumb and making the other person think they have the upper hand is a better tactic in the long run than going in guns blazing.”
How will you feel six months after your heart stops beating?
Six months? Well that would probably mean I was a zombie, so I would be hungry for brains.
What’s the hardest lesson you’ve ever learned? How did it make your life easier—or more difficult?
Just to be careful who to trust before you get to know them. I like being nice to everyone, I never really hate anyone unless they do something really bad that would cause me to hate them. I do like to keep my friends close, and my enemies closer—especially in business. If I have any problems, I will more likely deal with it in a casual, unassuming way, rather than taking the angry route. Sometimes playing dumb and making the other person think they have the upper hand is a better tactic in the long run than going in guns blazing.
Travel probably takes more of your time than it does the average person. Do you have any tales of extreme excitement or extreme boredom that the average person might enjoy reading?
Riding on a tour bus is always fun. Going to bed in a bustling city and then waking up the next day in the middle of nowhere is always interesting. One tale of extreme boredom was my Australia/Asia tour; we were all on “Around The World” tickets, so everyone had to cross the oceans. I started in LA, did my normal tour of Australia and Asia, ending in Taiwan. To go home, I had to go from Taiwan to Hong Kong to London and then finally to LA after a 5-hour layover. It was grueling, but at least I wasn’t alone, since I was travelling with SOFI.