Photography kicked into gear for the Washington, DC based music photographer Doug Van Sant after getting an amazing shot of Afrojack during Electric Zoo back in 2010. After that shot, Van Sant got a call from publicist Sara Cooper extending an offer (read: a helluva opportunity) to photograph her artists at Ultra and WMC in 2011. According to Van Sant that was his “big break” and the rest as they say is history. Well, at least history in the making.
We caught up with Doug Van Sant for a quick chat about craft, the supernatural, Washington DC, and, of course, music.
Hey Doug, lets start with a little introduction for Magnetic readers.
My name is Doug Van Sant and I’m a music and architecture photographer based in Washington, DC. I’ve been shooting for roughly 8 years, though I didn’t get serious until about 3 years ago. I got my start shooting dance music artists after writing a nightlife column in Tampa, Florida. I wanted to attract people to read my column, so I started snapping photos and handing out business cards. This led to a fascination with the lighting and trying to capture the nightlife and music environment. I then moved to San Francisco and started shooting gigs at Ruby Skye. It was there I was able to snap a few photos that actually looked good and drove me to learn more.
All of this continued until I moved to Washington, DC and started getting involved with Club Glow. If I could say I owe my success to anyone, it would be Pete and Antonis of Glow and Sara Cooper PR. Glow gave me opportunities to shoot some incredible artists that helped me build my resume. It also gave me a weekly arena to practice my craft and learn more about low-level lighting. After capturing a ridiculous shot of Afrojack at Electric Zoo 2010, Sara Cooper gave me an opportunity to photograph her artists at Ultra and WMC in 2011. I suppose you could call this was my “big break” and the rest is history.
At this point I’m just trying to take this whole music photography art form to a new level. So many photographers walk into a club, pop flash and try to make everything look as if it was daylight. I like to use light I’m given to actually create art. With the growth of dance music popularity, I think I’m in a good position to show artists and promoters that it’s wise to invest in professional photography and photographers who are always looking beyond what is obvious. Not only does it look good, but it’s a positive reinforcement of their brand and the global dance music brand.
Not only do I take my work seriously, I take the business seriously. I love a good party, but I also want to continue to cultivate my style and grow my business. I also have hopes to serve as a connection to new photo talent, similar to how dance music artists help foster the growth of young, fresh producers.
If you had 4 hours and unlimited money in a city of your choice, where would it be and what would you get up to?
Give me 4 hours in New York City and I’ll eat for 2 hours at Le Bernandin and then spend the remaining 2 hours buying a lot of clothes. Doug with unlimited money in NYC is a dangerous thing.
Is there moment in your life that changed the course of, or defined, your aesthetic?
After spending years shooting in clubs, I found myself using the sun and lighting one afternoon around DC in the same manner. Rather than shoot with the sun behind me, I used it like a spotlight at a show and photographed looking right at it. I then spent the rest of the day approaching the lighting around DC as if it were a club. It created (what I believe) a dynamic way of looking at my city. And it served as a true turning point in my style. Here’s a gallery:
doug van sant
Have you ever had a brush with the paranormal or supernatural?
Yes, I absolutely have had brushes with the paranormal. I lived in an older home in college that was clearly haunted by (what we believe to be) two little girls. The first night I stayed in the home after moving in, I heard our front door open and then close. It was an old heavy door with glass that rattled whenever opened. It was an unmistakable sound. Thinking my roommate had come home, I ran downstairs to catch up with him. I walked all around and no one was home. I called him and found out he was about 200 miles away. This happened about 5 more times while living in this home. We also saw figures walk into rooms, heard little girls laughing, and had a rocking chair that would just rock without any reason. We talked with a former resident, and not telling them what we had experienced, they asked if we had heard the girls. They too had the same experiences. Turns out, there were two little girls who died at the house about 50 years earlier. Pretty crazy stuff! Those who have never had a brush with the paranormal will clearly think I’m crazy but whatever, I consider myself lucky to have experienced something beyond our realm.
What are some things you love about your city?
DC is just a very interesting city. Most only know it for the federal government and our monuments, but there is a vast and diverse city behind all the tourist elements. I love the diversity of our population. I love the growth of our food scene and how famous and not-so-famous chefs are calling our city home and thriving. I love being able to walk 5 blocks from my apartment and find myself standing in front of the White House. And I love seeing a Presidential motorcade drive by and thinking, no big deal. We get the best of what any major city has to offer, and yet we have this whole political/government world that operates all around us here. It’s an energy unlike anywhere else.
What is your favorite activity or place to kill time in DC without blowing the bank?
My favorite activity is simply sitting on my balcony watching the city move while drinking coffee. Oh, and with house music playing in the background.
Do you have a favorite photographer?
Peter Tellone. Peter is the first photographer I truly got inspired by. I found a collection of his shots from around the Salton Sea and was amazed at how he was able to make something so stark and ugly look so beautiful. He’s able to see art and beauty in landscapes and settings most of us would be afraid to even walk through. His work from the Salton Sea will forever fascinate and haunt me.
Name 3 songs that inspire you to do what you do.
Pirupa “Party Non Stop”
This song embodies how I feel when I’m at a good show and shooting. It just feels good. The percussion feeds my soul. The breakbeat sounds take me back to my days of 80’s hip-hop (showing my age) and the message is just on point. Photography is my work. But we all spend our lives trying to do work we love. If your work lets you party non stop, I think you’ve succeeded.
Fedde Le Grand “Metrum”
If I could pick 5 songs, I’d add Autosave and Control Room to this list. Fedde is truly one of my favorites. All of his music combines the right levels of electro to beef up energy but keeps things house with great percussion layers. As someone who played drums for 14 years, hearing drums makes me happy.
Green Velvet “Flash” (Nicky Romero Remix)
I think this song holds a special place in the heart of any photographer who enjoys dance music or works in the industry. This song influences my style because it speaks to how I approach a show. I’m not trying to just shoot for the sake of shooting. I’m waiting for an exact moment. I’m watching the lights. I’m watching the crowd. I’m waiting for the artist and all those elements to come together. And when it does…camera’s ready, prepare to flash!