PDN: How did you get started?
DREW RESSLER: When I moved
out to LA from New York, a
lot of DJs that I wanted to see
performed every weekend at a
club called Avalon in Hollywood:
Hybrid, Sasha, Junkie XL. I loved
their music. So I would hit up the
artist’s management for a photo
pass and they’d say, “Sure, we
could use photos.” Looking back, I
took some pretty bad pictures, but
the DJs would look at my photos
and say, “This one’s actually
pretty good, you should make
more of those.” And I would take
a picture every once in a while
and be amazed. I would look at
the settings and ask myself: How
could I re-create this all the time?
I kept on tweaking my style, trying
to get better photos.
PDN: How did you turn it into
DR: I started taking pictures
in clubs in 2005, and in 2006
Avalon hired me to come by every
weekend. They were paying me
the same amount I was making
at my video game job, and I was
not happy, so I decided to quit my
job and go into the photography
thing full time.
PDN: What was your video
DR: I was a QA [quality
PDN: What’s the story behind
your nickname (Rukes)?
DR: Back in the mid ’90s when I
was on AOL, I used to frequent
the videogame chatroom. One
time, someone made a typo and
said “this game rukes!” instead
of “rules.” So my friends and I
adopted it into our internet slang.
Later on, I decided I needed a new
AOL screen name, so I started it
with Rukes. From there, all my
friends started to call me Rukes.
PDN: How long did you work for
Avalon, and how did you segue to
shooting for other clients?
DR: I worked for Avalon from 2006
to 2011. Around 2007, Insomniac
[a festival promoter] started hiring
me for all of their festivals. Around
that same time, a friend at Pioneer
offered to introduce me to DJ Aero
and Tommy Lee, who had just
started to DJ. They introduce me
to their friend Deadmau5, who
had his first LA show in late 2007.
He’d heard about me, so we built
a relationship. He invited me to
the Winter Music Conference in
Miami, then to Coachella, and
it built up from there. So I was
working three different angles:
at clubs, at festivals, and for DJs
PDN: Who do you make most of
your income from now?
DR: I don’t do much club work
anymore. I just do work for festivals
[promoters] and work for DJs, and
it’s mostly festivals these days.
PDN: Who are the promoters
that hire you?
DR: Ultra will [book me] for
a lot of their festivals. Disco
Donnie will do the same, and
Hard. Individual festivals will
hit me up, too, such as the
Jarkarta Warehouse Project last
December, and Looptopia in
Taiwan in early April.
PDN: How many festivals do
you photograph every year?
And where are there?
DR: They’re all over the world.
Generally it’s one to two festivals
PDN: Do you do any other types
of photography? Or is this your
only source of income?
DR: My entire income is based on
music photography. I’d love to get
into portrait work, but right now
I have a lot of work already.
PDN: What’s the most appealing
part of your job?
DR: One of them is definitely the
travel. When I go to places, there’s
sometimes free time to explore.
I [recently went ] to Tokyo with
[DJ] Zedd, and it’s my favorite
place in the world. The other
thing I love to do is take great
photos. I’ll look at a picture in the
camera and think: Oh my god,
this is the perfect photo. This
sums up the entire night.
PDN: What’s a perfect photo?
What are you trying to get?
DR: For me, 99 percent of it is
symmetry. I just love symmetrical
photographs. I like to capture the
production and way it’s meant
to be, in full force, either from
behind the DJ or from the center
looking on. It’s waiting for the right
moment, when they turn all lights
up on the stage, getting the right
settings, getting everything perfect.
PDN: What keeps it new and
interesting? How do you keep
DR: It’s usually by meeting new
DJs and making new friends.
As new DJs come along, I have to
learn their habits, what they like,
and what their productions are.
Festivals change up production,
making things look different every
year. And if I’m on tour with a DJ,
it’s the same thing every night,
but it’s in different venues, with
new challenges, and new angles.
PDN: What gear do you use?
DR: I shoot with a Canon 1DX
Mark II, and eight or nine lenses:
a 24-70, 70-200, and a 16-35 are my
WHAT’S YOUR NICHE?
DOCUMENTING CELEBRITY DJS AT WORK
Los Angeles photographer Drew “Rukes” Ressler explains how he built a career
photographing top DJs at electronic dance music festivals all over the world.
INTERVIEW BY DAVID WALKER