A Q&A With DJ Photographer Rukes

Considered the number one DJ photographer in the world, “Rukes is like a ninja,” according to mix master, Dirty South. The shutterbug, “beautifully captured the rise of a movement and the musicians that lead it that otherwise would have continued to go unnoticed if not for his amazing photographs," superstar DJ-producer Kaskade adds.

The worldwide client list of Rukes includes Swedish House Mafia, Deadmau5, Avicii, Zedd, Steve Aoki, Skrillex, Porter Robinson, Calvin Harris, Dada Life, Sub Focus and even Tommy Lee. When not on tour with DJ’s he can be found photographing massive events including Electric Daisy Carnival, Holy Ship! and Stereosonic in Australia, keeping Rukes constantly on the move

W Times Square approached Rukes with the idea of co-curating an exhibit as the brand is deeply committed to music and EDM in particular. Thus, “Inside the Booth” was born. The show will feature never-before-seen images of famous DJs shot by Rukes. Next to each DJ’s photograph, a listening station will be installed, allowing guests to enjoy the artist’s music while they fully immerse themselves in the moment as if they themselves were on stage. 

How did you become the go-to photographer for DJs?
A combination of trust and good photography! I started off taking pics of DJs around 2005 when digital cameras were just starting to get big, so there were very few people using them to capture the EDM scene. When I started honing my skills as the years went on and figuring out my eye for photos, they turned out to be the type of photos that most DJs wanted to represent their work. Not to mention my ninja-like skills of being able to take photos without getting in anyone’s way or even the DJs noticing I’m there!

You’re clearly a fan of EDM since listening stations will accompany this exhibition…
Yes, definitely! Been a fan since probably the very late ’90s, well before I even used my first camera!

Who is your favorite DJ and why?
It’s hard to pick favorites, there are so many out there for various reasons! I would have to pick two for now…

One would be Hybrid. They aren’t very well known, but should be. They have produced my favorite EDM music since I started listening to them, and were the first DJs to recognize that I had some talent hidden away and I should keep on working on my photography.

Second would probably have to be Zedd. We are really close friends; so much so that I was able to hang around in his top secret studio while he worked on his upcoming album, which is a MONSTER. One of those rare albums where pretty much every track could be its own #1 hit; and I rarely come across albums like that. He’s just starting out, and we definitely are planning on doing a whole lot of work together when he gets even bigger in the future!

Do you listen to hip-hop ever? Who?
Not regularly, but I’m pretty much a fan of every genre of music. I still haven’t fully branched out into hip-hop for my music catalog (I love to just load up tons of music on my iPod and hit shuffle in the car).

Who is your all-time favorite DJ to photograph live? Why?
Again, I can’t really pick just one, there are way too many for various reasons. From Deadmau5 and his amazing production spectacle, to Dada Life and their champagne and bananas, to Steve Aoki and his crowd interaction, every DJ has their own reason why I love to photograph them.

You seem to be everywhere at once since there are so many DJs all over the world everyday of the week! How do you do it? When do you sleep?
I am always on the move it seems. Thankfully summertime I usually have a little bit of time off before tour season really starts, so I’m able to get some breaks here and there, and plan a family vacation to Tokyo.

I try to follow a “normal” sleep schedule as much as possible. I have to put priority of my health and well being over photography, as there can’t be good photos without it. I won’t be able to react quicker to capture any photos, or hold my hands stable enough with a lack of sleep. So for the most part, my schedule is sleep, eat, work on photos, shoot more photos, eat, sleep. Rarely during tours do I ever have a moment off to even explore the city; usually the best chance I get is when I’m looking for some food.

Is there anyone you haven’t shot and are dying for?
Probably Daft Punk is all that’s left on my EDM list. I saw them at Coachella and I did have a camera in hand, but since I knew I was witnessing something amazing, I felt I should actually enjoy what was going on without working. I rarely do that.

Who inspires you as a photographer?
Not to sound cheesy, but myself. When I take a picture that is amazing, it just inspires me to keep taking photos at that level and improve myself so the next time I take a photo like that, it’s even better. I sometimes reach that stage of creative depression where I think “Oh, nothing will top that picture I just took” but then I just surprise myself later when I do!

What advice do you have for the budding shutterbugs?
My favorite piece of advice is to make sure you find your personal eye for photography. Figure out your style; don’t spend all your life trying to emulate another photographer, that is a dead-end. Take photos the way you want to take them and make sure they make you happy, don’t try to make someone else happy. If people like your work, they will respect what you do.

What’s your fave software?
Adobe Lightroom is my program of choice for editing all the RAW photos I have. Can’t live without it!

Hardware?
Definitely my new Canon 1DX, it’s an amazing camera that helps get some shots I couldn’t get with earlier cameras! Every new technological innovation makes it a little easier to get those extreme low-light shots the way I want them.

Second would have to be my new laptop, a Dell Precision M6700. A lot of people are surprised I’m not a mac guy, but when you realize the MacBook Pro doesn’t have a great screen for photo editing (colors are a bit off even when calibrated, doesn’t have a full gamut of the color spectrum) it really helps having a beautiful 10-bit IPS panel with 100% sRGB color and more. No need to hook up an external monitor; the colors on my laptop are now the same as the colors as my pro monitor at home!

How has EDM’s explosion in the US change your career?
It’s done a lot to help boost it up, but not too much to change it. I’m still doing what I used to do, just a bit more now. More DJs I have worked with for years are starting to tour bigger and bigger venues, and more festivals are popping up. So pretty much EDM’s explosion has just provided me with the opportunity with more work, better “Rukes shots” (the behind-the-DJ fisheye shot with the entire crowd) and now with this exhibition at the W Hotel in Times Square, the ability for people to see what they missed the past few years, like the beginning of Skrillex when he first was hanging out with Deadmau5 in 2010 as “Sonny” and then later opening for his first Deadmau5 shows before “Scary Monsters And Nice Sprites”


For more exclusive photos, head to VIBE.com!

A Look at W Hotels’ Sartorial Obsessions

In case you weren’t able to piece it together from their 1,001 sartorial celebrations, fashion has been a major focus for W Hotels. Back in September, W Hotels Worldwide premiered the fourth season of their Global Glam fashion collection, a fashion show featuring fifteen W-inspired looks from 15 designers curated by the luxury chain’s Global Fashion Director, Amanda Ross. Add to that a series of photo exhibits at their outpost in Times Square, fashion events, and, finally, this spring’s “Drawing Inspiration” Series with FIT.

The “W Happenings Presents: Street Style Photorgaphy Series” ran from September to January and featured: image September – “Models Off Duty: Fashion’s Best Dressed Models Off The Runway” By Craig Arend (of Altamira/Models Off Duty) October – “Night Lifestyle: New York City after Dark” By Nicky Digital November – “A Stylish World” by Yvan Rodic of Face Hunter December – “Scene Stealers – Best of 2010” by Sam Horine of New York Magazine January – “Gentlemen of Nonchalant Elegance & Effortless Style” February – “Bubble + Cube: An Exploration of London Style” by Susie Bubble of Style Bubble and Shini Park of Park & Cube.

“Drawing Inspiration” image In March, they launched the “Drawing Inspiration” Series with FIT, the first exhibition focusing on the works of professors Karen Santry, Steven Stipleman, Barbara Hanlon, and Joe Denaro. This month you can catch their newest installation, “Drawing Inspiration: Ladies of The Night,” featuring drawings by FIT Professor Steven Stipelman and FIT students majoring in Fashion Illustration. Artists include Cristel Schoen, Kayla Burdon, Mara Cespon, Meagan Morrison, and James Skarbek. Check out the series through May, and catch a peek below:

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Rumi Neely’s Gems, Face Hunter’s NYC Exhibition

Fashion bloggers Rumi Neely and Yvan Rodic, known online as the Face Hunter, are branching out. Neely, a former model who cut her design chops with a capsule collection for Southern California brand RVCA, is shifting her focus to jewelry. The photogenic face behind Fashion Toast has teamed up with DANNIJO, an NYC-based accessories line founded by sisters Danielle and Jodie Snyder. The “six-piece collection of edgy metal pieces,” as Refinery 29 describes it, will launch this month. The all-silver collection is composed of a few statement necklaces and rings with Lagerfeldian pieces that sit both above and below the joint. A simple silver cuff with three tie closures is one of the collection’s standout pieces. The collection will be sold exclusively at Tobi, where a members-only pre-sale has already begun.

The Face Hunter also has a new project up his sleeves. The W Times Square is hosting an exhibition of Rodic’s shots from around the world in its Living Room lounge. The opening party is tonight, from 7-9 p.m. (to RSVP head here). The show is open to the public and will include images Rodic has snapped of some of the world’s most eclectic and inventive young trendsetters, from South Africa to Iceland, Dubai to downtown New York. It runs until November 30, so don’t miss it.

Industry Insiders: Joey Wagner, Derby Promoter

Louisville’s Prime Lounge has been around for only two of the Kentucky Derby’s 136 years, but Joey Wagner’s nightspot quickly has become almost as embedded in the race-week scene as Churchill Downs. In next week’s run up to the “most exciting two minutes in sports” on May 1, Prime Lounge and Wagner will be hosting events nightly, culminating with Greenhouse and Grey Goose Presenting the Playboy Celebrity Lounge with DJ Vice on Derby Eve. Yet on a sunny afternoon, two weeks before the busiest part of his year, the 31-year-old Louisville-native was in shorts and sneakers, reading the paper at a sidewalk table in front of his lounge that still needed to be cleaned up from the night before.

Point of origin: I played baseball in college at Morehead State University, so while all of my teammates were going to play in the summer leagues, I was going to New York to act and model. A lot of my buddies in New York City were doing nightclub promotions. So I was a 19, 20-year-old kid–couldn’t even get into the clubs–but I was out on the streets handing out flyers and meeting girls and getting numbers and inviting them to the parties and putting them on lists. I was a promoter for about 10 years. It got to the point where, hey, instead of me making all of the money for the bar, why don’t I see about finding a property and having my own bar and lounge? I got with one of my silent investors, and we found a space.

On quickly becoming a hot spot for Derby parties: We just started getting involved with the right players. Our company has helped market events for Maxim , Stuff and Playboy. Working with [established Derby parties] the Mint Jubilee and the Grand Gala, we were doing more of the networking and the marketing. And then we’d throw parties with those types of companies, helping them get hot girls, good clientele and celebrities. I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of celebrity friends from the sports and entertainment world. They like coming in for the Derby. Once you get them in here the first time, you get them hooked and they want to come every year.

On getting celebs to Prime Lounge: We bring in the hottest DJs that these celebrities and these athletes recognize from places where they go to Vegas and LA and New York and Miami. We partner up with sponsors like Grey Goose, Brown Forman and Fiji Water; big brands that people recognize. This year, we partnered up with Greenhouse in New York. They’re going to be our partner for Friday night and for Saturday. You get people wanting to know where the hot spots are, and our reputation over the past couple of years has been known for throwing the hottest parties. Now that we’ve done this for so long, I’ve become friends with all of the celebrities. So now when I go to New York and LA and Miami, I get to hang out with them and party with them. And then when they come back here for Derby, they return the favor and show up to my club, come to the parties.

On winning big with Michael Jordan: Probably four or five years ago we were at this Stuff magazine party I was doing at Jillian’s and had Robby [Albarado, an elite jockey and friend of Wagner’s] out with me. Robby had this horse in the Woodford [Reserve Turf Classic] race, the race before the Derby, called American Alive. He was telling Michael Jordan, Usher, Jermaine Dupri, “Listen. I got this horse tomorrow, it’s going to go off on great odds. I’m telling you, go heavy on it. Put the money on it; put your house on it.” We all went heavy on it and it was dead last coming around the fourth turn. I’m like, “Oh, my God. What’s Robby doing to me?” And then on the straight away on the back side he shot to the front and won. He went off at 17:1, and I think between me and all my friends, and then Jordan, it was over $100,000.

Humblest celeb hosted: Last year my buddy called me, he’s like, “Hey, Michael Phelps needs a table at the club on Saturday night.” Got him set up. About 11:30 my phone rings, it’s Michael Phelps. He’s like, “I’m on my way to Prime; you’ve got a table for me?” I was like, “Yeah, I’ve got the front cleared out for you. Just have your police officer drive right up front, park you. We’ll walk you right in.” He’s like, “Dude, I’m in a cab with my boys. I’m just on the way.” He was one of the coolest, most humble people I’ve ever met. I took him up to my owner’s suite. He called me five minutes later, “Man, I’d rather go down on the floor with the regular people.”

Go-to places when back in New York: I love staying at the W in Times Square. My favorite restaurant is probably Angelo & Maxie’s. It’s a really cool seafood/steak place up there. And then Tao, of course. Club-wise, obviously Avenue, Marquee , Greenhouse, of course. The place is gorgeous.

Good Night Mr. Lewis: Greg Brier, Midtown Maestro

Greg Brier is the man behind Highbar, Amalia, Aspen, and the soon-to-open Aspen Social Club in Times Square, designed by yours truly. Greg is a very dear friend of mine. Of course, he hires me once in a while to design his spaces. I’ve done two and half spaces for him so far. I did Aspen initially, then Amalia. Now we’re sitting in the Aspen Social Club at 47th Street and 7th Avenue.

First of all, Amalia and Aspen Social Club are in this Times Square/Midtown area, and Aspen is really in the Chelsea thing. And instead of being downtown or in the Meatpacking District where everyone else is, you’re in Midtown. Explain what you like about it. Well, I mean in addition to that, we just opened Highbar in Midtown as well.

That’s right. I forgot about it because I didn’t design it. [Laughing] You’re right, it’s not as beautiful as all the other places, but it’s successful, and it is in Midtown.

I hang out downtown and have always been a downtown guy. I started to realize there’s no dividing lines in New York. People live in Midtown, they live Uptown, they live on the East Side, they live on the West Side. A lot of people claim they live Downtown, but nobody can afford to live Downtown. So they’re all living up here anyways, so our whole ideas was to take this kind of downtown cool aesthetic … a more artistic, creative aesthetic, and put it into a Midtown environment and see how it would work. And it’s been incredibly well received, because these guys are so used to seeing this cookie-cutter design in their restaurants.

In this area? In this area. And all their restaurants and all their nightclubs. We knew that if we came up here and developed and created stuff with you and really kind of redefined the lines of what’s cool and hip, making Midtown just as hip and cool as downtown. By creating the right elements with design, our staff, music, etc., it would be successful, and it has been a huge success.

Well, the W Hotel really broke through many years ago. They broke through with style, some sort of style, some sort of programming. The Whiskey and Randy Gerber have been up in this area for a very long time. So there was a successful precedent, and certainly you are capitalizing on that knowledge. I remember you and I having conversations when we were designing Amalia and talking about whether people would come or not. Specifically to the downstairs, which is like nightclub or lounge for Amalia. I said to you that I believe many people live uptown, and if they’re going to the other clubs downtown, they need a place to go before and a place to go after. So you’ll do well. Yeah, it’s a great stop-off before you start heading downtown for a late-night space. I think in addition we really need to talk about the fact that right now, the economy is in the shitter, and basically we are going to depend on our tourists to an extent, and we’re in the right position to be to be depending on tourists.

I hadn’t heard that! As a designer, I designed this wall [at Aspen Social Club] to be visible from the street. The idea was that there’s thousands and thousands of people walking by this restaurant every day, and you just want to grab them and have something visual for them to see. And the foot traffic around here is unbelievable. Absolutely, but the tourists we’re going for are the high-end kind of European tourists; people that can really appreciate this design. You know, they walk by and see these cookie-cutter generic spaces, and nothing really impresses them. When they’re coming from Europe, or Japan, or Southeast Asia, or wherever they’re coming from, they’re used to very high-end materials and cool stuff happening inside their restaurants, lounges, and nightclubs. And we’re one of the few people that are actually doing that in the Midtown area. It’s really attracting those people.

When you stand outside, you basically have Pig & Whistle to your left, a deli to your right, and of course this beautiful restaurant. Back in the old days, in the early 1980s, when 44 was open at the Royalton, Conde Nast used to hold court there. Some of the coolest professionals in the fashion world are working in this area, and they’re looking for a cool place to hang out. And I think it’s so refreshing to them that they can walk out their front door and they have a very cool place, like they did back then. So again, it’s not a brand new concept — we’re bringing back basically something like you said that started back in the Midtown area and re-creating it.

Back when the economy was crap also. One of the things that we want to talk about is the versatility of the space. It does function as a nice place to sit and enjoy an informal dining experience or lunch. But in addition to that, the lounge has a DJ. I think what will end up happening is that promoters and nightclub people who end up going to Marquee or 1Oak may come here, have dinner, and they may stay later. I think more people will come by later at night — it’s a sexy enough space. In the 1980s you used to have a model next to a drag queen next to the guy in the business suit. And that’s really what made the party fun. That’s what we’re re-creating. There are times that I look over and I’m like, “What is this, 1989?”