By Rosine Alleva, Journalist/Photographer- Rock At Night France, Switzerland.
MARON STILLS (her nickname for Maaike Ronhaar) is a rock music photographer with quite an amazing story. Can you believe this? Only eighteen months since she began to shoot concerts…and here she is! A click (or more…) in her life and already two international exhibitions in a month time!! The first one, DARE TO DREAM, took place at Artez University of the Arts in Enschede, the Netherlands and the second one, DARE TO DREAM II, at THE GALLERY AT 164 in Leeds. I didn’t want to miss this and was present for the launch afternoon last April 18th. And, the cherry on the cake, COURTNEY MARIE ANDREWS, one of the artists pictured by MARON STILLS, was giving a concert in Leeds that same evening!
She came to the Gallery to sing two acoustic songs before her concert, to the delight of the exhibition visitors. How cool to meet two amazing ladies! A wonderful afternoon… and evening! I already met MARON STILLS in Belgium last December when she was touring with TYLER BRYANT & THE SHAKEDOWN. I wanted to know more about this amazing photographer so before the exhibition opening we sat together for a few moments.
RAN– When did you realize you liked to capture images?
MARON STILLS– Well, I had a burn-out 4 or 5 years ago and I started working on myself. I needed to try to find my true self, I really worked hard on that. I learned to do stuff that I liked to do for myself. I was always taking pictures on my phone, that’s when I bought a camera and started shooting pictures.
RAN– Were your first pictures from concerts?
MS– No, I started out to do stuff on holidays or street photography, all sort exploring, old buildings then make pictures. Then I saw a guy on Facebook that took pictures of bands and I thought “Wow, if I could combine my love for music with photography…”
Then I sneaked my camera into the local concert venue. Then I started shooting, built a portfolio and called them to ask if I could work there and they said yes! And that was a year and a half ago…
RAN– 18 months ago? That’s amazing!! Were there any photographers who inspired you?
MS– Yes, actually there are a couple of Dutch music photographers and also international photographers. Basically, just the music inspired me to take pictures because I love the energy that musicians leave on stage and that what I wanted to capture.
RAN– Do you know the American rock photographer Neal Preston, who works a lot in black and white?
MS– No, to be honest with you, I don’t know him… I’ll look him up and see what his work is all about.
RAN– Why do you prefer black and white photos?
MS– Because it’s more difficult to capture raw energy in black and white. If you shoot in color you can hide behind the colors because most of the time there’s great light, a great light show then the colors make the image and I wanna capture the raw energy that an artist is expressing on stage and I think black and white captures it better.
RAN– Why do you prefer to work in RAW and not in JPEG?
MS– Because a RAW image has more details on it. Basically, when you had film, you still needed to develop the film role. It’s the same with shooting in RAW, you have more information in the RAW file for the edits to come out better.
RAN– What’s one of your most memorable moments on tour?
MS– I think it’s with TYLER BRYANT & THE SHAKEDOWN last year at the Olympic stadium in London. I was working as a concert photographer at the Metropool in Hengelo and it’s a small venue. And then I met Etjen, Tyler Bryant & the Shakedown tour manager who invited me on tour. I was standing in front of a band with a crowd of 60,000 people and I almost peed my pants! I was like “OMG…This is really happening”!! That’s the most memorable moment, yeah!
RAN– When you’re shooting shows what are problems you may or did encounter?
MS– I have a really good contact with the bands that I work with. I always talk to them before I take photos. I don’t take photos that I don’t like myself….If I take a picture of me for example and I think I wouldn’t like it, I just delete it. So I don’t have issues with bands. But usually photographers in photo pit are not as nice to each other…I always go out of the way so that the other photographer also has good spot if I have a good spot..we’re doing it together! Cause a lot of them are not friendly, they push you on the side, stand in front of your lens.
RAN– Cause you’re a female photographer, I know!
What do you think about artist managements asking photographers to sign documents and first send them the pics you take before publishing them? It seems usual in US…. Most of the times you don’t even get any answer!
MS– If it’s a contract that is basically killing the photographer, I’m not gonna sign it and just gonna walk away! Cause’ some management companies ask you to give up all the rights and then the rights, so the copyright, are for them! And I’m not gonna give up my copyright. I do this for fun because it makes me happy and I love to do this. If there are bands that are that straight, I’m just not gonna do it! Basically you’re in charge of your own copyright as a photographer and I keep it. Of course if you’re shooting for a magazine you cannot sell the pictures to other magazines, that’s all fine! Everybody needs to make a bit of money, but I’m not gonna give up my copyright, I’m just not gonna do it!!
RAN– Professional photographers have to follow certain rules, capture the three first songs for example. With the proliferation of smartphones, social networks are overwhelmed with photos and videos live for free! Don’t you think this a danger if you really want to make a professional career? How do you see this could evolve?
MS– The reason why you can only take photos the three first songs is basically to let the audience also have a good time. And artists don’t wanna have photographers during the all show with front cameras at their faces. Even in small venues, if I can shoot the all show I respect the audience. They bought their ticket, they’re seeing their favorite band, I’m out of their way after three or four songs. And yeah, it’s really hard when you wanna be a professional photographer with everybody taking pictures with their phones. But I think if you have your own signature style, then you can make the difference and that’s what I really work hard for.
RAN– But due to all the photos, videos taken by the audience, some artists now even ban any kind of photography and professional photographers! You agree it becomes really difficult, right?
MS– It’s not good to ban photographers of course. But I try also to work with artists, join them on tour, make a documentary of the all tour. Also take pictures on stage. Then you really have an added value, also to the artists cause you’re with them on tour.
RAN– Actually it’s awesome! You really beat the competition and it probably motivates you even more!
MS– Yeah, it does, exactly!
RAN– How does it feel to be here today, for your second exhibition? And this is I’m sure only the beginning…When is the third one on?
MS– I’m not sure yet, we’re still working on it. It will be Northern Europe, I will let you know the details as soon as I know, it’s not confirmed yet, at the end of the year. And I’m really excited to be here, I mean this is Leeds! It was far from me, one and a half year ago to imagine I would be able to do an exhibition here! That’s why I called it DARE TO DREAM. I follow my heart, I follow my dreams and I hope everyone seeing the pictures does the same…and it took me here, so I’m really really happy.
RAN– You mentioned the problem with photographers pushing on the side, without considering the other photographers, especially female ones, even checking if you really know how to take pics!! This is a big problem that occurs quite often to Chyrisse, Rock at Night editor in US!!
MS– Yes, I know! I’m in a group called THE PHOTO LADIES .It’s basically a group of female American photographers. I’m part of the 5 European ones… They share that information a lot. I don’t really care about those guys, I just laugh. If they’re giving me a hard time I just tell them to have a look at my website…There were guys laughing at me and they completely turned around once they saw my work and I heard “Wow, great job”. I just say thanks, laugh and walk away…I’m really above that you know!
RAN– Cool! And good for you. Thanks a lot for this interview and see you soon to your next exhibition!
Many thanks to Etjen Vd Vliet – Just like your mom
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