Words: Tamara Samardžić / Cover photo: Paul Bink
Silvy Maatman is a concert photographer from Deventer, Netherlands, but she can be seen all over Europe. If there’s a stage, and a hardcore band on it, there is a chance she may be around. On the stage, in front of it, or behind the merch table. Working with practically everyone on the scene, she built her name as one of the best in the business, covering the most important events year after year. We first saw her work a few years back at Punk Rock Holiday in Slovenia, where she is a house photographer, and we follow her ever since. So, we just had to have her for an interview and see what’s she all about.
To start things off, can you tell us about your background and how you got into photography?
Silvy: I started photography back in the 2000s with a compact camera, shooting my ex-boyfriend’s band and editing the photos b/w or sepia in camera. Can you imagine how horrible the photos looked? (Laughs) Then at a certain point, I bought my first DSLR and started working for a Dutch webzine that basically got approved to all club shows. From there on I got to know people in the music business and things went pretty fast.
What gear do you use at the moment and what is your dream setup?
Silvy: Now, I use the Nikon D750 and D800 – mainly D750 and D800 as a backup, and 50mm 1.4, 14-24 2.8, 24-70 2.8, 70-200 2.8 Nikon lenses. If I would have the money now, I would definitely buy the D850 but I’m happy with what I have now.
Do you have any favorite bands to shoot?
Silvy: I really love shooting Sick Of It All and Anti-Flag. Both bands have so much energy and jump all the time, I really love catching the energy.
So, you have a camera in your hand, and two options – to go for a band you personally love, but a band’s that’s not really interesting to shoot, or go for a band you don’t necessarily listen to, but you know they are amazing to photograph. Which one do you choose?
Silvy: Tough one because it depends on the circumstances. I think I would pick the band I personally love because if I “don’t feel it” I’m not really motivated to be patient and wait for the right moments.
You photographed both, concerts and festivals. What do you prefer, concerts, club shows or festivals? Can you tell us the difference, and how do you prepare for any of those things?
Silvy: I really love shooting both. Club shows are mostly filled with people who came there to watch that certain band playing that night, so there’s much more to shoot vibe-wise, crowd shots, and the interaction with the fans. Festivals are great because you get way more space, but the downside of shooting at festivals is that it’s almost always light outside. I really love to get the lights, and colors in the photos and it’s always tricky with the sun out, too.
In my experience, most of the photographers, especially at punk and hardcore shows are male and usually strong build, which allows them to get a good shot at a no barrier club shows. How hard was it for you to shoot that kind of show, especially in the beginning without the stage access?
Silvy: That’s funny because it reminds me of what Lou Koller of Sick Of It All once said. He called me crazy for jumping into the crowd literally seconds before their wall of death. I still jump in the crowd very often. Because a photo set is only complete if you have photos from all angles. It’s fun for the fans to see stage shots, but also boring when they are all taken from the stage, I think. I want people to look back at my photos like they were actually there, or can relate the point of view as a real memory.
You had a chance to be on tour with quite some bands. How would you describe the experience?
Silvy: It’s lots of fun, but definitely not always! I’ve toured in nightliners but also in Sprinter vans and there’s a massive difference. If you tour in a nightliner you have your own bed, your own space, and don’t really have to wake up at a certain time. But it also means you go to bed later since there’s always people hanging out in the lounge.
Touring in a Sprinter van basically means when the show is done, and everything is packed up it’s time to head back to the hotel and catch as much sleep as possible. The last van tour I’ve done was tough because we didn’t always get enough sleep and sleeping in the van is not comfortable at all. Overall it’s an amazing experience, the people are nice, and you always meet so many new people on the road, see many places!
Can you share some funny stories from a tour with us? Also, did you experience any not-so-pleasant situations?
Silvy: There are so many fun stories to tell, but one time we were at some festival, without mentioning names, and one of the band members made a story up about our merch girl leaving the tour, but they already found a replacement. The other band member who was listening but not looking was a bit worried until the other guy was like – “hey look here is our new girl.” So what happened was, he took some clothes from our actual merch girl, put it on himself and walked up. Just imagine a guy wearing low waist women shorts – you can probably fill the rest yourself, right? (laughs)
We once had a not so funny ending of a night, too. After packing up I heard a guy screaming for help, and I asked the others if they could hear that, but it was pretty noisy out there so they didn’t. Anyway, I ran up there, and the rest of the people outside actually came after me, and we came across a guy who just robbed an elderly man. It really was scary as shit because I was super close to this guy and didn’t know if he had any weapons with him. The guy ran off, but we helped the elderly man up and took care of him until police took over.
Do you think that touring with bands and getting to know band members personally had some impact on your photos? Do you think you can catch someone’s personality better if you’re close to them?
Silvy: Absolutely, it gives me so much more opportunities when I know people so we can talk about where I am allowed and talk about the set and what happens when. I also get more interaction when a band member knows me.
Being on tour with a band is a great opportunity to capture some shots that media photographers usually don’t have a chance. But, also it’s challenging to present something fresh and new with every show, every concert. Do you feel any pressure on tour knowing that you have to deliver night after night, and knowing that bands and their fans count on you? Silvy: It really is challenging, but that’s the fun side of it. I don’t feel pressure with that at all because I just shoot whatever I think is fun. But when I shoot the same band multiple days in a row, I just focus on different things in each show and not on trying to catch it all together in one show.
Looking at your Instagram, it looks like you’re slowly starting to do some portrait shots of band members. How do you like it so far? Silvy: Very, very slowly! (laughs) I like it, but it’s super different from shooting live shows. I should definitely do it more often.