By Marley

Not many people have heard of Ngodwana, a small town (actually still called a village) that is about a 40-minute drive from Nelsparta. It’s situated very close to the famous Sappi mill on the N4 highway towards Nelspruit. From experience there isn’t much that goes on, there is a country club with a swimming pool, tennis court and nearby the Ngodwana dam. Rudi Olivier, the man behind the lens of Royal Lens Photography, comes from this small little town.

A few years ago Rudi stepped into our lives at the legendary Blue Moon and his ‘hip hop’ was quickly converted into rock. He fell, just like me, in love with South African music and he has taken photos of some fantastic bands like The Black Cat Bones, aKING, Taxi Violence, Tailor, Jeremy Loops just to mention a few. He was Blue Moon’s official photographer until the end and also Up The Creek’s in 2014. Rudi is a generally cool dude and here at Small Town Music we regularly use his photos.

Here is a little interview that we did, he is truly a gentlemen.

STM: When was the first time you started taking photos?

Rudi: Well it was back in 1988 in something that looks like Conrad’s van but with purple fur instead…. LOL oh I mean the photographic side yea…well in 2011 got my first camera and I started mainly shooting anything I could find friends, grandparents haha who ever had a needed a camera man.

STM: The first rock show?

Rudi: 13 August 2011 back at Blue Moon. Niel (Grobler – bar manager of Blue Moon), he mentioned that Blue Moon was a good place to shoot and that I should come to check it out. Back then I didn’t listen to rock and had no clue about the SA music scene. Anthony (Bumbstead – owner) still gave me a 2-page brief and spoke to me for about a half an hour of what he wanted and didn’t want.

The music came on and I was blown away by the line up – Mrs B, Voetstoets, The Black Cat Bones and The Narrow. I had no idea who any of the bands were but when “Lonely-Lonely” came on and I recognised the song and thought “Wow it’s this band that plays this song!!” It’s kind of like that at a lot of the shows I go to sometimes and I don’t know the artist. But South African music has so much talent…. the talent out there is really insane!!!

STM: What inspires you to keep on doing what you are doing?

Rudi: It’s an adventure, an experience into some ones else’s art, bands put so much love into what they do and the end results are just amazing. I always find myself humming some bands tunes on the way home after a gig.

STM: The favourite part of doing photography?

Rudi: The groupies haha, Nah I’m just kidding. Well, I get to be a groupie for Tailor and SAARKIE. Expressing my art, capturing some else’s art in that split second is what makes it so much worth it.

Rudi with Tialor - photo by Royal Lens Photography
Rudi with Tailor

STM: Do you have a favourite band?

Rudi: There are so many…It’s hard to have a favourite band because every artist or band is so unique on their level, whether it’s an indy rock band or blues band or an all-girl band they all so good at what they do and their talents are just amazing.

STM: What is your favourite gear to use?

Rudi: The nifty 50! 50mm prime lens love shooting with that lens.

STM: The first real camera you bought?

Rudi: Nikon D40 and I still shoot on it today…Surprise!

STM: Please tell us more about your sponsors

Rudi: Rock Star Threads, Macbeth footwear SA. Totally awesome brands and thank you that they always got me covered and have me looking like a rock star at my gigs. Rock Star Threads makes the most comfortable shirts in the world, you should totally try one. And they printed in limited quantities so it’s totally unique especially for you ladies that hate it when you see another girl wearing the same top. Macbeth footwear has raddest shoes and totally comfortable.

STM: Where did you grow up?

Rudi: In a small little town called Ngodwana in Mpumalanga. It’s so small that if I made trouble my mom would find out before I got home.

STM: Which was the first festival you attended?

Rudi: STRAB @ Blue Moon – I was also the photographer there.

STM: The most memorable photo you have ever taken?

Rudi: I don’t really have one. I try to push myself each time I shoot and try to stay humble and push my work further each time I go out. But Chris’s (Thunderbolt of The Black Cat Bones) wall jump was pretty awesome knowing I captured that hahaha and then I guess the magazine and newspaper publications, I’m totally proud of those.

STM: Do you have a favourite artist that you would like to shoot?

Rudi: Wow that’s hard…. there’s so many!! Tailor, The Black Cat Bones, SAARKIE, The Fake Leather Blues Band, After Robot, The Anti-Retro Vinyl’s, Fokofpolisiekar, New Town Knife Gang, Gangs of Ballet, Taxi Violence. Each time I shoot a show the list gets longer… I’m a SA music junkie. The list is endless.

STM: Do you have a day time job?

Rudi: I’m a key accounts manager for a photographic importer.

STM: We’ve shared a few events together and you got some ink. How many tattoos do you have?

Rudi: A few hahaha, a few cameras as well. My life’s journey…

STM: Where does the name Royal Lens Photography come from?

Rudi: Well I’m Rudi and didn’t want it to be Rudi Photography. So the R – Royal and Lens being relevant and came up with Royal Lens Photography.

STM: What else do you do?

Rudi: Yea I do a few things – Shoot a bit of fashion, design a few band posters and shoot a few music videos.

STM: What are your future plans?

Rudi: Shoot more, more festivals and work with more bands. Getting more into video so expect a few music videos in the near future.

STM: What’s next is for you?

Rudi: Sleep. I just returned from my first Oppikoppi.

STM: Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?

Rudi: Teaching photography full time during the day and shooting rock at night.

STM: Do you have some awesome moments in the industry you can share with us?

Rudi: Silencing a crowd of 2 500 + peeps with my work truly blessed with that. A career high light was one of my photos of a band that, after a 10 year come back, was published in a newspaper the following Monday after a show. Also having a client fly me to Cape Town for a gig! Having drinks backstage with bands, huge respect for that. Getting pulled on stage by bands to take crowd shots….

It’s glamorous the whole backstage pass and meeting everyone, but it’s hard work. Late hours, stressful, concentration, sleepless nights, out of the box thinking, pushing harder each time when you need to produce something but hey it has its perks from time to time.

You can check out Royal Lens Photography on Facebook and browse his galleries. Make sure you check out Rock Star Threads, Macbeth South Africa and Pentax South Africa. I want to thank Rudi for supplying us with hundreds of photos and making our task so difficult to pick only a handful. Also, Rudi is always up for something new and is one of the best festival buddies to have.

Make sure you buy him a shot next time you see him at the rock show.

Marley is the founder and owner of Small Town Music. Born and bred in Nelspruit aka Nelsparta. Marley loves music (rock being a firm favourite), tattoos, festivals, animals and South Africa. Self-taught photographer and writer.