Webster University alumnus Maarten de Boer is an in-demand celebrity photographer who has shot portraits of Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Keaton, Tyra Banks, Mindy Kaling, Viola Davis and Mark Ruffalo, just to name a few.
de Boer’s major while at Webster was special education. His photography education only extended as far as some photo elective courses.
de Boer was honored at Homecoming with the Distinguished Alumni Award Sept. 27.
The award, the highest given, is given to an alumna or alumnus who has made specific, meritorious contributions to society through his or her profession and involvement in civic, cultural or charitable activities.
“It’s so exciting to be recognized in that way,” de Boer said.
Scotland-born de Boer first found interest in photography when he was in high school in Norway. He signed up for a photography class taught by his Spanish teacher. He learned about black and white film and printed his own work in the darkroom. He said he loved doing it, despite not being good at it.
de Boer moved to the United States at 18 to attend Webster University, which he was introduced to when scouts came to his high school. He started in 1995. He did not know that photography was a viable career choice, so he majored in special education.
de Boer said majoring in special education was a way for him to give back to others who struggled with learning disabilities. He was sympathetic because he was diagnosed with dyslexia.
“I think it’s important for when they identify as being slightly different, that it is nice to have someone older to look up to,” de Boer said. “That’s what drew me to be a special educator.”
De Boer only took photo classes as electives. It was by his senior year that he started to think about pursuing photography. He still graduated as a special education major in spring 2000.
“I was introduced to photography in high school, then I kind of fell in love with photography at Webster,” de Boer said.
de Boer said his most memorable moments at Webster took place outside of his classes. In addition to photography, he was also a resident assistant for a couple of years. Going from a small community in Norway to a larger one at Webster allowed him to reinvent himself.
“I learned everything about myself here,” de Boer said.
de Boer said someone who made an impact on him at Webster was adjunct faculty member T Ann Tolin, who is now retired. Tolin taught de Boer in History of Photography.
de Boer said Tolin was always someone who would give him valuable advice. Tolin remembered de Boer as someone who always asked questions about any work presented in the class.
“I found him to be very intelligent, very curious and interested,” Tolin said. “He’s just a very interesting guy.”
Tolin said the fact that de Boer went on to make photography his career, despite not majoring or minoring in it just goes to prove that life will take you anywhere.
“If you work hard at something, you can accomplish it,” Tolin said. “He’s the perfect example of that.”
After graduating, de Boer went to Houston, Texas and worked at a camera store where he learned all he could about the equipment there. His big break came when he applied to become a full-time first assistant to a local photographer named Arthur Meyerson.
Meyerson said he hired de Boer because he was bright, had good darkroom skills and knew the craft.
Meyerson said de Boer was also coming to him at a time when he was transitioning from analog to digital. He said de Boer had the expertise to teach an “old dog new tricks.”
“He has the ability to blend technical with the creative and make images that are his,” Meyerson said.
de Boer wanted to do his own thing. He moved to Los Angeles and assisted other photographers. By this time, digital was taking over. He continued learning and, after saving up his money and having conversations with his wife Meghan de Boer, opened up his own digital capture company. That company grew into Maarten de Boer Photography.
“The way I look at it, it’s almost a shame for him to be spending so much of his time working for other photographers when I felt he had so much talent that he should be the one doing it,” Meghan said.
Maarten’s first experience shooting celebrities was at a music press junket in 2008, where he shot for a magazine called Ego. He was set up in a hotel suite in Hollywood where bands would come and he would have a few minutes with each. One of those bands happened to be Fall Out Boy.
Maarten still remains involved at Webster, helping guide students through the university’s mentorship program.
One of the students he worked with is alumna Jeannie Liautaud, who graduated Spring 2016.
Liautaud said Maarten taught her a lot about the industry and helped her evaluate her own work and showed her that a great photographer is not necessarily a jack-of-all-trades.
“He said that not every photographer is good at absolutely everything,” Liautaud said. “That really inspired me.”
Maarten said that for aspiring photography students, some of the best advice he could give is that students should assist other photographers after graduating. In that process, they will figure out what kind of photographer they are.
“Go work for other people and then give yourself time,” De Boer said. “Put the effort and time into it. It takes years to build relationships with people so they can trust you to hire you for jobs.”
To see Maarten’s work, visit his website at maartendeboerphotography.com.