Co Rentmeester (82) was born in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. After rowing as a finalist in double sculls for the Dutch Olympic Team in Rome Rentmeester emigrated to the United States to study photography at the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles. He earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography and immediately started work as a freelance photographer for LIFE.
Covering the Watts riots was one of his first assignments, and he captured some of the most dramatic moments, which earned him early recognition. After joining LIFE’s staff in 1966, he spent the next three years in Asia, primarily in Vietnam covering the war. His photograph of a battle-weary tank gunner won the 1967 World Press Photo Grand Prize. A few months later, Rentmeester was wounded by a Vietcong sniper near Saigon.
Rentmeester has photographed a vast range of stories for LIFE and other major magazines, including Sports Illustrated, National Geographic, Stern and The New York Times Magazine. In 1972 he won the recognition of “Magazine Photographer of the Year” and received the “Best Sports Picture” award from the World Press Photo Foundation. During that same year his photographs of Indonesia were exhibited in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and his photo book, “Three Faces of Indonesia,” was published.
In 1976 Rentmeester was awarded a Medal of Distinction from the New York Art Directors Club for his essay on Thomas Jefferson, which was commissioned by the Exxon Corporation. In 1979 and 1980, he received awards from The University of Missouri School of Journalism and The World Press Photo Foundation in Holland for a color feature on speed sailing in Morocco and a photo essay on the United States Air Force. Rentmeester’s 1984 18-page pre-Olympic photo essay in LIFE magazine won the Leica Award and the Art Directors Club Gold Award. In 1989, Kodak sponsored an exhibit of his work in Naarden, the Netherlands, during the celebration of “150 Years of Photography.”
In 1998, Rentmeester’s National Geographic essay on the Dutch skating tradition, “The Netherlands Ode to Ice,” was expanded into a book called “Holland on Ice.” After having many photographs featured on the cover of LIFE during his 35 year career, the magazine chose Rentmeester’s photograph on premature babies for its last magazine cover in May 2000.
In March 2001 Co Rentmeester received the KLM Paul Huf Award, a life achievement award in the Netherlands granted by a jury of photography experts. In conjunction with this award, Rentmeester exhibited 50 prints in the Jan van der Togt Museum in Amstelveen, reflecting more than three decades of his wide-ranging work.
Though Rentmeester is known for his photojournalistic career, a significant amount of his work has focused on commercial photography. He also directed and filmed TV and cinema spots and, as an independent filmmaker, he directed and produced a documentary in 2006 about the sport of rowing, called The Perfect Stroke. In 2012 Rentmeester published his third book (“FootPrints”), a retrospective of his career with interviews that reveal the often tragic yet sometimes humerous stories behind his photographs. After retiring from photography Rentmeester returned to his first love of rowing. He continues to coach high school students in the discipline of sculling and race rowing to help them obtain scholarships and acceptance into higher education.