With an impressive portfolio of almost any artist you can imagine from the late ’70s and beyond, Mark Weiss is one of the most important photographers in rock and metal ever. Recently he published his photo book “The Decade That Rocks” about his remarkable work during the ’80s, which gave us the opportunity for this in depth video interview about photographing rockstars, how the cover of Bon Jovi’s “Slippery When Wet” was created, how his long friendship with the Osbournes developed and which artist had the biggest fall out.
He is very cool and funny appreciating new technologies and actually giving tips to Instagramers and Facebook wannabe photographers… RESPECT! Inteview by Yiannis Dolas. To get the book click here https://thedecadethatrocked.com/shop/
Rockpages.gr: What inspired you to become a photographer and how did you begin?
Mark Weiss: I used to love music and buy the albums. Just started going to concerts and on one concert I went to one of my friends had a camera and he had those two hot girls, one on each side. I said “where are you going?” and he said “I’m going to the front of the stage” and he had the camera hanging from his neck. And this was like a stadium with 50,000 people and I saw him walking to the sunset… the “crowd sunset”. And then, a few days later I went to his house and he showed me the pictures and I thought it was cool. He developed the pictures, he hung them up… that kind of triggered it for me.
Next time I went to a concert, I think it was a Peter Frampton at Madison Square Garden, I just got the bug. I started showing the other kids in my high school what I got. I got a little attention. Girls started coming saying “oh, it’s Peter Frampton…” I was like a shy person, I didn’t talk to them a lot, I was waiting for them to come to me. It was a good reason for hot girls to come up to you. You’ve got Led Zeppelin, KISS… so, I made a lot of friends this way!
Rockpages.gr: Do you prefer working in the studio, or taking live shots?
Mark Weiss: I love taking live shots. I enjoy more doing live shots, because I feel like a fan in the audience taking photographs and then I get to go backstage and photograph them before they go on stage.
Studio work, album covers is more rewarding because you are in control and you hone your craft and then you come up with an idea that is yours and share it with everyone. They put it in a magazine… the ultimate would be the album cover, which 50 years later they are still showing up somewhere… digitally or… it’s a lot more work in the studio, especially when you start creating album covers sets, like I’ve done quite a bit in the ‘80s.
I love working in the studio. It’s a one on one with a rockstar. You can’t get better than that!
Rockpages.gr: Rockpages.gr: How much do you direct a shoot and how much you leave your subject free?
Mark Weiss: If it’s just a regular photoshoot I kind of create an environment, put some music, ask them if they want something to drink just to relax and chill and then I put them in front of a background. If it’s on location, then we start running around. And then they change clothes…
Back in the ‘80s there were so many magazines and all of them wanted pictures. The bands were like pin up stars… they had centerfolds and pull-outs, so anytime I had a new photo of Bon Jovi, or Ozzy, I would have them to switch outfits, because its outfit would pay money from this and that magazine. They wanted different photographs. In the studio there is more control, it’s more me…it’s got to be really specific. I did the “Come Out And Play” with Dee coming out of the manhole. It had to be perfect. So, it was a bit more boring on his end because he’s just standing there waiting for the right smoke to come up and I take polaroids and this and that. So, it’s a little bit more tedious but getting the images is really what it’s all about. They know that and it’s a little bit of work then.
Rockpages.gr: How was it when you had to develop a film and didn’t know if you got the shot, or not?
Mark Weiss: It’s so stressful! I used to go on tour with the band with 50 rolls of film and I had to go through the X-ray machine and take it out and sometimes they’d tell me “oh, no we are X-ray friendly”… and I was like “oh, would you put it through already, I am on a flight zone”… then you had to take the photo, you had to make sure that nobody steals it. One thing I love about digital is that you don’t have to go through the lab and see if you got anything. Now, you just do a little “click click”. It’s more fun now… I am having more fun now with my photography than I ever did.
Rockpages.gr: Taking photos with your phone and posting them online, on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, you name it makes you a hotshot, a bad ass photographer?
Mark Weiss: As long as there are good photos… that’s great. The thing is that the opportunity to take more photographs is out there… back in the day you just had a role of film. 36 frames on a roll and you had to buy it and then process it, so you had to be a little more selective. Today it’s a luxury that we all have, even myself. I tend to overshoot… you get the moment and then I spend more time editing the photographs, than actually taking the photographs. Being a good photographer is just showing your best photographs. You shoot a 1,000 photos in a concert? Edit it down to half a dozen shots and post those. If you want to be taken seriously as a photographer and have a career in it I would suggest to do that. Try to be a little more selective and then tweak it a little bit, if you want to make it a black & white you could… I don’t over-do it with the tweaking, you know, I don’t saturate the colors where it almost feel fake. I want it to look like film… but just stick with a certain look and stay with is, so that id yours. So, people will actually identify what you do as your photographs.
You want someone looking at your photographs and say “wow, that’s a Mark Weiss photo”. People tell me… they look at my photographs and they say “we always know it’s a Mark Weiss photo, not because of the lighting, but because of how they are relating to you… through their eyes”.
Rockpages.gr: What do you remember from the making of the “Slippery When Wet” cover;
Mark Weiss: That was five album covers! First it was called “Wanted” and they were dressed up as Billy The Kid and there was a “wanted” poster. Then we went to Vancouver and we did the band there with the poster on the background without their clean-shaved look. Then, we decided to change the title to “Slipper When Wet”, because it was called “Wanted Dead Or Alive” up to that point.
The idea was to shoot them at the beach with a bunch of girls and their cars. Then, we found Angela, the girl who was on the cover. We needed one more girl for the cover and my friend Danny Sanchez and Tico went across the street and found that girl with large breasts. All the girlfriends didn’t have large breasts… We put her front and center and they used the photo in the inner sleeve I believe, but two weeks later, maybe it was even a week, Jon said let’s get Angela into the studio and shoot her against a blue background and get a plexi-glass to resemble… when we went to No.5 club in Vancouver, it was a strip club where the girls would go to shower with their t-shirts… and it would be in plexi-glass, so that the guys could see. And they would take their top off etc. So, we resembled that in my studio and shoot Angela and that was the cover…
That was the cover until the record company… they said “we love the cover”, actually they’d already printed like 50,000 copies and shipped them to Japan. But, the PMRC hearing was happening back then, in 1985, right before the release of the album. They didn’t want anything to jeopardize the sales of the record. So, we scrapped that and we had to come up with another idea. So, the art director said, “why don’t we use a bar of soap and we get a hand model and carve “Slippery When Wet” on it”? I was like… “I don’t think so”! But, I had to go through the motions. They spent like 2,000 dollars for a hand model and a thousand on a bar of soap and we just did the same thing with the hands and the soap. It’s in the book for the first time. No one has ever seen it before.
And then Jon was like “no, this is not going to work”. So, Jon just came up to my studio the next day, because if we didn’t come up with a picture the next day, it would screw up the release of the records and it was a very crucial date. So, Jon came up, I didn’t even know what we were going to do, he just said “get a plastic bag and water, I wanna write something on a plastic bag”. I put some oil in it to beat it a little bit and he just wrote “Slippery When Wet”… and before I could even get a picture or a Polaroid he said “that’s it! Send that”.
Rockpages.gr: How did you meet Ozzy Osbourne? Can you share some memories with him?
Mark Weiss: The first time I met him it was 1981 for the cover shoot for Circus magazine… I was just starting to do studio. I was only 21 at the time! He was just very receptive. I told him to move to the left and he moved to the left. So, here I had “The Prince Of Darkness” listening this punk kid from Jersey telling him what to do and really being sincere about it! He trusted me to take a good image and he knew it was for the cover, his first solo album was coming out (Ed: Ozzy Osbourne’s “Blizzard Of Ozz” was released on September 20 1980 in the UK and March 27 in the States) and he knew it was important. Circus magazine was a very important magazine. So, he went all out. The very first shoot it was supposed to be Ozzy looking tough for the cover of the magazine. We also did a photograph of Ozzy for this section, which I think it was called “The Heavy Metal Yearbook” or something, and we had all those little scenarios, the most athletic Ozzy had made. He used to jump up and down and run all over the place. So, I brought some boxing gloves with me and he came out with a pink too-too and then I saw a pair of red boots lying in the corner, so he put the red boots on and we did a play-off of “Fairies Wear Boots”. That was a small black & white photo, but I shot it in color and sent it to the magazine and made it to the cover and got a lot of attention. Then we just started working together throughout the years and the decades, doing crazy shoots. They like me and gave me access whenever I needed… at the Ozzfest, when Sabbath reunited in 1985 (Ed, he is referring to Black Sabbath’s reunion with Ozzy for Live Aid on July 13th 1985) as their photographer. When the kids were growing up I’ve done numerous shoots, crazy shoots, with Amy, Ozzy ironing Amy! And then just hanging around the house. When we were at a hotel to do a photo shoot I’d watch them and they’d step out and I’d keep an eye on the kids and when they left… I am going to take pictures of the kids, you know? So, I was just getting personal photos and gave them to them, I didn’t publish them of course… We were like family, it’s one of the strongest relationships I ever had throughout the decades. I have a lot of strong relationships with most of the artists, but especially with Ozzy and Sharon, Jack, Amy and Kelly…
Rockpages.gr: Did you have a problem with an artist? A fall out? No chemistry at all?
Mark Weiss: Glenn Danzig. I did the “Danzig” album packaging. I got hired by the record company, never met them, they just came to that photoshoot their record company hired me for. They came up to the studio and I did what I usually do: I pose them, I move them if I have to, if they look a certain way I might get a little hands on… and the case was that they weren’t really following my directions. Glenn had a little bit of a double chin like a lot of people do. You know, you don’t have to have a double chin to have one, it’s all how you position yourself. So, when I tried to move him forward to get rid of the little bit, he wouldn’t move. I would say “move to the left” and he’d sit straight. Eventually, I went up to each guy and positioned them, you know, with their shoulders and when I got to Glenn he said “don’t touch me”, and I was like “all right”. Went back took a few more photos and I said “all right, I think we are done”. They end up loving the photographs, they used the photos for a double page gatefold, if you open up the record. He didn’t like to be handled. The next day the record company phoned me to ask me what happened, “everyone loves the photos, but Glenn doesn’t want to work with you anymore”. “Oh, maybe because I moved him and I touched him, or something?”, I said… “NO! you shouldn’t have done that!” they replied.
Rockpages.gr: You were arrested outside a KISS concert once, what happened?
Mark Weiss: That actually changed my life. Because, I used to sell my pictures infront of Madison Square Garden, or Capital Theater, The Beacon, or The Paladium, you know, places close to where I lived. I used to go at the first show, stay up all night and if they were playing another night, or come back later on the tour, or the next city, because I lived in New Jersey, they would play Phily, Connecticut, New York. So, I could shoot one show and go to other shows and sell’em for a dollar a piece to my buddies. That’s what I did with KISS. I took the photos and sold them outside the show. In this case they got me and I went to jail overnight and then I was thinking “Oh, my God! What am I going to do?”. Then I walked home and I looked at Circus magazine and saw the address and thought “I am gonna go to Circus magazine and show them my work, tell them what happened and maybe they can use me. My photographs were as good as that”. And they liked me and they asked me to shoot with another film, colour chrome, which was sharped and they could make a centerfold out of that. So, when Aerosmith and Ted Nugent played the Giants stadium that summer 1978 I sneaked my camera in and took pictures, it was daytime, so I didn’t have to use flash. And I got some really wonderful cholor chrome photos of Aerosmith and Ted Nugent. I sent them at the magazine and one month later they were centerfold in the October issue. If there is an open door you’ve got to go through it. Bust it down. Meet as many people as you can and just see where it takes you. There is all these different journeys out there and each time when I shoot with a new band it’s four or five new friends you never know where it will end up.
Rockpages.gr: Did you realize you were making history with Twisted Sister, Bon Jovi and Ozzy back then?
Mark Weiss: I knew whenever I was doing an album cover that it had the chance to get one of my gold records, which I always wanted. So, I knew every time there was an opportunity for an album cover shoot I’d be so focused and did as good as I could. And then hoped that it sells. Because, without it selling, no one knows about it. So, you can have the best album cover in the world, it can be great and everything, but you really want it to be successful and then you get success out of their success, it goes hand in hand. And fortunately, for a lot of my albums it worked… like “Last Command” by W.A.S.P., Cinderella’s “Night Songs”, “I Am The Man” by Anthrax… and “Slippery When Wet” of course. “Stay Hungry”, “Come Out And Play”… the list goes on you know…
Rockpages.gr: What was so special about the ’80s that made it “the decade that rocks”?
Mark Weiss: It was like a fun family. It was like a high school trip that never ended. A bunch of goofballs getting on a bus and travelling from town to town like gypsies. You know this was before there was AIDS and all that so it was more free when it came to sex, you know… it was fun!