Interview With Mark Weiss
(Rock Photographer and Author)
Shannon W - You got your first camera when you were about 12 years old. From there, what made you want to photograph bands specifically?
Mark Weiss - “I got a camera from mowing someone’s lawn, he gave me his camera. But a couple years later, I started going to concerts and I would sneak my camera in. So that’s how I started getting excited about taking photographs at rock concerts.”
Shannon - What photographers did you look up to when you first started doing rock photography?
Mark Weiss - “I really didn’t know about photographers until I started reading magazines when I was about 16 or 17. When I started noticing photo credits, I saw Lynn Goldsmith, Bob Gruen, Mick Rock - those people. They were big photographers in the ‘70s.”
Shannon - I know you have tons of memories you’ve made during shoots over the years and I wanted to know, what is one story that really sticks out to you from shooting any of the album covers you’ve done?
Mark Weiss - “‘Come Out and Play’ by Twisted Sister. I built this street. I had to wrap Dee (Snider) up like mummies and put fingernails on him and shaved his teeth so he’d have fangs - it was a real big ordeal. I had a real manhole cover on top of him and he’s looking at me through it, there’s smoke and gels. It ended up being a great shoot, no casualties. I still have that piece of street in my garage. It was a meaningful day.”
Shannon - What are your thoughts on the change from film to DSLR and mirrorless cameras?
Mark Weiss - “A lot actually. Back in the day when I used to shoot film, it was such an ordeal. You had to buy the film, put it in the camera, you’ve got 36 chances to take a good shot and when you’re shooting live it’s kind of hard, you get the shot, get it processed, edit it, and get it approved. Now you take the picture and look at it and you’re not worried. Doing a photoshoot now, you take the photo and the band sees it right then and there. Shooting digital is a lot more work in post-production because you can take thousands of photographs when you only really need a handful. Then there’s more you have to edit. It’s a catch-22.”
Shannon - What gear do you typically use for photography?
Mark Weiss - “I have a bunch of Canons. I don’t even know what they are to be honest. I’m not a tech guy, I never was. I feel like cameras are cameras, they all do the same thing. They get bigger and better with megapixels but really everything is the same. A Rebel compared to a Mark 2, the glass is a little better and it’s supposed to be a little sharper but you just can’t drop it. You can probably drop a Mark 2 but you can’t drop a Rebel. I recommend what you can afford. Full-frames are obviously different than a regular but I use that to my advantage. You can use the same lens on different bodies and it will be different.”
Shannon - From your experience, what are the biggest differences between concert photography in the ‘80s vs. now?
Mark Weiss - “Not much really. The lighting is a lot better now. Back then it was really dark and film cameras wouldn’t really register certain lighting. You can get anything in a concert now, but sometimes back then you would have to wait until the lighting got better. There were blues or reds and you couldn’t really shoot that with film. So the lighting now helps a lot.”
Shannon - You recently released your book, “The Decade That Rocked”. What inspired you to put together that book?
Mark Weiss - “I never had a portfolio. I was so busy shooting all these bands that I never had time to actually put one together. So I thought I should put something together. Everything is in all my filing cabinets and I wanted a collection of my life. I decided to make it narrative so I’m talking about my experiences. It starts from when I got my first camera and segues into 1980 when I really started coming into my own. Every photographer wants to have a book - 20 years ago I wanted to have a book. But I was busy and when I wasn’t busy, I was probably depressed and didn’t feel like doing a book. About 7 years ago is when I signed my deal with the publishing company and I felt like I was mentally ready and in a good place to share it with young people like you and fans from back in the day who knew my work and hung up my photos in their bedrooms. It’s definitely rewarding and it took a lot of hard work. I’m very pleased with it.”
Shannon - Now that the book is out, is there anything you regret?
Mark Weiss - “Actually no, that’s why the book took so long. I wouldn’t let anything slide by. I was a real squeaky wheel with the writers, designers, and publishers because I wanted it to be right and perfect. When I would get into a disagreement over certain things, I would always tell the editor, ‘I’m the one that’s going to be looking at this book everyday, it means a lot to me’. But then again they’re editors because they’re good at what they do so I’m not saying I’m right all the time, they were right a handful of times too and I agreed. When I saw the book with certain photos I didn’t want in there, I really loved those photos. You’ve gotta stand behind what you believe in and you’ll get a good product.”
Shannon - What has been your most proud moment as a rock photographer?
Mark Weiss - “Actually my proudest moment doesn’t have anything to do with being a rock photographer. It actually has to do with just helping out someone else in the business. In 1987, I helped 2 young teenagers out - Sebastian Bach and Zakk Wylde. I introduced Sebastian to the Skid Row guys and he became the singer and I introduced Zakk to Ozzy (Osbourne) and he became the guitar player. Through that I am proud because look at what they’ve done and how many people are happy because of them. So that makes me proud.”
Shannon - What are your top 5 favorite ‘80s rock albums?
Mark Weiss - “I don’t know. One of the things you’ll read on page 22 of my book, is that when I was 12 years old, I got into a motorcycle accident. I had a concussion and I lost my memory a little bit. Since then I don't really remember things. A lot of stuff I don’t remember. My favorite albums of all time are Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin, Toys In The Attic by Aerosmith, Back In Black by AC/DC, most of the Motley Crue albums, and of course, Appetite For Destruction by Guns N’ Roses. So that’s a little bit of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Actually one of my favorite albums is Night Songs by Cinderella. It’s killer and so underrated. It’s a really good album start to finish. And the Skid Row debut album, I mean Jesus, I crank that up all the time.”
Shannon - What advice would you give to me as a young concert photographer?
Mark Weiss - “I really like helping young people. Anyone with a commitment to their passion - whether that’s photography, music, author, anything. Just don’t give up and you’ll be it.”
Shannon - Is there anything else you would like to include?
Mark Weiss - “I would like to share that I have a sitcom called The Weissguy. It’s about these two guys from the ‘80s who never grew up and we put one episode up on my Youtube channel and there’s one episode up on my Youtube channel. It features Brian Wheat from Tesla and Chip Z'nuff from Enuff Z’Nuff. It’s a rock n’ roll tale of two guys that won't leave me alone, they stalk me. You can check that out.”