Interview with Mark Weiss, author/creator of The Decade That Rocked
From conception to when this book rolled off the presses, how long did this project take?
I first signed the contract with Insight Editions seven years ago. It was to be a book of my photographs of bands when there hair was at there highest. I thought it would be an easy book to do just photos from a time in rock when it was all about who put the most amount of VO5 in (hair spray) just photographs of Hair Metal Bands. As I was completing the book I realized I didn’t want that to be my first book. I got a taste of what it took to make a book and then I decided that my first book should be about my life and career as a Rock & roll photographer. It took me a solid 5 years of scanning, interviewing and commitment to finish the book.
I know many people are publishing independently these days in order to by pass traditional publishing houses. How did you come to the decision to go with Insight Editions?
I didn’t have the energy to learn the business. I left it to the professionals. I wanted the best of the best. Writers, editors, designers and printers. I wanted to focus on the content and my story. After five years and learning the ropes I will be self publishing books. The first book I am doing is with Missy Whitney the fan club president of Dubrow in the early 80’s. She wrote her memoirs when the pandemic began and decided to use the time to write her times with Kevin before Quiet Riot and then into the Metal Health line up.
How many hours did it take to sort through all your old photos to decide what to print? It must have been an agonizing process.
In deed it was to say the least. I decided the only way to do this without going completely insane is to section my shoots in years — 1980 – 1990. I then started throwing my babies (photos) over board. I kept whittling away with the editors. Of course it was hard to be objective but with the help with the editors and back and forth we came up with a solid 600 designed pages to work from to turn into 300. We ended up cutting 200 pages leaving the book count almost at 400 pages which include three pullouts.
This might seem like an obvious question, but in this age of modern digital technology, somehow, big illustrated history and visual guides like THE DECADE THAT ROCKED still continue to be popular and continue to sell. Why do think that is?
Fans miss the magazines. They miss the excitement of looking at photographs. Photographs in my book take them back to that time when they were teens and young adults finding their way. The eighties were a time of fun times and my book brings them back to those times. It’s a feel good book of memories.
I noticed you don’t talk much about your gear? Why is that, most photographer seems very focused on their gear.
I really can’t speak for them. Cameras are tools just like a hammer or a screwdriver. Do you know or care what kind of hammer it is? As long as it does the job. Photography is about moments and a feeling , a connection you get with your subject. I would rather talk about that.
In a related question, do yo think you might do a ‘how to’ guide for Rock and live music photography?
No way ! I wouldn’t know what to write aside from; Just do it, hang out , party and have fun… Oh ya and bring your camera and push some buttons!
With the virtual demise of almost all Metal magazines, is it even possible to make a living selling photos anymore?
You can make a living doing anything you are passionate about. Just do it! Follow your passion and you can’t go wrong. Don’t do it for the money just do it because you love it – That is my advise to anyone in any business.
Have you ever dabbled in areas of photography, nature or wildlife for example? Do you ever just shoot for ‘fun’ or is it too much like work?
Before the pandemic I would say I had no interest in anything aside from shooting people. I like making friends and my camera introduces me to them. Once I take your photograph we are friends for life. Unless your name is Glenn (read the book ha !) After a few months into the pandemic I was getting a bit restless so I began to walk , run and ride my bicycle along a path by the ocean where I live. I discovered people would be making these rock formations from small rocks on the sea wall. I began taking photographs and then I got the idea “Hey, if I can’t shoot Rock Stars I’ll shoot rocks!” , and that’s what I did. I have a Instagram iwannarockstonehenge and Facebook.
Have you considered having your art shows travel to various galleries?
Yes – I was getting ready to do a book tour following around some of the tours like the Stadium tour with Motley Crue, Poison and Def Leppard Sammy Hagar, Lita Ford and more. I was going to get a tour bus and wrap it with my book cover and pics and shadow the tours, go to radio stations and set up galleries to promote the book as well as working with foundations to raise some awareness and money for their cause.
Every interview has to have one of those ‘tell us some dirt’ type questions. What was the worst photo shoot of a rock star or band you ever had to endure? Of course you have to name names!
Here is an excerpt from my book — When the Danzig guys came to my studio, they weren’t exactly the friendliest bunch. There was no talking, no kid-ding around, no small talk. It was apparent they either really didn’t like having their picture taken . . . or they just didn’t like me. Either way, I had a job to do. I needed to produce a great band shot to be used as a gatefold photo in their album. If they wanted to be tough guys, I decided I’d just make them look like the toughest guys out there.
First, I arranged the members so that Glenn was the main person in the frame. A band photo is like a puzzle, all different shapes and sizes making one complete image. Once you have the pieces in place, your job as the photogra-pher is to get their vibe across in a way that connects with the fan. Glenn was a bit shorter, so I brought him closer to the camera and shot him at a lower angle, making him appear taller and more dominant than the others. Without talking to him about any of this, I got it—I got him.
As the shoot progressed, I wanted to get a bit more out of the band, but things soon took a turn into more uncom-fortable territory. I asked Glenn to pull his head forward and toward me. It was like talking to a brick wall; he wouldn’t budge. The other guys followed his lead and began to be uncooperative as well. I proceeded to do what I would usually do—go up to the band members and physically move them, adjusting a shoulder here, a head there. But when I got to Glenn, he just said, “Don’t touch me. Just take the photos.” I finished up the roll of film and said, “Okay, we’re done.”
To my surprise, Glenn decided he wanted to do one more setup. I never expected what happened next—the whole band came out with their shirts off. The next day, I followed up with the art director. He asked me, “What did you do to piss off Glenn? He loves your photos, but he never wants to shoot with you again.” I explained that I had moved the guys around a bit and that Glenn had snapped at me. He told me, “You never should have touched him.” I was dumbfounded.
Please feel to read my review of awesome book, The Decade That Rocked here!