Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Greg Watermann: The Mann Behind the Lens by Nick Arnold

Today the Music Journalism class had one of our scheduled Master Classes. Basically, what that is, is that each course at GRAMMY Camp® has a professional from that field come in and tells them about their career, teaches them how to succeed, and is open for Q&A at the end.

For our Music Journalism course, we had Greg Watermann, a rock star photographer based in L.A. talk about photo journalism. Greg was friendly and open to questions while still being serious during his speech. He was a tall, lanky man dressed in black jeans, black shoes, black sunglasses, and black Chuck Taylor hi-tops. During his career, he has worked with many popular groups and artists, most notably Marilyn Manson, Mudvayne, Linkin Park, and System of A Down. He almost exclusively works with rock musicians, and he has a shooting style all his own.

"I don't use any lights when I'm shooting. I don't have any guys helping me, so I can just walk in and do my work without sticking out so much. All I come with to any show or backstage gig is my bag over my shoulder with my lenses, camera, and spare batteries and memory cards. I don't want artists I work with to be conscious of me while I'm working, so my shots can be completely candid and be a snapshot of the band in their natural zone."

Greg stressed to us that we have to be preparing for our future starting now. He suggested that we find as talented a band we know who will let us interview or photograph them, and archive all our material in portfolios. "You've got to start somewhere, and from there, you'll get attention from people who can help you work your way up to where you want to be."

According to Greg, connections and relationships are equally as valuable as your talent in the music industry. The more people in the business you know, the more connections you have, and the more opportunities that will be open to you.

Greg said that once we had established a nice repertoire of artists that we should find ones we can connect with personally. "You have to be passionate about your work and your associates. Only when you can put your full attention and effort into your work can you achieve your full potential and produce the most valuable products."

After our lecture from Greg, we were lucky enough to have him accompany us to dinner in the USC cafeteria. When there, Greg enjoyed the fine cuisine of the University dining hall so much so that he was willing to answer a few more questions that would be exlusively answered for the GRAMMY Camp Blog.

Nick Arnold: I am fairly familiar with your catalog of formal portraits of artists, and I was wondering about a few of your more popular ones. More specifically, the one of Slayer standing on a balcony in front of a glowing red room. What effects did you use in that photo? How often do you distort or alter your pictures?

Greg Watermann: I actually did not use any effects on that portrait, and in fact, I never use any alterations in my photography.

NA: Oh wow! That's really a lot of dedication to keeping your photots real!

GW: Yeah, I want all my photos to be as close as possible to what it looks like to the naked eye.

NA: So how did you get that red glow in the background without using tinting?

GW: Well, when you take a picture a little before the sun sets, the sun has an orange tinge to it, and it shows up in the photo. Shortly after the sun goes down past the horizon there is a very light blue color that spreads all around for a small time before it gets to dark to shoot. I took that picture outside of a room that happened to have a red lightbulb in it, so I told the guys to turn it on and I'd shoot them in front of it.

NA: Well that's an amazing shot for no effects! The red and blue really contrast beautifully.

GW: Oh, thanks.

Greg revealed that out of the artists he has not photographed with yet, he would most like to work with Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor. "Nine Inch Nails' saved my life. I listened to 'Pretty Hate Machine' [NIN's debut album] literally a hundred times during high-school. They helped me through lots of tough times in my life."

Greg enlightened us all with his personal experiences and tips that had been important to him in his lifetime so far. I think everyone in the class took away some unique lessons that we will apply during our time in the music business. Although Greg was a photographer, his message can be applied to all aspects of the music business.

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