BY PAUL ROGERS
The first time I worked with Greg Watermann – at Ozzy Osbourne's Beverly Hills mansion for Britain's Metal Hammer magazine in 2002 – he looked every bit the Hollywood rock star photographer. Black-clad like a Nine Inch Nail, blonde “assistant” in tow, he was briskly efficient. Since then his career curve has been steep: starting with smaller bands like Earshot and Mudvayne, he's worked his way up to being something of the house photographer for commercial juggernauts Linkin Park (he shot their best-selling Meteora – From The Inside book in 2004) and System Of A Down. Yet he's actually a quiet, sober bloke (who insists on not being on local bands' guest lists – so they can make more money at the door – and asked not to be photographed for this article) with a fierce love for his art.
Last night was Watermann's first gallery opening of a 22-year career which began in New York's fashion world before his move to Hollywood in 1998 to concentrate on rock n' roll. The airy, high-ceilinged A&I Hollywood bustled with rock fans of all ages, music biz types and glamorous gals perusing dozens of Watermann's finest photographic moments and the debut screening of System Of A Down's The Forest Project – a breathlessly nostalgic video-montage of hundreds his pictures from the band's last tour set to a mash-up of their music.
While the opening paid lip-service to Watermann's early magazine work (for Elle, Cosmopolitan and others) with shots of a young Julia Roberts and not-so-young Hugh Hefner, the walls were otherwise festooned with arresting images of rock bands: three giant black and white portraits collectively capturing nine-strong Iowan metallers Slipknot's bizarre masked menace; his career-changing 1992 Nirvana spread for Spin (their first national magazine cover); vividly artsy portraits of Marilyn Manson, Wayne Static and Osbourne; and animated on-stage shots of Linkin Park, Coldplay and, inescapably, System Of A Down.
“I will only shoot a concert if I'm given all-access – sound check, dressing room, on the tour bus, on the jet etc.,” Watermann, who'll sometimes spend whole tours with an act, explained. “I will not shoot a concert unless I'm allowed on stage for the entire show.” This, and a blend-into-the-background approach, allows him to get unusual on-stage angles and fly-on-the-wall shots.
“There's a lot of photographers who have a lot of talent, but it's more that Greg developed a relationship that's close with the band,” said mildly mohawked System Of A Down drummer John Dolmayan as fans hovered for autographs. “It's kind of like any other relationship – you develop trust. Greg's like a family member of System Of A Down.”
Surveying I Photograph Rock Stars, it's easy to see why Watermann's subjects cherish his documenting their careers – he captures bands as fans want to see them but also as they want to see, and remember, themselves. His photos of scribbled set lists, carefully-arrayed foot pedals and mid-gig eye-contact transmit much more of a rock band's everyday existence than any number of posed studio shots.
I Photograph Rock Stars is at A&I Hollywood (933 N. Highland Ave.) through June 10; and A&I Santa Monica (1550 17th St.), June 18 – July 24. www.gregwatermann.com