Fine Art Portrait Photographer | A Behind the Scenes Look at Mark Maryanovich's Photography Sessions with Chris Cornell, Chad Kroeger and Randy Bachman
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I’ll never forget the day I got the email. It was December 12th 2012 (12/12/12) and I literally pushed my chair back and jumped up, before doublechecking the email to make sure I read it right.
Gibson Guitars had contacted me to photograph Chris Cornell for his signature ES-335 guitar.
A huge fan of Soundgarden, Audioslave and Chris’s solo work, I immediately set out on doing my research, and my admiration for Chris only amplified.
He had a four octave vocal range (rare for a male singer), pretty much invented Screamo, was heavily involved in charity work and played for the president. Let alone the countless iconic songs he created that encapsulated the 90s and early 2000s music scene. I’d say “grunge,” though one of the treats to doing the shoot was that I was copied on the email correspondence between Gibson and the band’s management. The term “grunge” was at first going to be used in the ad copy headlines to describe the guitar made for Chris, the creator of “grunge,” only to find out that the band Soundgarden hates the term “grunge.” True irony.
The shoot date was set and the night before I would steel my nerves and get ready to meet an idol. I’d go through this at least four times, as the shoot was pushed numerous times due to scheduling.
Finally, it looked like the shoot day was set. I showed up early at the Gibson Showroom in Beverly Hills. I was told that I had 45 minutes with Chris to get two different setups while he did an interview. I chose my two spots and set up the lights while Chris’s manager frantically searched for a Diet Coke, (Chris’s drink of choice).
Chris showed up early and from moment one he was a force walking through the door. He was larger than life, tall, and all around just a big human being. Intense almost doesn’t seem like a strong of enough word to describe him.
After his death Bono described him as “a lion,” while Perry Ferrell called him “a complex soul.” These two descriptions really captured Chris, and there was a disquiet, sad energy about him, like his mind was constantly grinding on a whole other level. Behind those clear blue eyes there was a storm brewing, and caught between conversations and photos, he’d be lost in an anxious, somewhat vulnerable world of his own that he would snap out of when asked the next question. The one time the clouds disappeared was when he mentioned his daughter was auditioning forAnnie, his face and eyes lit up with a proud smile.
We shared another proud moment when he happily discussed how pleased he was with the flat green color of his custom guitar, (he called it “Army Green”) and also when he talked about his love for cars with flat black paint jobs. He modestly claimed to have started the trend, taking a few spray cans of flat black paint to the first car he ever owned, a rusted old lemon for which he paid less than the couple hundred dollars he could scrape together.
When I heard the news about the tragedy, I felt sick with sadness. It was like the bottom dropped out of the world, and a black hole covered the sun. Another true artist was lost to creative desperation. I’ll always be thankful for the opportunity I had to be in the presence of greatness.
July 20, 1964 - May 18, 2017
“Photograph”: A PORTRAIT of a“Rock Star”
When Gibson contacted me to photograph Chad Kroeger for the upcoming release of his custom “Blackwater” Les Paul, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
And then I started to do my research. Turns out Chad has an IQ of 130. He grew up in the small town of Hanna, Alberta on food stamps. He worked incredibly hard to get where he’s at. He apparently studied the number one charting songs over a period of time and then set out to compose songs that fit the mold. I remember meeting him years before at a music festival with David Usher, the lead singer of Canadian rock band Moist. Unknown at the time, Chad came up to David and asked him as many questions about the industry as he could fit in within a span of ten minutes.
While doing my research, I came across some of the meanest criticisms I’ve ever read about a band or musician. They were more than just slights about the music, they seemed like personal attacks against Chad. I couldn’t imagine having so many cruel things said about me living on in print and on the web. I wondered how he dealt with it. And I wondered how the shoot day would go.
When I arrived at the compound in Abbotsford British Columbia, the Gibson rep met me, wearing a hockey jersey. She was excited because she had heard that Chad had a full size hockey rink built beneath his house.
The house was a sprawling modern day castle, with definitely enough square footage to house at least two rinks.
My crew and I loaded in, and soon enough Chad came to meet us. He was pumped for the shoot, surprisingly down to earth, amiable, intelligent, and just a regular guy. What was most surprising was the element of class and self awareness and welcoming he exuded.
As the day went on and in our conversations, I got the sense that Chad knew the role he was playing. He mentioned how in todays’ PC culture, the days of true rock stars were gone, and somebody had to fill the position.
We journeyed throughout his massive estate that included a grand hall, basically a huge empty room suited for a royal party. Through a corridor that had two swords mounted on the wall that he and the singer from Alice in Chains would spar with. A tanning bed Mutt Lang left behind after staying with Chad while going through his divorce. Then onto his garage which held a few classic cars and also two ATVs, one for him and one for his best friend, because, who wants to go ATVing alone?
I knew and worked with a few of his team members, and across the board they shared a great admiration and appreciation for Chad. He had made sure that everyone who supported him was set up in some way, he started companies for them, or placed them in lucrative positions. One staff member recalled how Chad flew them all out to Las Vegas and put them all up first class to celebrate a good year.
His strange mix of magnanimity and unpretentiousness was present throughout the shoot. When I asked him to change Tshirts for the next set up, he said “You know, I won’t be back for 20 minutes, my closet’s on the other side of the house.”
I said no problem, and sure enough, he came back about 20 minutes later, winded and with Tshirt in hand.
He showed me how he had the shirts custom made, the sleeve was cut at a 45 degree angle, the best angle to show off the arms while playing guitar. Again I got the sense that every move he made was calculated, to fulfill the role he chose, to give the fans what they wanted. Like every good businessman, he understood his audience.
At one point, the Gibson rep asked him about the altercation he had with an anti fan that had made the national news. His face saddened somberly, replacing the usually present good natured grin. He said, “Everyone hears about the one time I lose it on someone. No one ever hears about the million other times I don’t let it get to me.” After reading just a handful of remarks made about him online, I wondered how thick his skin must be.
We spent the majority of the shoot in his garage, shooting against one of his favorite cars. I then hung a black backdrop for some full length shots of Chad walking with his custom Les Paul.
I told him how to ‘fake walk’ for photos, to stand as if you’re walking and just rock back and forth on each of your legs. Chad took in the instructions thoughtfully and said “Hmmm, I never rocked before.” To which I said, “Oh, you’ve rocked before.” And the Cheshire grin returned to his face.
It was nearing Halloween when we shot, and bowls of candy were placed throughout his estate. He was always making sure me and my crew grabbed a treat. After the shoot he treated us all to a huge sushi dinner, sat on his couch and ate with us, and made sure we all had had enough to eat.
I wish the world knew what a class act Chad Kroeger is. With hard work and pure determination, he became one of the modern era’s last remaining rock stars, while remaining a true gentleman.
STILL...“Taking Care of Business”
I first met Randy Bachman when he came by my studio to do some promotional shots for Peavey Amplifiers. He was calm, watchful, kind and quiet, and had just finished a radio interview at the CBC.
A few months later I was called to do promotional photos for his autobiographyVinyl Tap Stories. He requested the shoot take place at his home on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia, as he was working on a few things he had to finish.
I think I drove past his house a few times, it was sort of hidden and the roof was covered in long wild grass. When I finally figured out I was at the right place, I was blown away.
His entire studio and home were made of compressed earth, the first of its kind in Canada. Apparently a structure of this sort is great for your lungs and breathing.
On certain sections of the walls, Randy had commissioned artists to create wood carvings of flowers and intricate designs that he had pressed into the sediment as it dried, leaving imprints of the art on the walls. It was beautiful. We shot with one as a backdrop, and it ended up being the image on his book cover.
I discovered a complete set of drums in the bathroom, the whole room enclosed by a rounded wall. Randy let me know this circular compressed earth wall was the first ever of its kind in the world, and he recorded all the drums in there because the acoustics were phenomenal. As I cleared some things for a few portraits in the studio, I couldn’t believe the priceless rock’n’roll memorabilia that surrounded me. I cleared a horse blanked in one corner to unveil a set of bongo drums with the handwritten message “To Randy, Wow! Ringo Starr”
Randy has the largest collection of Gretsch guitars in the world. So large, that he was in the process of sending them to Gretsch for safekeeping. Treasured guitars such as the ones in his collection require special handling and care, and should be kept in a humidor like environment to ensure their quality maintains.
Randy wanted to be photographed with a few of his favorites, and throughout the shoot he would bring in a rare and gorgeous handmade guitar, and his calm, astute demeanor would melt away to a childlike excitement and glow as he explained the intricate, unique details, handling each guitar preciously, it was thrilling to see.
As I set up for different shots, Randy would disappear to another clay building, where his office was. At sixty something years old, he was constantly working. Even between setups, he was still taking care of business.
On my location scout, I found a café wall in the small city center, painted with musical notes and frets, as well as a wooden bench sitting in the water at the side of a lake Randy’s property overlooked.
When I mentioned to Randy’s managers that I had these two spots in mind, they warned me that Randy most likely wouldn’t be interested, he wasn’t much for going out, or sitting in a lake, he had too much to do.
After we finished photographing his studio and guitars, I ran both location ideas by Randy. He was a tremendous sport, and came outside to the musical wall and nodded and waved at the locals as they recognized him and shouted hellos. The photo we shot at the music mural was his Twitter profile photo at one point. I don’t really think you can brand an icon, all you can really do is try to capture their awe inspiring-ness.
The photos we captured have been used for Randy’s book cover, promotional photos for his radio show “Vinyl Tap” and various marketing materials.
At the end of the day, he spent forty five minutes with his pants rolled up and feet in the water as the sun set, and I was treated to a rare, intimate concert as he strummed on one of his favorite Gretschs. He told me incredible stories, one of them being the secret to the uncommon sounds of Neil Young’sHarvest.
I’ll never forget my day with Randy, and how inspired I felt at the end of it, and truly thankful for the opportunity to be around a legend, and a living encyclopedia of music history.
Every time I hear a BTO or Guess Who song in a movie with Michael Cera, Jonah Hill or Ben Stiller, it makes me feel glad that his genius and talent and everlasting contributions to music are appreciated.
He truly is an outstanding man, whose talent and knowledge I’m sure of which, we ain’t see nothing yet.
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