Photographer Michael Mastro talks about his photo-art, music, Freddie King, Frank Zappa and Rock culture

"The world can be a scary place. I want to surround myself with beauty, and my music photography would fit that bill. My thought is that one should have art around that makes them smile or is inspiring."

Michael Mastro: Images of Music

Photographer Michael Mastro based in Mobile, Alabama says: “Following an education in Photolithography at Don Bosco Technical Institute and Photography under M. Richard Marx, my career began in Atlanta before the advent of computers, as what was known as a paste-up artist. Freelancing for advertising agencies including McDonald & Little, BDA/BBDO and J. Walter Thompson, design firms Direct Drive Design and Think New Ideas, I was fortunate to work with designers like Don Trousdell, Mark Sandlin, and Blair Caplinger on graphic projects that included all aspects of advertising, collateral, packaging, and signage for clients including Coca-Cola, Major League Baseball, Nike, Anheiser-Busch, financial and medical institutions, numerous airlines, and the travel industry. The high level of quality demanded by the agencies and designers with whom I chose to work fed my perfectionism and cultivated my personal design sense. When I wasn’t working for ad agencies or design firms, I photographed musicians, developing my own style of group portraiture. This led to work for record labels, and recording artists like Fleetwood Mac, Queen, and The Dixie Dregs, as well as future stars like Brendan O’Brien and Rick Richards.

Photo by Keith Necaise

After over 20 years in Atlanta, I moved to Mobile and concentrated on Photography for Architecture, Industry, and Tourism. My work was selected by the artist Nall to be featured in the public collections of the RSA Tower, the historic Battle House Hotel, and the Renaissance Riverview Hotel. The RSA and Battle House collections contain 258 works by 25 artists, 29 of which are mine. In 2003 I was commissioned by Archbishop Oscar H. Lipscomb to produce a book commemorating restoration of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. The book, “Mobile’s Cathedral” has been called “The most beautiful book I have ever seen” by Dr. Sue Walker, Poet Laureate of Alabama, and has won numerous awards for Photography, and Book Design. All of the images in the book are available as photographic prints.”

Interview by Michael Limnios

What were the reasons that you started photo-art researches?  What characterize your images philosophy?

I started shooting because I love music and wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to capture still images of musicians at work. I wanted my images to be as close to perfect as I could get. I didn't shoot just to shoot a lot of film - I tried to wait for "moments" - that perfect time when the musician, his facial expression, and the background all fell into place. It rarely was perfect, but I think I got close a few times. There are a couple of close-ups of Stevie Nicks that I got. Joe Sia told me "I wish I had shot that." (Joe shot the famous image of Jimi Hendrix's shadow on his Marshall.)

How important was music in your life? How does music affect your mood and inspiration?

Music has long been important. There is always a song in my head. There are different kinds of music for different situations - when I want to relax, I can put on something relaxing, and when I want to ROCK!... I was cleaning the house one day and put on Humble Pie. The neighbor kids came over to tell me "Your windows are rattling!"

3Are there any memories from concerts, gigs, shows, and lives which you’d like to share with us?

Wow - Meeting so many stars - Roy Buchanan, Rory Gallagher, Patti Smith, Steve Marriott, BB King, Phil Lynott, Freddie King, Queen, Fleetwood Mac. The surprising things was always how down to earth most were. Queen was another story altogether. I may have been a bit nervous around some, but the only time I was absolutely tongue-tied was meeting Cyndi Lauper. I don't know why, but I couldn't get a coherent word out of my mouth! I turned into a cartoon!

Music has long been important. There is always a song in my head. There are different kinds of music for different situations - when I want to relax, I can put on something relaxing, and when I want to ROCK!... I was cleaning the house one day and put on Humble Pie. The neighbor kids came over to tell me "Your windows are rattling!" (Photo by Michael Mastro / BB King)

How has the Rock n' Roll culture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Rock n' Roll is a distraction from everyday life. It's where we go to get away from it all. It influenced my world views in my youth, but no longer.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of photo-art?

The music of the past had much more individuality. Sometimes you could hear just the first few notes of a song, and you instantly knew who it was. My fear has already come to pass - Entertainers are famous for being famous and not for their music.

If you could change one thing in the photo-art world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

Hmmmm... That's as tough one. I wish that people would understand that what I captured cannot be captured again - it was over 30 years ago and it's gone. While I was shooting, I KNEW I was capturing history. Some of the artists are gone - BB, Roy, Rory, Phil, Frank Zappa, Warren Zevon. My goal was classic images that would stand the test of time.

One of my favorite quotes is from Versace - "I pray every day that people with good taste will get money, and that people with money will get good taste."

What has made you laugh from BB and Freddie King? What touched (emotionally) you from Frank Zappa?

BB didn't make me laugh; he was simply the consummate gentleman. I didn't get to spend any time with Freddie or Frank. Steve Marriott, one of my favorite singers, was a blast - funny guy - I asked him "What the hell are Plimsoles (from the song "Rock My Plimsoles")?" He looked at my shoes and said "You've got 'em on your feet, mate!" Fleetwood Mac was all class. Queen, outside of Sir Bryan May, were complete assholes - Freddie grunted at me! I was much more impressed meeting Patti Smith - she was a sweetheart, as was Dolly Parton.

"I started shooting because I love music and wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to capture still images of musicians at work. I wanted my images to be as close to perfect as I could get. I didn't shoot just to shoot a lot of film - I tried to wait for "moments" - that perfect time when the musician, his facial expression, and the background all fell into place." (Photo by Michael Mastro / Frank Zappa)

What is the impact of fine photo-art and music to the socio-cultural implications?

Again, it's a distraction. And I mean that in a good way. The world can be a scary place. I want to surround myself with beauty, and my music photography would fit that bill. My thought is that one should have art around that makes them smile or is inspiring. When I walk through an art gallery, I keep walking until something makes me stop. When you see art that makes you stop - buy it!

What is the best advice ever given you and what advice would you give to the new generation?

Hmmm... I never got any advice! Because of the quality of my work, people came to me for advice and I didn't have much to tell them. Today, your work has to stand above. When I was shooting, I was called the best, and I knew it. Unfortunately, I didn't know how to turn that into a living.

As for the art aspect:

- Strive to be the best at what you do.

- Always look for ways to improve the image.

- Don't depend on post-production. My teacher in school told us

"Cropping is for people who don't know how to compose in the

camera."

- Take some business classes and pay attention!

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

Let's see... In the time machine, I would go back and see some of the acts that I loved as a kid - The Faces, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Humble Pie - Unfortunately all of my photographs from those days were lost in a house fire.

Where would I go? Sant Andrea di Conza, Italy - the home of my paternal grandparents. A beautiful village of 2000 people, and I'm related to many of them.

What from your memorabilia (records, photos etc.) would you put in a "time capsule"?

Several of my favorite photos, a few backstage passes, a few autographed albums. I'm in the process of starting a Custom Car building shop, and my office will be covered in my stuff.

Michael Mastro - Home

Photo by Michael Mastro / Roy Buchanan

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