The stories behind classic shots of Chris Cornell, Foo Fighters and Pearl Jam

I’ve had passion for Art, Design, and Photography for as long as I can remember. Most likely because growing up my dad always had some kind of camera with him or was sketching out an idea on a notepad. He was my first creative collaborator & art teacher, we often worked on art projects or took photographs together. The creative encouragement from my family coupled with the inspiring teachers/professors that I’ve known, help set the foundation for me to be able explore my passion for photography. I moved to New Jersey for a graphic design job in 2003 where I was exposed to digital photography and experimented with DSLR cameras. The low cost and freedom of the digital platform allowed me to collaborate with our photo team and incorporate those photographs into my design & marketing projects. I was laid off when Fort Monmouth closed in 2011 and shortly after that I created my design & photography company, Watermrk Studios; focusing on design, product photography, and photographing live music.

I bought a mirrorless Sony a6000 in 2016 and started to bring it to the concerts I went to, even sometimes sneaking it in like my heroes Danny Clinch and Bob Gruen once did. The new mirrorless technology allowed me to instantly capture my subject when I clicked the shutter. I was no longer missing moments that I used to miss with my older DSLR and I discovered that I really enjoy photographing live music and musicians. With the smaller size camera/lens; I started to carry this camera with me and make my own opportunities at the concerts I went to. I began working for a few music blogs, documented events in Asbury Park, and connected with like-minded artists in NY/NJ/PA. Through the art/music community, I developed a wonderful friendship with Danny Clinch (Director/Photographer), who has been extremely kind and trusting; given me some really wonderful opportunities to grow as an artist/photographer. Motivated and inspired by the moments I was capturing and by artists in the community, I began to create an online portfolio by thoughtfully sharing these photographs and my experiences on my website and social media. Those photographs, stories, and captures started to get recognized and reposted by National Bands, Management, Publications, and Venues.

Since then, I’ve been very fortunate to have my photographs featured in Rolling Stone Magazine, Variety, The Daily News, The Asbury Park Press, New York Magazine, Artists Websites, and National Marketing Campaigns. I prefer to work directly with the Artists, Musicians, and Festival Teams and have been given special exclusive access by doing so. There is a great earned trust that comes with this access and that is something I greatly respect and am mindful of. Internationally I’ve photographed Sigur Ros, Mogwai, and Dan Deacon at the Norður Og Niður Music Festival (Reykjavik, Iceland) and currently have a photo of Bruce Springsteen & Southside Johnny as part of a display at the “His Hometown” Exhibit in Freehold, NJ.

Chris Cornell – Count Basie Theater – Red Bank, NJ 2011

I selected this as one of my top three photographs because it’s imperfect and perfect to me, at the same time. This was the first concert that I was given an Artist/Photo Pass and this experience was truly about perseverance for me. I had won a photography contest to be able to photograph Chris Cornell’s performance at The Count Basie Theater (Red Bank, NJ). It had been a tough year for me because my dad had just passed away and I was deeply depressed; it was honestly hard to find anything beautiful or to even feel inspired to pick up a camera, as life seemed very overwhelming and bleak. My dad had taught me how to use a camera and the principles of photography; he taught me patience, to work hard, and to always look for the little things in all situations. Having lost my dad and the friend who I created art with, I felt even more distant from being inspired to create or capture anything. However, I also felt like I owed it to my dad, to still go and give it my best shot – I know he would have done anything for this kind of opportunity and that was some serious motivation for me.

It ended up being a challenging shoot because there is no photo pit at The Count Basie Theater and the lighting was very dim. I had to push the camera settings much more then I was used to because the DSLR I had at the time didn’t have the best high ISO range/low aperture. I was nervous when Chris took the stage, but something changed for me about a minute into the first song ”Scar on the Sky” – My racing thoughts faded and I became totally focused on Chris; his voice, the lyrics, and in a calming way it felt like my dad was there with me. Since that moment, I’ve continued to feel close to my dad when I have a camera in my hands and that feeling has helped me to relax and ground myself along this photographic journey.

The stage was set up very specifically for this solo tour and I immediately noticed that Chris had a red phone next to him resting on a wooden stool. There were only two stools on the stage one for Chris and one for this Red phone. The red phone was one of those “little things” my dad had taught me to notice and appreciate but at the time of the show it was unclear as to what the red phone was referencing. As the tour progressed, I did some digging online and read an interview where Chris explained that the red phone belonged to Jeff Buckley. Jeff’s Mother, Mary, had given Chris the phone after Jeff’s untimely death and Chris had since been bringing the phone on his solo acoustic tours. The Jeff Buckley phone story gave this photo so much more meaning to me. Aside from inspiring Chris, Jeff Buckley’s music was very inspiring in my life and in my own songwriting (In my opinion Jeff Buckley’s Album Grace was one of the best albums released in the 90’s/all time). It was a real full circle moment all around when I met Chris in 2016; I showed him this photo and Chris shared the “Red Phone Story” with me firsthand as he signed this photograph to me. Chris was so kind, honest, and seemed to be in a really positive place. It’s still hard to believe that he has left us – “No One Sings Like You Anymore”.

Foo Fighters – Madison Square Garden – New York, NY 2018

I feel this photo authentically captures Dave Grohl’s “Rock & Roll” spirit while perfectly shredding his custom blue DG-335. Grohl has been a hero of mine for long time and I had the opportunity to photograph the Foo Fighters. So I purchased a GA ticket for the show and planned to get there early to try to get my camera in. An “official” photo pass is great but most times you only get to photograph the first three songs, more recently just one song, but in my experience the most authentic moments happen towards the end of the show, once the artist has really hit their stride and is deeply connecting with the crowd. My plan was a success and I managed to get my camera in and find a great spot about five people back off the stage (in front of guitarist Pat Smear).

Grohl was working the stage all night giving 1000% and I knew I just had to be patient since the crowd was packed tight! I didn’t have much space to move around, so when Grohl walked over and started shredding right in front of me, I had my camera ready to capture this magical moment. Head back, teeth clenched, mid strum jamming up the neck, and illuminated light glowing around him! 

I’m really proud of this photograph and that it’s from one of my favorite and most historic venues, Madison Square Garden. Yes, I needed to be stealth, watch out for security, and could have been kicked out… but it all worked out. This experience was a great reminder to be patient, to be prepared, and to sometimes be sneaky as a photographer to capture the “Epic Moment”!

Pearl Jam – Fenway Park – Boston, MA 2018

To quote Eddie Vedder, it was a “F&*king Tropical” night at Fenway Park – 95 degrees with 1000% humidity. Eddie had sweated through his shirts, jeans, and even his boots; in what he described as a “Diana Ross/Axl Rose wardrobe change” during the first encore break Vedder disappeared and then was instantly back on stage in a fresh shirt, board shorts, Air Jordans, and his black holoflake telecaster. Eddie looked refreshed and was moving all over the stage connecting with the crowd in Fenway. The band went into “Rearview Mirror” and it ended up being an epic 6+ minute version with extended jams right till the end of the song. That’s when Vedder climbed up onto Matt Cameron’s drum kit riser and prepped to take one of the biggest jumps I’ve seen him take since the infamous Danny Clinch “Let’s Play Two” jump at Wrigley!

Vedder took a long look back to Cameron, Stone Gossard, and Mike McCready before EV went full “Air Jordan” on the last note of the song! Time seemed to slow down for me as I clicked the shutter, because I’ve watched video of this moment a few times now and it goes by much faster then I remember. I truly love that Vedder is soaring and Matt Cameron’s arms are perfectly extended with Gossard looking back to him, and McCready and Jeff Ament also looking back in awe.

This photo was taken as Pearl Jam closed our their first encore of the night and during the last note of the song! In order to capture this moment from the distance I was at, I used a higher shutter speed 1/320 sec with at 55mm with a 55-210mm 4.5 Lens at ISO 1000. I’m proud to have captured this by creating my own opportunity, having faithful friends, and projecting positive vibes in the Pearl Jam community. I would have never gotten this photograph with a regular photo pass. I’ve seen Pearl Jam live about 45 times which has really helped me with my timing and anticipating moments like these.

~ Michael Ryan Kravetsky 

Prints Are Available and make awesome holiday gifts!

Photo Equipment:

Sony a6000
Nikon F1 35mm (my Dads Camera)
Polaroid Spectra
Polaroid SX 70
GMaster f2.4 24-70mm Lens
GMaster f2.4 70-200mm Lens
Sony f4.5 55-210mm Lens
Sigma f1.4 16mm Lens

Michael Ryan Kravetsky
Asbury Park, NJ

Instagram: @watermrk
Facebook: @WATERMRKstudios
Twitter: @WATERMRKstudios

Produced by / in collaboration with @JeffGorra