In some circles, Philadelphia photographer Scott Weiner has become as legendary as the subjects of his work.
A rock ‘n’ roll exhibition celebrating more than 40 years of Weiner’s photography was recently on display at the Old City Jewish Arts Center (OCJAC), drawing a large number of fans.
Best known for his provocative photographs of iconic rock ‘n’ roll stars and celebrities, the retrospective of his work also featured several U.S. presidents and photographs from a 2012 trip to Israel.
Weiner draws out the subject’s personality in his photos, showing artists such as U2, Prince, Stevie Wonder and Jennifer Love Hewitt in a more personal and vulnerable light. More than 70 photographs were on display.
OCJAC’s exhibitions explore Judaism through art.
“We were looking for something upbeat and refreshing after Shavuot, and music uplifts the soul,” gallery director Rabbi Zalman Wircberg said.
The exhibit was organized by genre, starting with photographs from Weiner’s early rock ‘n’ roll days, including musicians and celebrities, and then included images from a trip the artist took to Israel.
The odyssey included photographs of several presidents, such as Donald Trump coming out of Air Force One for the very first time after being elected president and President Barack Obama speaking at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia during his campaign. A striking portrait of President Bill Clinton, and another of President Jimmy Carter showing a peace sign were also on display, as well as a photograph of Pope Francis during his 2015 Philadelphia visit.
Weiner was born in Philadelphia and grew up in the Virgin Islands. He returned to Philly to attend Temple University and started working as a photographer in 1976, after he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in radio, television and film.
“I wanted to be a movie producer, and my last semester at Temple I took a photography course,” recalled Weiner. “I took a picture of Leon Russell and it was published in The Philadelphia Inquirer, and then his [Russell’s] record company called me and made me an offer for additional photos, and it took off from there.”
Weiner started working for major records companies, like CBS, Epic, Atlantic and Warner Brothers. The Philadelphia record scene was still at its height in the 1970s and ‘80s, but the money fell out in the late ‘80s, Weiner said.
Weiner photographed Stevie Wonder and several other artiest at Sigma sound, a major R&B recording studio located in Center City.
Weiner worked with a wire service in New York, Retna Limited, from about 1980 to 2010, and is now working with MediaPunch.
“I am not a paparazzi,” Weiner said. “I am a photographer who will ask permission to shoot first.”
Weiner was the photographer for Newsweek magazine for Live Aid in 1985 in Philadelphia, and the staff photographer for the Live 8 concert in 2005 in Philadelphia. His work has appeared on numerous CD and album covers.
The OCJAC exhibit featured a photograph of Ozzy Osbourne holding a bat.
“That photo relates to the infamous story that he ate a live bat in the early ‘80s,” Weiner said.
Also, on display was a photograph of Van Halen, right before the band went on stage at the Spectrum in 1981, and a photograph of U2 at the Bijou Club in Philadelphia, during their first trip to the U.S. in 1980.
A few of Weiner’s favorites include a photograph of Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty performing “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” at the Spectrum in the early ‘80s, and a photograph titled “Devil and Angel,” featuring Joan Jett and Deborah Harry in 1979 in Philadelphia. Weiner said that he used black- and-white film, and Jett’s head is tilted down, to reflect the disparity in their character.
“The film used was called Kodak Tri-X, which gives that little bit of graininess in Jett’s image,” he said.
Weiner also photographed Amy Winehouse, one of 50 acts at the Virgin Music Festival in Baltimore, not long before she died in 2011.
“In the beginning of my career, I could shoot pictures from all angles and places at a venue, then in the 1990s and 2000s more and more artists started to implement what is known as the ‘three-song rule,’ which limits photographers to shooting only during the first three songs or less at a concert,” said Weiner.
Artists did this to control their image.
“When you photograph from up close you can capture an image with artistic quality, but only being allowed to photograph from the back of the room is limiting,” he explained.
In 2012 Weiner participated in a mega-mission trip to Israel. About 20 trip photos, all on canvas, stretched over wooden frames, were included in the OCJAC exhibit.
“I oversaturated the colors of the photographs using Photoshop to make them look like paintings,” said Weiner.
The technique was used on a photograph taken from the Tower of David in the Old City, looking out over Jerusalem, creating an electric color scheme of the blue sky and ancient stone.
Weiner also uses a technique in which he prints photographs on sheets of metal, instead of on paper, which creates a glossy image, deep in color.
“I feel very strongly about being Jewish,” Weiner said. “I went to Poland with my former wife’s father, who was a concentration camp survivor.”
Weiner is producing an upcoming movie, The Sixteen Minute Man, about a Jewish boxer from Philadelphia to be released in 2021 in theaters across the country.
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