Interview With John Scarpati
IntroductionYou may not know the name John Scarpati, but I’m positive you’re familiar with his work. He’s a photographer who has done hundreds of album covers, including a number of which became gold and platinum records. Take a brief moment to look over the list on Scarpati's Wikipedia page (note: Wikipedia only has a partial list of his covers). He’s also published a book of some of his images from the 80s called Cramp Slash & Burn: When Punk and Glam Were Twins.
Scarpati is not just talented and extremely personable, he’s also a friend of mine (because I only hang around the nicest people). So I spent a few hours talking with him about some of the work he’s done and he graciously answered my questions. Below is part of our conversation on the making of the Scorpion’s Deadly Sting album cover.
InterviewQuestion: What is a typical job like?
Answer: There are no typical jobs. One of my favorite aspects of photography is problem solving and that no two jobs are the same. Especially if you’re doing concept photography, you never know what it’s going to take to build and bring a concept to fruition. It could be location, studio, props, getting the right team together. You can never be completely ready for a shoot and that’s what excites me about what I do. every day is a new adventure with a new set of problems.
Question: Tell me about shooting the Scorpions “Deadly Sting” cover. What kinds of problems did you have and how did you solve them?
Answer: For the Scorpions cover we needed 300 live African Emperor scorpions as part of the set.
Question: How do you find something like that?
Answer: Turns out there’s a guy named Jules Sylvester who supplies reptiles and insects for movies and photo shoots, so I worked with him. He brought us a few different kinds of scorpions and several hundred of each so that we could pick the ones we wanted.
Question: So then Jules handled the scorpions for you?
Answer: You actually need one certified scorpion wrangler for each hundred scorpions on the set. This is required for insurance, so we had 3 animal wranglers on the set.
Question: How did all those scorpions do on the set?
Answer: They got really aggressive under the lights because the tungsten lights are very warm. So we had a small window of opportunity to work with them before they became too aggressive and feisty.
Question: Is there a way to calm them down? Or how did you handle that?
Answer: They calm down when they’re cooler, so we had to cool them off in the refrigerator.
Question: Was this a special refrigerator unit?
Answer: It was a regular kitchen refrigerator. We unpacked everything to make room and the wranglers put the scorpions in containers so we could cool them down. We went back and forth between the refrigerator and the set. We had about 5 minutes under the lights before the scorpions became too aggressive and all hell broke loose where they tried to get out of the set.
Question: Did the scorpions naturally get into the poses you wanted or did you have to work with the temperature as they became more aggressive?
Answer: If they’re calm, you can blow on them with a straw to get them into the hero pose. So we had this small window of time where the wranglers were blowing on them and I had move the camera into the set and set the shot.
Question: What about the girl? Was she on the set with these scorpions?
Answer: The girl in that shoot was a lot safer than you might think. She was photographed separately against a 20 foot by 20 foot sky backdrop and the scorpions on her were ones that had died in transit. We superglued the dead scorpions into aggressive positions and placed them on the model’s body. Then we used photoshop to put the image of the model into the picture with the live scorpions.
Question: Were you glad to be done working with scorpions when the shoot was over?
Answer: Actually, I picked the biggest scorpion on the set, which turns out was also the oldest, and I kept him for a pet for about three years until he died. It was a normal lifespan for a scorpion because he was already old when I got him, but I named him Klaus, after the lead singer of the Scorpions.
Finally, take 2 minutes to watch this short video on the making of Scarpati's book Cramp, Slash & Burn. Some of the canvases will be on display at Bongo Java in Nashville during the month of May.
Cramp, Slash & Burn... "When Punk and Glam were Twins" from john scarpati on Vimeo.
More about Scarpati:
He wanted to be a painter.
He wanted to be a rock star.
He ended up being neither – and both.
Scarpati's Wikipedia Page
More Info on Cramp, Slash, and Burn:
CSB on Facebook
Online Book Preview
Links for Scarpati's Book Eyes Wide Open:
Online Book Preview
Eyes Wide Open on Facebook