In 1999 now international Grammy award winning metal megastars Slipknot released their eponymously named debut album, an album that would go platinum in the UK and double platinum in America. 1999 was a time before social media and the internet being what it is today; Slipknot spread fear among parents in the way the Sex Pistols and Marilyn Manson did previously. James Wadsworth was fortunate to manage to track down Simon Clay, the photographer and brave parent behind the camera on one of their early UK photoshoots.
The majority of your photography career has been cars but today we’re going to focus on your day with Slipknot. Who was the shoot for and when was it?
It was probably 1999, it was either the day before or day after their gig at the London Astoria, so it was at the venue. I was working for Metal Hammer and we all [the photographers] got a bit of time with the band in the pit area [crowd area] in the day time.
We did the gig as well, you get like 3 songs of 15 minutes in the [photographers] pit. Back then because it was all film you used flash which would be pretty distracting to the band so that’s why.
Are you aware of what they were promoting with it?
They weren’t promoting anything exactly it was one of the early tours so we all [the photographers] got invited down to the venue.
Back at that time could people tell that they were going to be as big as they are now? Were they already a big deal in the media?
Yeah, they were a big deal, they were pretty well known in the scene but were getting a lot of attention because of the look.
Prior to the shoot had you listened to much Slipknot and were you a fan?
I’d heard a bit but not much, Otis [my son] was a big fan. He came to the gig too, he was in the crowd, but he kept close looking for me. It’s nice to look back on those kind of moments with your kids.
Did doing the shoot change your views on them?
Yeah, definitely, I’ve met quite a few famous people, but they were really nice. In my current [cars] photography I’ve met immensely rich people and most of them are alright but quite a few aren’t. They didn’t they were really engaging. They didn’t have to speak with us either, but they were great.
Instead of fearing Slipknot you actually took your eldest son to the shoot, how did that come about?
Nah it was on a weekend, I’m pretty sure it was a Sunday. I just took him because he liked them, and I wanted him to go. Being a dad, you can’t offer your kids much, but he was of the age where he could carry something, he wasn’t a baby. As a dad if you can take your kid along to do a few things that might stick in their mind that they might think ‘that was cool’ you do.
I had a photoshoot in New York photographing buildings for 3 hours [around the same time] and booked a helicopter. I took him on the photoshoot over Manhattan just because I thought I could do it, but he did start reading a comic when we were half way through shooting which I bollocked him for it because you don’t get a chance to do that especially now.
What did he think of it all? How did Slipknot act around him?
As I said they were all really cool. One of my memories is Otis and I playing hacky sack in the Astoria waiting around. They [Slipknot] were just mega cool, they weren’t rushed at all we chatted with them in their clothes and their boiler suits.
Are there any cool photos of him with Slipknot?
Unfortunately not, in the days of film you got your stuff and handed it all over to the magazine, a shame really that I don’t have much from that time. The clip test it is the only one I’ve got.
What is a clip test?
When you shoot transparency [normal] film, there is not a lot of attitude so back in the day we would cut a piece of film of and process it first, then you would go to the lab and assess it and and decide whether you left it the same or under or over developed the film to compensate.
How much guidance were you given around the piece? I suspect if any it was to create a vision of chaos?
It was just a chill thing in the venue, Metal Hammer would leave it up to you unless they had a specific request. Metal Hammer used a photo that I took that I thought was pretty lame, it was them standing with a backdrop.
Was it in a studio? Where in the country was it?
Nah, but I didn’t really know what to expect so I took loads of lights, they must have thought I was a right idiot. I really over engineered the clip shot but it came out really well, it might even be better lit than the similar one from Kerrang. I took a backdrop, nowadays I’d just find a grungey bit of the venue.
It’s very easy as a creative to be critical of your work, looking back now at the piece how fond of the outcome are you?
I dug it out for one of the kids a while ago. It’s a good picture, if I’d carried on doing stuff like that it would have been good. I wish I’d carried on
At the time when I shot it what I didn’t realise was that Kerrang had done a similar shot, but it wasn’t as nicely lit. I lit them with a ring flash looking up, lying on the floor I got them all to lend over me. Metal Hammer didn’t use that shot because Kerrang had used a similar shot. They used a really lame shot, they used it [the lame shot] as a poster. [The good shot] got used in other things I think. I didn’t know of the similar one at the time, I hadn’t seen it.
As the years have gone on the bands anonymity has slipped and many have been seen without the masks. Did you see them without their masks? Was their a strict no photos with the masks off policy?
Oh no, they didn’t have their masks on, they weren’t dressed up. We saw them without their boiler suits and then they had to stick their suits on to start having photography.
In the media business at the time if you shot a band like Slipknot without their masks when they didn’t want you to wouldn’t get asked back. As a photographer in the business for over 30 years I’ve had a lot of opportunities to make money from people’s private lives, but you never take advantage of that if you’re playing the long game [and want to make a career].
The persona the band gave in the early days was of a group that were pretty emotionally unstable, at that time when you met them how true was this in your experience and how much was an act?
They seemed like they were pretty worldwise but quite hardened fellas, you wouldn’t want to argue with them, but they were respectful.
[In the cars world] one of two of them are really nice people, they look after their staff, they hand their money to charity but a lot are not and it’s always really nice to meet [Slipknot] someone incredibly successful who’s a nice person and gives back.
Do you have any unusual or weird tales from the day?
Not really, they were regular guys.
Did you have much of a chat with any of the band? If yes what about?
Yeah we did, I chatted to Sid for quite a while and he was telling us about the DJ kit and then he was telling us about chucking himself off balconies. He said he wore motorcycle body amour because he wasn’t stupid so that when he chucked himself off the balcony he didn’t break his back. I think they were good because I brought Otis along, because Otis was there they were quite chilled. They were quite friendly, I wondered whether they might not be. We chatted with them all but I can’t remember what we chatted about but they made Otis really at ease.
Who was the easiest professionally to work with?
They were all easy going and very on it when it came to posing for the camera, they were really helpful.
Obviously if you’ve got press around you’re going to work with them if you’ve got any sense. The important thing is the relationship with the band and the photographer. Lots of famous people will play up to the camera and if you’re brave enough to ask them to do stuff then they will because it’s in their interests, if they’ve been doing it a long time they’ll do it automatically. I remember seeing shoots of Arnold Shwarzenegger when, he was in men’s magazines, people like him he’d play up to the camera fantastically.
When their doing junkits for like Harry Potter they rent a floor in The Dorchester [hotel] and generally and they put the actors and directors in different rooms and they’ll all be interviewed at once and journalists will have up to 5 minutes in each room. It’s the same for photographers, and it’s knowing that and knowing how to get stuff out of people, the best thing is knowing how to work with people.
What is a junkit?
A junkit is when a film or album is being presented to the press for publicity. The company will rent a floor in say The Dorchester [a posh London hotel] and they put different members of cast and crew in different rooms with some branding. [They literally] wheel journalists and photographers in and out all day to send them in to film and interview.
Aside from the photos do you have any mementos from the day?
After [Slipknot] I remember going to Joe’s Basement which was a 24 hour lab where all the photographers used to go process their films. I’ve got very little stuff from the ‘film’ era, you’d hand a lot of it over. Now with digital you’re allowed to keep it all.
Although your career has been mainly cars, what other musicians have you worked with? And are there any stories to share from those shoots?
I shot Billy Gibbons from ZZ top once in LA and got invited to hang out him and his mates while he was doing his radio show, but declined the offer because I was busy. I did a bit for the NME, some of the smaller bands but there weren’t really many tales. I did Henry Rollins and Type O Negative too. I’m not certain but I think the Slipknot gig was when a can of beer hit my camera when I was changing equipment and my camera had the back open.
What’s your favourite thing to shoot these days? If it’s cars what type of car shoots do you enjoy?
I mostly shoot cars these days for auction companies like Bonhams, some manufacturers and high end dealers. Everyday is different and i get a buzz when you pull something out of the bag in the face of adversity, but that is what you are paid to do as a pro snapper.
Where can people follow your work?
And I’m simonclaycarsnapper on Instagram.