Walter Novak: He’s Back
Just over ten years since his first solo show, “Hello Cleveland!,” photographer Walter Novak returns to Northeast Ohio for another round. At some time in his career the music photographer and photojournalist has shot for most of the local publications (Cleveland Scene, Cleveland Magazine, Free Times, Ohio Magazine) and his photos have appeared nationally (Boston Globe, New York Times, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) and internationally (Der Spiegel, London’s The Telegraph, and his hometown Prague Post). And, while Novak has been kicked, hit with bottles and had an ear drum punctured, he’s not complaining.
How did you get involved with Space: ROCK?
I was in Europe when they emailed me about doing an exhibition there. I said, “Well I’m here and you guys are there.” I didn’t know at this time I was going to change my life and come back to the States. So now, I’m here and [Beachland Ballroom’s] Cindy Barber reminds me. With big help from Meredith, my former art director at Scene, we’re almost done.
What was your process for picking photos for this show?
We tried to pick artists that people know. I didn’t want to put someone from The Church. The Church is a good band, but not as many people know them. We wanted big, big deals . . . giant musicians. You see them, you know.
Are the photos all from Cleveland shows?
They’re from Cleveland. We did include two Clevelanders: Glenn Schwartz, who in my opinion is amazing, and Robert Lockwood, Jr. The rest of the photos were taken at places like Wolstein Center, Gund Arena and some clubs. So everything is pretty much Ohio-based.
Do you ever get to meet the artists you shoot?
I did. David Bowie was at a “meet-and-greet” where people could take pictures with him. He said he didn’t want just anyone–just any schmuck–taking pictures. He picked me to take those photos. It was kind of an honor. He’s really nice. Really nice. There was Blondie. And Tina Turner. I had a bad experience with Axl Rose. His management company from Europe hired me to take pictures of his concert. They hired me to do the whole concert. Usually, after two or three songs you have to go. After the first song, I stood there. Only me. The other photographers had left. He got in closer and closer until his boot is flying next to my camera. I’m hoping he’s giving me an opportunity to get some close-ups but he’s really trying to kick me in the face. Then I find myself 40 inches in the air as the security guard grabs me. They took my memory card and locked me in a room for three hours. I had to wait after the concert for him to take a shower, calm down, call New York and find out I was right. He came over and gave me my card. Didn’t say too much, you know?
You’ve been away for a few years now. Have you noticed anything different about Cleveland since you were here last?
Yes. For example, Waterloo Road and the Beachland area was a more dangerous place to be 15 years ago. Now, it’s beautiful. It’s new. It’s green. It’s really nice. Downtown is better too. You can see some improvement here. Lots of new breweries. It shocked me. On every corner, there’s a brewery. They’re like mushrooms popping up everywhere. New restaurants. The roads are horrible, still. Maybe even worse than I remember. But it’s changing and for the better.
Walter Novak: He’s Back opens on Friday, January 9 and runs until March 1, 2015. (The opening reception is Friday from 6-9pm.)
15721 Waterloo Road, Cleveland, Ohio