Fueled By Death Cast Ep. 98 - DUSTIN JACK

Rock 'n' roll photography by Dustin Jack


"I always say if you don't look like a superhero, I failed. They have to look bigger than life." Dustin Jack, photographer, and artist






Dustin Jack is an incredible photographer and artist who has worked with some of the biggest and most iconic names in rock and roll. That isn't his only specialty, as he joins the show to talk about photographing rare books and various pop culture memorabilia artifacts for auction houses. Plus he gives some insight on how to navigate the world of professional photography, his unique relationship with Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Zakk Wylde, and a special collaboration he teamed up with Death Wish Coffee and Zakk to help raise money for St. Jude's Children's Hospital.


This show premiered on Halloween so Dustin and Jeff get into the spirit and dress up in costumes. Two separate stories on Science: the world's oldest intact shipwreck has been found at the bottom of the Black Sea, and NASA gives an official gamma ray constellation to Godzilla. Then, the hosts break down the origins and forgotten traditions of the Halloween holiday on The Roast, and details about the upcoming Space Oddity Mug and a special Valhalla Java mug are revealed on the Update.


Meet Ian Albert, this week's Death Star, in the Fueled By Death Show episode below:



Jeff: So Dustin, I want to start off kind of in the beginning. I love talking with photographers, especially rock photographers because it seems like the job everybody wants if you can't be a rockstar, is to be in the pit and be capturing these moments that are just incredible. How did you start down this path? How did you get into photography and then more specifically, how did you get into rock photography?

Dustin Jack: I mean, it literally goes all the way back. I'm a musician first and foremost. I was a drummer first before I was anything. And I picked up my first camera when I was probably about 15. And you know, built my own dark room, that whole thing. The school I was at did not offer photo at the time, so I just kinda, I was self taught. And playing in bands and always playing with good bands and having a camera around, I just started shooting my buddies, you know, and that's how it started. Bathroom, you know, developing film [inaudible 00:01:02].

Jeff: How much easier is that as a photographer nowadays that you don't have to do that, or do you still use a dark room?

Dustin Jack: Photoshop is my dark room.

Jeff: There you go.

Dustin Jack: I probably logged over 2000 hours in the traditional dark room.

Jeff: Wow. So that's incredible that you spent that much time in the dark room and then now with the digital age, as you said, Photoshop is your dark room. Was that a hard transition as a photographer to go from one to the other?

Dustin Jack: Not really because I started literally at the very beginning of the Photoshop. So the transition, I was still using film, you know, and I'm kind of traditionally taught. I'm used to working on four by five view cameras where you're under the sheet and everything's upside down and backwards. Processing that film and printing and crafting a print is still exactly the same process. So when I try to create an image, I really try to craft it to where it says something where ... Like I would never show somebody a strip of negatives and go, "Look at my pictures," right? You have to print them and then it has to be presented properly. So that's how I approach my concert photography for sure.

Jeff: Excellent. So you started out at an early age, you started shooting, like you said, like friends bands and stuff like that. When did it become a career? When did it like click that, oh my God, I can do this and make a career out of this?

Dustin Jack: Well, I've never done anything else, so.

Jeff: It's a good way to go.

Dustin Jack: But interestingly enough it didn't start in music photography. That was my passion. I'm a studio photographer. So I'm actually an in house photographer for two different companies now. One called Fretted Americana and one called David Brass Rare Books.

Dustin Jack: So in the beginning when I first moved to Hollywood, my very first job was working at [butterfield 00:03:05] and [butterfield 00:03:05] Auction House. options. So I was literally one day shooting a Rembrandt and the bat mobile, and the next day would be a pair of ruby slippers and a King Kong poster.

Jeff: Oh my gosh.

Dustin Jack: So it was a real trial by fire, you learned how to light things very quickly and move on. And not spend a lot of time. So once I left that place, I was pretty much prepared to do whatever I needed to do. But I also specialize in rarities, which is really weird little market, cause you got a $20 million painting. There's not a lot of people you can call to have it photographed. I became that guy.

Jeff: Wow. So is that something you enjoy or is that something that, just to pay the bills?

Dustin Jack: Oh man. No, I actually, I really missed the auctions [inaudible 00:03:56]. The things that I got to see and handle and just pass through my hands, if you've ever seen that movie, The Red Violin, basically the history and how it passes through people and affects people's lives. The amount of things that I've handled just [inaudible 00:04:12] still to me. I look back and go, I can't believe I got to do that.

Jeff: What do you think took your breath away the most in that job?

Dustin Jack: So much stuff. I've worn Elvis Presley's jumpsuits.

Jeff: What?

Dustin Jack: We're at the Elvis Auction and I'm photographing this thing and I'm like ...

Dustin Jack: So you know, I did that. And then probably one of the strangest things I've ever photographed was a swatch of Abraham Lincoln's hair from his temple when he was assassinated.

Jeff: Whoa.

Dustin: What?

Dustin Jack: One of the doctors snipped a swatch from his temple and wrapper it up. It's in like a presidential document or like a congressional document. [inaudible 00:04:58] It's all folded up in that paper so thick, you open this thing up and, no kidding man, it says "A hair of A. Lincoln with brain matter," and there's this big and I had to photograph this thing and I'm going, "Okay, that's just not something you see everyday."

Jeff: Now, did you see these things when they were sold or, or did you just like ...

Dustin Jack: Yeah.

Jeff: Yeah. So who buys Abraham Lincoln's hair?

Dustin Jack: I don't know specifically who bought it, but I know it was purchased. The auction business is so crazy. I mean you see all kinds of people from all sorts of walks of this planet. Louis the 16th furniture, who knows about Louis the 15th and 16th furniture. It's that kind of crazy stuff. And then you know the paintings and you know, just printmakers, Picasso, Rembrandt, all the California American painters. And just interesting every single day.

Dustin: Wow.

Jeff: So what are the qualifications as a photographer to take a picture of a $20 million item, what are the things you look for? What are the things you try to capture?

Dustin Jack: It's not even that, it's learning the process and how to properly light something like that. It's not enough to take a snapshot. Some of those dark paintings, they're hundreds of years old in years and years of smoke and in houses and they're just, you know, they have some goo or whatever on them and they're so dark. Some of those things required lighting and exposures of 10 minutes plus, but just knowing how to blend the two things, the lighting versus the saturation and how to properly expose. And this was all on film, so you have pretty much one shot at it.

Jeff: So do you use any of that knowledge in your rock photography now?

Dustin Jack: Not so much rock photography, but I still do for my day job with the rare books especially, and then the vintage guitars that are pretty basic. I don't know, I mean we have another friend in common, Phil X. So I created a little youtube channel about seven years ago with my friend Phil who is now in Bon Jovi, from a guitar demo show that we made here.

Jeff: So cool. So it's got to be such a different medium because I mean from photographing a painting or a book to photographing obviously movement. And you are in my humble opinion, one of the best rock photographers out there. And I mean your praises or sung far and wide from people like Phil X and Zakk Wylde and, and Lita Ford and all these people. And it's because you're able to capture something that's happening, like that. Because I mean we've all been at rock shows. I mean like there are a thousand amazing moments, but they go by in a split second and you're able to capture that. How did you become proficient at that? Is it just trial and error or are you looking for specific things?

Dustin Jack: Well, yes to both of those, but also those people are magic on their own. I'm just there to make sure people know about it. So the magic exists. I'm just there to sort of get a brief moment of it. And I think a lot of what I do is sort of in the after processing, to make it that special. But again, I get to work with some of the most talented and amazing people on the planet. And I'm usually requested. So it's pretty humbling to be able to say I can do that.

Jeff: That's incredible. I know from experience, and I know Dustin, you know this from experience too, you've actually worked photo pits before.

Dustin: They're crazy.

Jeff: Has there been, like, what's the biggest obstacle for a rock photographer? Because a lot of people think, and wrongly so, that you just show up., you take a shot, you go home, you put it in Photoshop and oh my God, Zakk Wylde looks amazing. Like that's not the case at all. Like what's the biggest obstacle working a photo pit?

Dustin Jack: Honestly, I don't have to personally work with the biggest obstacles. I'm really spoiled.

Jeff: Oh that's great.

Dustin Jack: And I will say that right up front because there's people that have to really hustle, and they work their asses off to get qualified to get access to be down there. And it's, I mean, you guys know, it's three songs usually. You get three tunes to shoot your ass off and get out, and they yank you out. It's not like you get to hang out and watch the show usually. They [inaudible 00:09:31] the photographers out and you go home. So you spend all day for nine minutes. Those guys really work their ass off. While I have done that, I don't typically have to because if I'm working for Zack or if I'm working with Nikki Sixx or whoever it is, they have me there for a specific reason and I usually get a little bit more access and I can kind of do what I needed to do to get them the shot. So I'm spoiled in the sense that I'm requested.

Jeff: Are you still in the pit or are you able to get on stage and take these shots?

Dustin Jack: [inaudible 00:10:05] do whatever I want.

Jeff: Wow. That's a good thing.

Dustin Jack: I'll send you some stuff. Again, Zakk especially, super, super generous with his time, his space, his stage space. I always tell people, if he knows I'm there, he knows I'm on stage, I'm failing. Like he doesn't need to know I'm there. You get in and get out, you know what you want to get and then you get the shot and you move on. You don't just camp out on stage and become the fifth member of Black Label Society.

Jeff: It's true. So I got to ask then, are there any crazy stories from the pit?

Dustin: I mean, you've been to more shows than one percent of one percent of the people, you know, so you must have seen like some of the craziest shit go down.

Jeff: Anything that stands out to you?

Dustin: [inaudible 00:10:58] speak up.

Dustin Jack: It's always a little crazy. Especially if people don't know each other, because it's kind of a small community of people. So there is a respect given, and there's space and again, you get your shot and you step aside and you move on. And some people don't respect the etiquette. So that's when elbows and that stuff kind of flies.

Dustin Jack: I'll say this. So following Zakk into a crowd while he's doing his solo. You know, he's got his people protecting him, but I'm getting [inaudible 00:11:34], I mean, people try to kick my ass. Typically I'm following him. I got my hands over my head trying to get these shots, people are throwing elbows in my ribs, punching me in the kidneys. I mean, it's bananas [inaudible 00:11:45].

Jeff: Holy crap. Have you ever had loss of equipment because of something like that?

Dustin Jack: I've damaged stuff but never, terribly.

Jeff: Okay. That's good. It sounds like a war zone.

Dustin: Yeah.

Dustin Jack: I'm typical pretty protected too, but when it gets nuts down there, it's crazy.

Jeff: Yeah. Well, I mean, especially for our listeners of yours that might not know, especially with Zakk because that's one of his signature moves is to get into the crowd and play a guitar solo behind his head with 30 thousand people around him. I've seen it live. It's pandemonium.

Dustin Jack: It is [inaudible 00:12:19]

Jeff: Oh my gosh. So I gotta ask this question then too, for people who want to do this type of thing, do you have advice for people wanting to break into specifically rock photography?

Dustin Jack: It's hard. You have to be very diligent and you have to try to find your own place. And not try to copy everybody. Learn from what other people are doing, but don't steal their method and try to be them. You know what I mean?

Dustin Jack: So there's some people that they'll take my style a bit and try to emulate, but I don't tell people really what my process is. So don't be me, be better than me. Do what I do and then make something special for yourself, your own signature. It's just, it's crazy because everybody has a camera in their pocket.

Dustin Jack: To make a living being a concert or rock photographer is pretty tough at this point. Thankfully I've worked here for 17 years, so it allows me a little bit of freedom to be able to go do some of that stuff.

Jeff: I mean, you seem like you're so overall grateful for everything that you get. Do you think that's been contributed to the success that you've had so far? Have you always been so grateful of everything that comes your way?

Dustin Jack: [inaudible 00:13:51]. I mean if you would've told my 14 year old self that one day I'm going to shoot the Sixx:A.M. album cover and have a Motley Crue record under my belt, I would have died right then. I get to grow up and not only meet Zakk, who was my super guitar hero growing up, but I get to work with him and I get to collaborate. And he trusts me with his image, you know, these guys trust me with their image. That's a big deal.

Jeff: Yeah. And I know Zakk is particularly picky about that kind of thing and that is a position that's not easy to catch I'm sure.

Dustin Jack: I always say if you don't look like a superhero, I failed. They have to look bigger than life. That's their moneymaker, you know. If I could just take a snapshot and I throw it out there and he doesn't look cool, what's the point? Why would somebody put out that photo? You have to ask yourself, would he want to hang this on his wall? That's what I would ask myself. Is it cool enough that this artist would want it in their own home? So that's kind of the approach I take when I'm at least [calling 00:15:06] through stuff and trying to find things I want to work on, it's usually trying to find that moment where you're like, that's a super hero, you know?

Jeff: Yeah. And it seems like they are, when they're onstage, it's always next level when you go to an amazing show like that. So how did you get tied up with Zakk? When did you start working with him? When did you meet him? How did this all happen?

Dustin Jack: It was kind of a crazy coincidence. Through Phil X, has a buddy, his buddy Garren in Canada was building a guitar for Zakk that [inaudible 00:15:38] acoustic bullseye, and he did the acoustic buzzsaw for Zakk about seven years ago. And we were at NAMM ... Oh, actually it was before NAMM. So Zakk was in town with Judas priest and I emailed Garren. I said, dude, what are the chances you think he'd let me come down and shoot Black Label? "Ah, let me find out." Sure enough, he got me cleared to shoot three songs. And I think I sent photos through Garren to Zakk and he got them, loved them, and then he was doing that the first [inaudible 00:16:17], the one that they recorded at Nokia. And he called me and said, "Hey, want to come to shoot the show, you know, free reign, shoot the whole thing, do whatever you need to do to get the shots." And that became the booklet in that box set.

Jeff: What do you think it was that caught his eye that you were doing that nobody else was?

Dustin Jack: You know, I never asked him that. [inaudible 00:16:41] created the answer.

Jeff: It's so cool that stories like that exist in rock and roll, on both sides of the coin. It's mutual creative people, mutual artists just respecting each other and wanting to work with each other. And that's what's so awesome about something like that. Is there, and this is kind of a loaded question, but is there artists out there that you haven't been able to shoot that you'd want to?

Dustin Jack: Yeah, I mean, probably to on my biggest bucket list, Metallica for sure. And Foo Fighters probably up there. I mean there's definitely a good handful of stuff that I would love to do, but going back to the Zakk show, like previously to that I've kind of lost my heart for it.

Jeff: Really?

Dustin Jack: Yeah. So I met Tommy Lee in 1999 at the auction house by chance. And I ended up befriending him and I shot the first Methods of Man record. So I started getting passionate it again and then I just kinda lost my heart for it, just wasn't, I don't know, the technology wasn't there, it just wasn't working for me. I was kind of bored with it. So I hadn't done anything for probably four or five, maybe six years. And you know, my dad had passed away and I invested in some new camera and I'm just trying to find something to get into. I was getting bored. And that's when that show came up. I was like, that's a bucket list, you know, Zakk's always tip top on my list. And so to reach out to Garren and have had that come through and to shoot that show kind of reignited everything, started everything.

Jeff: Wow. So like if it wasn't for you to kind of just say into the universe, "I wonder if he'll let me do this" and then talk to Darren, you know, and see like, just to flip that coin, you might not have ever had that fire reignited for.

Dustin Jack: Totally true.

Jeff: Wow.

Dustin: That's incredible.

Jeff: That is really, really incredible.

Dustin: I wish that would happen to me.

Jeff: Oh man.

Dustin: Not in photography, just in life in general.

Jeff: I want to ask you the question that we ask everybody on this show and I'm very curious because someone, just like you said, you know, you had done rock photography and kind of fallen away from it, got back into it, all the while still are a photographer. You still love the craft. What fuels you to keep doing it, to keep bettering yourself in the craft, to keep taking photos and getting out there with it. What fuels you to do that?

Dustin Jack: Just passion. Being a musician and being able to do that, to speak that language, feeds the same creativity that I get when I'm shooting. It's like being able to speak another language. Some people are really good at it. I got lucky. And you know, I worked my ass off at it, but I am lucky at the end of the day. So, it's passion. It's just believing in what you do. And you know, when I kind of lost favor with it, it was because of the hustle. It wasn't because I didn't like doing it anymore. It was just pain in the ass to try to get up there. And I just lost my heart for the hustle. Having people believe in what you do is, is a huge [inaudible 00:20:29]. Being requested and all that stuff and you just ... I want to be great for them. Not for me.

Jeff: That's a great way to be, for sure. And speaking on the hustle, is there a lot of travel involved in your line of work or, I'm sure that's why you live in the Hollywood area because there's a lot of rock that comes to you, but do you have to travel a lot?

Dustin Jack: Not a lot. If they want, I'll go wherever. But typically speaking, I'm usually a west coast guy. Nobody's got that kind of budget to carry around a photographer anymore.

Jeff: Oh totally.

Dustin Jack: And for me, licensing is a big part of it. Not so much being paid to shoot. So using the image [inaudible 00:21:20] is definitely where I make a little bit more money than getting paid to shoot. Like going down to the Whiskey on a Wednesday night, it is not going to be worth your while.

Jeff: Right, right. That brings up a question I didn't even think about, what is it like in this digital day and age as a photographer, because I mean you're taking these iconic shots of these superheroes on stage and you're making your money on that, but then you know, they can go on the Internet and be downloaded by a million people. Does that affect the industry in a negative way?

Dustin Jack: For sure. And it's flooded. It's a million to one, for every one of my [inaudible 00:22:03] shots that [inaudible 00:22:07], there's 100 thousand people that shot Black Sabbath on the [inaudible 00:22:09]. There's so many images out there, so again, you really have to stand out and make it matter. You have to live like it matters. It's not about a snapshot. I mean anybody can get a shot with their phone and I think people are starting to see too that, I mean there was a while there where fans were just given band's phone shots and they were happy to have them, but I think they're finally starting to see the difference between having a professional out there and having fan photos.

Dustin: It's so weird, we've come to this talk a million times with musicians, with actors, with directors and with photographers of like what technology has done for the environment that we're all in. And it seems like it's a repeated theme of, it's watered down because anybody and everybody can do it. Either write a song and put it on the Internet, take a photo, put it on the Internet, make a movie, put it on the Internet. It's so watered down and it's so hard to be heard in that cacophony of just internet madness. It's so weird to hear that it hits the photography side as well, I never even thought about it.

Dustin Jack: Just throw a filter on it.

Jeff: Yeah.

Dustin Jack: For me, I had to create those filters. Right? Now you can just scroll through it. Back in the day you had to invent that stuff. For a certain degree, I still do. I have my own recipes and processes that I keep pretty close to my vest. But ideally, it is about creating a look and being individual and specific and not being part of the flood.

Jeff: Yeah. Well, I think it's one of the first times we've ever heard this on this show is, is your answer of be different. Don't try and be what you see out there, be better than what you see out there and then you can succeed. And I think that is some of the best advice we've gotten in the realm of this million people can do whatever it is kind of thing. And I applaud you for that. I think that's very, very well spoken.

Dustin Jack: People do ask me all the time or I'll get a comment on Instagram, like, "I can only imagine being as good as you one day." I'm like, you're shooting way too low. Be better than me, why would you be as good as me. Be better. Be killer. Why are you going to hold yourself to my standard?

Jeff: That's great. It's truly inspiring. Finally I want to talk a little bit about this collaboration that we're going to be doing, Death Wish Coffee, Zakk Wylde and you, which is really exciting. We've got our throwback Valhalla Java mug that we're going to be releasing a limited edition of it with the old school logo on it. And you're going to be able to-

Dustin Jack: I haven't seen it yet.

Jeff: I'll send you a nice photo of it, but there it is. Yeah. And then we're going to be giving away a print of a photo of yours of Zakk. Do you remember the show this was? Do you remember the moment that you took this photo? I know that's got to be asking a lot. It's like, how many times have you photographed Zakk?

Dustin Jack: I think that was in Vegas on the last Black Label Men.

Jeff: Oh God, it is just, I can hear it. That's the coolest thing about this photo is, is I can hear Zakk just destroying the guitar solo in this photo, it's just ...

Dustin Jack: [inaudible 00:25:34] he handpicked that.

Jeff: Really?

Dustin Jack: So it makes it even better. Yeah. We went through maybe 10 or 20 different images and that was his choice. And a few of them, like I'd send him stuff, he was like, "Nah, I'm not feeling it. No, no, no." And he actually I think went through some of my stuff on his phone or something and like "This one. I want that one."

Jeff: That's awesome information to know for all of our Valhalla Java fans out there. This is handpicked by Zakk, Dustin Jack print. Wow.

Dustin: It's a good pick too because I feel like, I mean the first time I saw this image I could at any point anytime close my eyes and conjure up this image in my mind. It's just one of those images. It's like a good logo, you know, you just close your eyes, you still see it, imprinted on your eyelids.

Dustin Jack: Super ... Regular of mine. It's a little different than some of the stuff that we usually do. So it's cool to see, just something a little different.

Jeff: Yeah. And it'll be cool because anybody who buys this mug and print set, they'll have your work be able to be framed in their house. And like I said, having Zakk just playing a guitar solo on your wall for eternity. I think that's really rad. That's so cool. And then also when we do release this, which is very soon, proceeds of this will go to benefit St Jude's Children's Hospital, which is one of Zakk's most favorite charities to give to. And that just makes my heart feel great too.

Dustin Jack: And mine too. My wife and I give to St Jude every month. [inaudible 00:27:10] this came up, it was [inaudible 00:27:11].

Jeff: No brainer. Gosh, that's so cool. I hope we get to do more things like this, you know, like specialty kind of stuff because I mean it's cool, working for Death Wish Coffee, it's cool. We get to release new mugs or like throwback mugs like this because the mug lifers as they call them get really excited about it. But to be able to add something extra like a kick ass photo print to it is just above and beyond.

Dustin Jack: Above all that even, just to know that it;s going to go help those kids.

Jeff: I know.

Dustin Jack: I mean, it's humbling to be able to do stuff like that. Last year during the hurricane I asked Zakk if I could put out a special print, I only put it out for a couple of weeks, and all the proceeds went to help the animals that were abandoned in hurricanes, and we raised like $5,000. I got to send that check to a rescue down there and you know, thanks to Zakk, DJ [inaudible 00:28:08] did a print and Nikki Sixx allowed me to do a print. And between those three things we got to send five grand to go feed those animals that people that were just tying to trees and leaving. [crosstalk 00:28:23]

Dustin: Well, thanks to you, I, probably [crosstalk 00:28:23] What was that?

Dustin Jack: It was terrible for all the people, but it was really horrible what happened to all the animals too. [inaudible 00:28:30] facets of terribleness.

Dustin: And because of you, I think, it's where my rescue dog came from. So I probably have my dog because of your proceeds.

Dustin Jack: That would be awesome.

Dustin: And he's the best dog in the world. So if just by a small chance that happening, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

Dustin Jack: No, I mean I have a 14 year old Yorkie, so [inaudible 00:28:52]

Dustin: So cool, man.

Jeff: Finally, for our viewers and listeners, what is the best way to follow what you do? Is it social media, is i your website, what would be the best way for them to follow what you do?

Dustin Jack: All the above, but probably the most current and active is Instagram. It just makes the most sense for me.

Jeff: Totally.

Dustin Jack: You know, it's easy. I can put up a picture every other day or every day, kind of keep people aware of what I'm doing. But I'm just at DustinJackPhoto on Instagram and twitter and I think it's Facebook/DustinJackPhotography on Facebook.

Jeff: Excellent. I'll put all that in the show.

Dustin Jack: My website is just DustinJackPhotography.com.

Jeff: And I'll put that in there too. Final question. Is there anything project wise of yours that is upcoming you can talk about? I know a lot of stuff like album covers and stuff you have to keep secret sometimes, but like is there anything coming up that you'd like to plug?

Dustin Jack: There's something hugely awesome and completely secret that I can't say.

Jeff: Yay. Awesome.

Dustin Jack: If you know who I work with, you might have an idea.

Jeff: Okay, well I'm going to take that clip and we'll replay that when Dustin actually announces this super cool, secret thing that he's working on.

Dustin: Totally. Quick bonus question, if you could photograph any dead celebrity, who would you pick?

Dustin Jack: The king. Elvis, of course. Once in '56 and once in like '69.

Jeff: Nice, get the dichotomy.

Dustin Jack: Like, king of the world on both levels in both of those time periods.

Dustin: That's awesome. Good choice my man.

Jeff: Good choice. Dustin, I can't thank you enough for taking time to talk with us on the show. It was a true pleasure getting to meet and talk with you.

Dustin Jack: My pleasure guys. I really had a good time. It's fun.