If seeing Slash tear into the solo “Sweet Child O’ Mine” from a few feet away every night is part of your dream job description, then welcome to the world of Katarina Benzova, the official photographer for Guns N’ Roses (GNR).
The 36-year-old Slovakian-born photographer has been shooting the American rock legends since 2010. The rock legends return to Tel Aviv, on June 5, at Park Hayarkon, when they kick off their summer world tour.
Over the years, Benzova has also captured images of some of the world’s top touring artists, including The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, Def Leppard and Van Halen. If she gravitates toward the raucous side of rock and roll, that’s because she likes it and the visuals that it generates.
“The reason I mostly shoot classic rock bands is that I love the rawness of it. I have to like the music the musicians I photograph play for me to be able to get in tune with the performance during the show and get the best photos. Especially when you tour with a band and you listen to those songs over and over.”Katarina Benzova
“The reason I mostly shoot classic rock bands is that I love the rawness of it. I have to like the music the musicians I photograph play for me to be able to get in tune with the performance during the show and get the best photos. Especially when you tour with a band and you listen to those songs over and over,” she told The Post in a recent interview.
Getting into a career of rock band photography
It was photography that enabled the striking Benzova to leave her small mountain town of Mikulas, Slovakia, and see the world. But it wasn’t as a photographer but as a fashion model.
“I used to be on the other side of the lens since I was 14, and that job took me around the world. I started to document everything from my travels, as well as watching photographers during photo shoots. When I outgrew that profession, I wanted to give photography a real chance to become my next career. And I’m happy it worked out with some luck, good timing, hard work and determination,” said Benzova, who lives in Venice, California.
That determination and hard work has made her a favorite of her subject, especially GNR, and frontman Axl Rose, who saw her work and asked her to join their tours as an official photographer. Being on the road for an entire tour forces Benzova to conjure up new ways to chronicle what’s happening onstage.
“That’s one of the biggest challenges I’m facing when touring with bands. And I love it. Photography is such a powerful tool and there are always new techniques to learn and apply. So I’m experimenting a lot. Some bands like to keep things simple, some are open to new ideas,” she said.
AT THE same time, Benzova is intent on protecting her hearing from the mega-decibel music exploding from the sound system only meters away from her.
“I wear in-ear monitors with the majority of the bands I tour with so I can protect my hearing, as well as hear the music on a lower level and also hear instructions if there is anything happening, or something needs to be photographed,” she explained.
Despite the potential pitfall of dealing with likely massive egos, Benzova added that most of the artists she shoots don’t issue directives about their good side or other demands.
“Sometimes artists like to sit down with me and go over the photos and give feedback. And I love that, as I know what they like and want. With some bands, it’s the management that goes through the photos,” said Benzova, adding that the relationships she develops with band members enable them to let their guards down for more authentic images.
“I don’t only see the bands I tour with up-close nightly when I shoot them, we travel together, as well, and spend time together off stage, so we learn a lot about each other. A lot of them become family and we spend more time together than with our real families,” she said.
Benzova’s work has appeared in Vogue, Rolling Stone, Forbes and Variety, as well as ads for Maserati, Rockstar Energy and Gibson Guitars, and at exhibitions during the Cannes Film Festival.
In addition, she worked on a documentary, Revolucion, and published a book of the same title that takes place in Cuba, telling the story of one of the first American bands to play in the country, The Dead Daisies.
Benzova’s first visit to Israel was with GNR when they performed in 2012 before Rose, Slash and bassist Duff McKagan reunited (the band also played in Tel Aviv with the core trio in 1993, in the Rose-led replacement band in 2012 and in their current reunion format in 2017).
In between, she’s been back with The Dead Daisies, in 2013 and with Aerosmith, in 2017
“I absolutely love it. I found kind people, incredible food, beautiful country and a lot of talented musicians. I became a friend with one of your incredible artists, Ninet Tayeb, and I plan on working with her more. So, hopefully, I will get to come visit your magical country more.”