Jonathan Mannion Talks Shooting Eminem's 'Marshall Mathers' LP

Famed photographer Jonathan Mannion reflects on 20 years of 'The Marshall Mathers LP'

5/23/2020 7:15:00 PM

Famed photographer Jonathan Mannion reflects on 20 years of 'The Marshall Mathers LP'

Legendary photographer Jonathan Mannion spoke to Billboard about the 20th anniversary of Eminem's Marshall Mathers LP and where the album cover ranks in his collection.

(debuted at No. 1 with a whopping 1.78 million copies its opening week) but highlighted his abilities as a raw and gifted storyteller.With Em looking to shed light on his real-life persona of Marshall Mathers, he hired famed photographer Jonathan Mannion to help capture his vision.

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Mannion, who previously shot legendary album covers such as Jay-Z's 1996Reasonable Doubtand DMX's 1998Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, relished the task of teaming up with one of rap's polarizing acts because of their commonalities. Like Eminem, Mannion was a young, hungry creative from the Midwest, whose affinity for hip-hop ran deep, dating back to DJ Quik's debut single,"Born and Raised in Compton."

Em and Mannion's tag-team expanded to over two continents. Not only did they shoot photos forMMLPin Amsterdam but also Detroit. From the pizza shop that Eminem used to work at to even his old childhood home where he sat on the steps for the album's classic cover art, nothing was off-limits.

"It was great," recalls Mannion of the shoot in from of Em's old house."It was him in his element and delivering his journey. You know, the humble nature of him and his process of getting to be this megastar, which is rooted so clearly in talent. His talent and his relentless drive was it."

Mannion spoke toabout the 20th anniversary ofThe Marshall Mathers LP, where the album cover ranks in his collection and Em's dedication to delivering the best shots.What does the number 20 mean for you having been involved in the Marshall Mathers LP?

It's really hard to put into words how important this album is for the world, for Eminem (and) for me. There's an endless amount of stories. We shot in Amsterdam and Detroit. Originally, this album was meant to be calledAmsterdam. I was like,"We have to go to Amsterdam. We have to all get on a plane and go there. That's the only way we're doing this album." He happened to be performing out there and said,"This is going to sync up perfectly."

We did a phenomenal session out there -- really poured out hearts into it. Then, I think there was a realization that he wanted to present this trifecta of who he was: Slim Shady, Marshall Mathers and Eminem. This is how genius this guy is. He's thinking farther down the road to be able to craft these versions of himself. Slim Shady was the gimmick to get everyone's attention, which was still rooted in something phenomenal.

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Then, he was like,"Let me tell you about my journey. Let me allow myself to be vulnerable within the space and deliver 'me' and how I really got here [with] my struggles, my pain," and I think that's when everybody really connected with him on a different level. It wasn't just this pop phenomenon that he was rooted in reverence for the culture. He obviously felt like he had to prove himself probably more than the next MC just because he was from Detroit and a white boy. He had something to prove and he was clinical on the album, delivering masterpiece after masterpiece.

When it was time to dig into who Marshall Mathers was, we had to do another session in Detroit. So we flew to Detroit to kind of continue [the shoot]. It kind of became this nice balance of Amsterdam and all of these lax drugs laws and all of these experimental moments that he was pursuing at that time to kind of ground himself. We shot outside the pizza shop that he used to work at with people that he still knew from there.

I remember you said in a past interview that you shot him in his boxers and trench coat in the freezing cold towards the end of the shoot.It's dedication. I was with him entirely, pushing and wanting more, but he one-upped me in this session. We did that and I was like,"OK. He's going to be tired." He's in boxer shorts, combat boots and a trench coat being the fullness of the character that he was presenting as this Amsterdam version of Em. He pushed it and I was like,"Man, this is incredible. What we achieved out here was beyond comprehension. I can't wait for when we get back to see the session and go through it."

He was like,"Man, I was thinking I want to do one more shot. Can we go back to the hotel? I want to be in my hotel room writing to my daughter." Usually, I'm the one begging rappers to go a little bit farther because I want to give them the world, but it flipped on me. It wasn't begrudgingly that I went there to that place. I was like,"I'm with this. Thank you." It made another really phenomenal image that we got to share with the world because of that effort.

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