I’ll (sheepishly) admit that I wasn’t familiar with Danny Clinch as a photographer until relatively recently, when my pal Lev Kuperman excitedly told me that Clinch was shooting a campaign for us here at Deutsch.
My obvious next step was to download the iPad version of Clinch’s 1998 book Discovery Inn to find out more. After seeing Clinch’s photos of legendary musicians such as Johnny Cash, Tupac Shakur, BB King, the Beastie Boys, Tony Bennett— the list goes on and on—I quickly realized that I had definitely seen many of his photographs, just without being aware of the photographer behind them. So it was very timely that Clinch would be the next presenter in our Deutsch Commons Live series.
Clinch presented work from various stages in his career, from early portraits of rock and hip hop artists to current ad campaigns and short films. He has an easygoing, conversational style that is the secret to the trust and deep connection that he forms with the subjects of his iconic photographs. This trust is obvious in the resulting work: intimate portraits of moments captured when his subjects have let their guard down.
Rather than focusing on technical details, Clinch shared anecdote after anecdote about the way the images came together. Like the story of the time he bought a vintage ’59 Cadillac with the hopes of making a portrait of Chuck Berry leaning on it, despite being forewarned by Berry’s handlers that he wouldn’t pose with a car that wasn’t his. (After the “real” shoot, Clinch coaxed him out back where the car was secretly parked and got the shot he had conceived.) Or the story of bringing a selection of LPs and a portable turntable to a shoot with Keith Richards to channel the legendary rocker’s first meeting with Mick Jagger in the London tube.
Clinch spoke about the progression of his career—from starting out as an intern with Annie Leibovitz, where he was first exposed to the high-end, production-heavy side of photography; to developing relationships with then-emerging artists like Blind Melon, Pearl Jam, and Green Day; to eventually making his way into shooting and directing music videos, documentaries, and advertising campaigns.
He says he’s known for being the guy who can get in with minimal gear and get things done, but he also gets a rush from the bigger, more intricately produced shoots that are necessary when there’s a specific end-product that is required from the gig—as is the case with advertising shoots. Even in these shoots, though, he’ll often turn off the lights between takes, and snap a few frames using his more stripped-down, traditional style.
The Q&A session at the end of the presentation was engaging and revealing, giving us a much-appreciated peek into Danny’s process and experiences over a long and continually evolving career. On the question of film versus digital, he said he still shoots film—his tool of choice is still his trusty Leica loaded with a roll of Tri-X film. But he appreciates the immediacy of digital and iPhoneography—he’s a fan of Hipstamatic and even has an Instagram account (@dannybones64), though he admits to not being that active on the service.
He also talked about his own development as a musician. He spoke modestly about his abilities as a harmonica player, but evidently he’s good enough to have played on-stage with the Foo Fighters on the track “Another Round” from their album Skin and Bones – which still nets him the occasional royalty check (Clinch also directed the DVD of the live performance).
Clinch also played live on stage with Bruce Springsteen at a concert in Asbury Park in New Jersey. Understandably nervous, Danny had run backstage to get a harmonica in the right key for the song, so he was lucky to have missed hearing the Boss introduce him as famous photographer Danny Clinch, adding “but I can’t vouch for him as a harmonica player”.
If you missed Danny’s presentation, you can watch it in the video below. For more info on Danny Clinch and his upcoming projects, visit his website at www.dannyclinch.com, and follow him on twitter @Danny_Clinch.