What’s it like to photograph Bruce Springsteen, Tupac, Stevie Nicks, Jay Z and the Foo Fighters? Just ask music photographer Danny Clinch who has worked with all these musicians and more in his impressive multi-decade career, which includes a photo booth backstage at the Grammys.
We recently caught up with Clinch at the opening of his exhibit “Transparent” at The Asbury Hotel in Asbury Park, New Jersey, a town which holds a lot of history for the New Jersey native.
Below Clinch opens up about his Jersey roots, photographing the late David Bowie and what it’s really like backstage at the Grammys.
What is one of your favorite memories of shooting in Asbury Park?
The one that really stands out to me was coming out here with my 1938 Pontiac. I came here to photograph Bruce and he was doing a rehearsal at the Paramount Theater. This was around 2009. I brought my Pontiac which I had recently gotten. Bruce likes old cars, so I was like “Hey man, you have to come see my Pontiac.” And he was like, “Oh man this is a great ride, we should do some photos with your car.” He goes, “Let’s just bring it up on the boardwalk.” And I was like, “Can we bring it up on the boardwalk?” And then I thought to myself, “Of course we can, he’s Bruce Springsteen.” We brought it up there, and we went out and we did some photos with the car on the boardwalk. And then they ended up using the photograph for a bunch of things. I still see it to this day, and there he is leaning on my car.
What music do you listen to on set?
I have a really good playlist that’s really eclectic. From early rockabilly to blues to classic rock. I always find that if I’m at an impasse and I want to put something on, it’s James Brown. I feel like people loosen up a little and get a little energy boost. They always feel good. Two occasions that stand out in my mind when I had a great playlist going was of course Bruce Springsteen wanted this playlist — he was like “I need this playlist,” and then Ringo Star. Ringo was like “Whose playlist is this? I want this playlist.” We’re on the right track I think.
Do you ever find yourself disenfranchised with millennial music?
At the end of the day good music is good music, whether it’s made with an instrument or made with electronics. I do kind of smile when a great band like The London Souls or Alabama Shakes come along and they bring back the soulful, simple, less is more approach to great music. That’s my kind of thing. But then my son turns me on to the Flatbush Zombies and Joey Bada$$. I like everything.
Do you find posing for photos comes more organically for musicians? Are they all inherently cool?
I think everybody is different. I think some people can just stand there and look really awesome and others you really have to work with them. Some people are really just comfortable in front of the camera and giving back and some really need direction. I found that oftentimes even if I don’t feel like people need direction I give it to them, because they really appreciate it.
There’s this amazing candid photo on your site of Jay Z and Kanye West just hanging outside and they both look so happy. What’s the story behind that?
That was when they announced Tidal. I did all the Tidal films and photos. They were just hanging and talking. It was a moment in time.
We lost many great musicians in 2016, from David Bowie to Prince to George Michael. Do you have any memories working with any of those legends?
I was at one of the concerts for Tibet at Carnegie Hall back in 2002 and David Bowie was there with Adam Yauch [late Beastie Boys member]. So I had a great moment were I was able to hang out with him and shoot some photos and stuff. I was also at his 50th birthday concert and I was able to photograph that, and that was really cool as well.
Is it true you should never meet your idols?
I hope not. I’ve been pretty lucky. Most of the folks that I’ve come to know and admire really are awesome people. People like Eddie Vedder, certainly Bruce, Tom Waits, Dave Grohl. They’re all people who you might expect them to be, they really are what they’re presenting to the world. You’d definitely want to go have a beer with Dave Grohl.
Danny Clinch’s “Transparent” will be open every day through April at one the town’s newest hot spot, The Asbury Hotel in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Photographs can be purchased, ranging in price from $500 to $5,000.