For my second of a series of interviews I have been doing as an intern for LL Reps, I had the pleasure of speaking with photographer Danny Clinch. Danny and I sat together backstage at Phish’s 2015 festival, Magnaball, which he had been hired to photograph. We met to discuss Clinch’s career as one of the most well known photographers in the music business. Clinch’s ability to seamlessly capture the heart and spirit of his subject has brought him to be one of the most influential rock photographers of his time. Having photographed some of the biggest names in the field, Clinch has become an established piece of the modern world of rock and roll. It was a privilege to question Clinch about what sets him apart from the other photographers working in the musical field, and the process behind his work.
There are so many photographers taking pictures of the same people, using the same equipment, and yet somehow your photos are so distinctly different. How do you create such a unique style and what sets your work apart?
I try to create a relaxed atmosphere in my photo shoots. I’m looking for the moment that feels real. Even if I was doing a portrait of somebody and it was a very deliberate portrait, I would still look for that moment when they aren’t paying attention entirely. And of course, as many as you take, which one are you going to choose? I choose the one that has more soulfulness to it. I’m always looking for a moment. A lot of the people that I photograph are famous, as well, and many people will rely on that. They’ll say “oh, I have a photo of Bruce Springsteen, it’s got to be good!” but still, it’s how you edit your work as well.
Is it sometimes hard to get people to cooperate while photographing them?
I think, for the most part, people understand that, as a musician, it is part of their jobs as entertainers; they have to do photo shoots now and again. I have had people who have been unhelpful, but I think that some people know how to be photographed, and other people, they just don’t. Even if they’re entertainers, maybe they’re not comfortable being photographed.
Who has been the most intimidating person you have ever shot? Was there ever anyone who you were nervous to shoot?
I would say probably Bob Dylan. That sort of freaked me out, I didn’t even think that he was really going to show up. I was told I had a shoot with Bob Dylan and I was like “Ok!” and I was thinking to myself, “what do I talk to Bob Dylan about?”. For me, I try to find something that I have in common with someone. I knew that he plays harmonica, and I also play harmonica, so I talked to him about harmonica players who have inspired him, and we talked about some blues. He was probably one of the most intimidating. Also Tom Waits, who I really admire. That also intimidated me, because he’s just so creative. It’s just, what can I bring to the table that he would find interesting? And that’s when it becomes a collaboration, which is really fun. It’s being able to say to someone “here are my ideas, what are your ideas?”. Tom Waits will show up with a box full of funny masks, or a magnifying glass, or a big horn.
You have been taking photos for decades now. Has your process changed at all since you first started shooting?
Well, I always try to experiment with things that are going to open up some great doors that makes it feel better, so I’m always trying different cameras, and I’m trying different lenses, that sort of thing. But I think what has really changed most for me, is that when I was younger, I was just throwing everything at the wall just to see what would stick. Now I feel like I know what’s going to work a lot quicker, so I’m able to get there a lot faster. I have actually had this conversation with a lot of my friends who I admire, and I have talked about how I can push the envelope for myself.
Do you have a favorite shoot that you have ever done, or any favorite photographs?
Yeah, I have a ton of pictures that I’m proud of, and I feel like a lot of the time, I’ll say to someone that the reason I love this picture is because of the life experience I had while taking it. Photographically, it’s not better than another one, it was the experience I had taking it. I was talking with my friend, and we asked ourselves what could have been the best shoot we’ve done, and we decided that it was the Eddie Vedder shoot, because he flew us to Hawaii and we went to Oahu, and we spent the weekend driving around looking for locations, and Eddie was playing his ukulele, and we went on paddle board rides, and drove all around, and just afterwards we would just sit at Eddie’s place and have a beer. So it’s kind of hard to beat.
You’ve done some work in video, such as your video for Alabama Shake’s Don’t Wanna Fight. Is it very different working in video than it is in photography, or is the process fairly similar?
It’s similar in the sense that it’s storytelling. That’s what photography is, that’s what filming is. It’s just a different way of telling the story. It’s a lot more production and a lot more teamwork in filmmaking. You could be the director and the editor and the camera man, people do it all the time, but the way I do it, there’s teamwork and it’s a group effort. So you find a guy who has a really great eye and you count on him to help visually tell the story, and then there’s the editor, who comes in and they blend their creativity and collaboration to the process.
Did you expect to become one of the biggest rock photographers out there, or did it take you by surprise?
It did, really. I’m not really a planner. I just started taking photos, and I loved what I did, and I still love what I do. I just kept putting it out in the universe, and kept working hard and working harder. But what’s really cool, is bands like Phish, and Pearl Jam, and The Foo Fighters, and Bruce Springsteen, bands like that, if I go out there, its amazing, people know who I am! Because I’ve been doing this for so many years. It’s kind of cool to be walking around and have that be part of my day.