Danny Clinch is responsible for some of the most captivating and impressive photographs in music. He's graced the cover of Rolling Stone and has traveled with the stars. Everyone from Phish and Dave Mathews to Johnny Cash and Radiohead trust him enough to be the man behind the shot. Clinch has made it--and then some--he's a legend. On the other side of the lens we have a young buck who's just starting to make his mark, Jeremy Jones of JamBase fame [well maybe not fame, but hey, it's the holidays, let's live it up]. In this special Thanksgiving Day feature we paired these two working men up in hopes of finding out just how one makes it in this competitive photo world, and how to get David Byrne in a trash can. We figured Jones could craft the questions all your fledgling photo geeks would want to know, while unraveling the beauty of Clinch's work. So let that tryptophan settle and cozy up to the computer. Come along as we go to lens to lens with the amazing Danny Clinch.
Jeremy Jones: So Danny; do you think the chicken or the egg came first for you in the world of music photography? Did you love music before or after your love for photography came about?
Danny Clinch: I guess I always loved music and I was surrounded by photography in the sense that mom and my grandfather were into taking photos. My grandfather was sort of an amateur photographer, but he always took everything real seriously and he also took good care of his things. So even though he was an amateur he bought really nice cameras, took care of them and found out as much as he could about photography. My mom was always the snapshot type and there were always cameras around and I was able to pick them up. I was really into drawing and art.
Jeremy Jones: Were you schooled professionally?
Danny Clinch: I went to the New England School of Photography in Boston for two years. I went to a community college in New Jersey for two years, Ocean County College for visual communications, and then I went to a couple of photographic workshops, which I highly encourage people to do, they were really good for me. I did the Ansel Adams gallery workshop with Annie Leibovitz and David Hockney and then I did Friends of Photography workshop in Parnell, CA with Sylvia Plachy.
Jeremy Jones: Wow Great.
Danny Clinch: I don't know if you are familiar with her work...
Stray Cats by Danny Clinch
Not hers but Annie Leibovitz and David Hockney..
I got to know Annie at the workshop and I started interning for her and I worked for her for like a year as an assistant and that turned into working for Steven Meisel and Mary Ellen Mark. And that was really good for me to get in and work with Annie and see where and how things were done right.
Yeah, I couldn't have asked for a better opportunity.
Well, then the music thing was something that was just there, I mean, everybody likes music right?
My dad didn't have a lot of different music, but the music he had he played all the time. He'd listen to the radio a lot, so did my mom, and then we had a bunch of 1950's compilation stuff that we listened to over and over. As a kid I can remember listening to the Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens, and Buddy Holly, Elvis. And I just got sucked up into Neil Young and Van Halen and stuff like that...
Neil Young by Danny Clinch
Back in the David Lee Roth years?
Yeah the David Lee Roth years. And I started to sneak my camera into shows. You know, it was easier back then believe it or not to sneak it in. In the 60's it was like, you could go wherever you want with your camera and nobody cared.
If you could get your way backstage with your camera, it wasn't a big deal.
Access wasn't the same as it is today?
No, and then it turned into you couldn't get your camera in, no cameras allowed but if you got it passed the security guards then, you know, then you could pretty much shoot pictures and I used to do that a lot.
Great! That's how I have kind of gotten myself going as well. What type of shows were you trying to shoot back then? Did you go after everything you could or just music that you were listening to?
I would go to everything I could. I was not necessarily happy unless I could get my camera in. You know Neil Young, Van Halen, Bob Seger, Ted Nugent, I remember getting into a Ted Nugent show, it was really funny. Who else? The Strays Cats, I used to go to The Stone Pony a lot, and they used to let you bring your camera in...
David Lee Roth by Danny Clinch
Where was your home base back then?
I was in New Jersey. So I would get into The Stone Pony or I would go to the Spectrum in Philadelphia and stuff like that.
Do you have a certain plan going into a live show that you put together prior to the start that helps you determine what shots you will capture, kind of like a choreographed dance or do you let the performance happen around you? For instance, I know that a lot of times I never shoot the drummer, so before the show I will try to put together a plan to get something of that person.
If somebody hires me for a specific reason, then I try to think about why they hired me, for what particular reason, what are their needs basically. But, I really try to shoot as naturally as I can, I am waiting for a moment. I am waiting for a framing, like when things are moving really fast and you're waiting for that moment when it just feels right, you know, and you just grab that moment. After a while, if I've done that and I feel that things are going really good, I think to myself, "what can I shoot that's just different then what anybody else is shooting?" How can I separate my self from anybody else? You know, I shoot people's feet, or I shoot somebody in the foreground and throw them out of focus and shoot the person behind them, or I get down really really low and try to wait for something to come into the edge of the frame. Sometimes its cool, sometimes its not.
When you are shooting live shows, are you shooting 35mm, digital or have you shot medium format?
Everything live really. I've shot Hasselblad live, I've shot half frames a lot, I shoot my Diana live sometimes, I shoot with those four frame cameras, you know those Lomo's or whatever you want to call them? I've shot with those live.
Iggy Pop by Danny Clinch
So you get real experimental then?
Yes, I've even gone so far as to take one of those four frame Lomo cameras and drilling out the F-stop. I tried to drill it out to make it F 5.6 and get some action with that.
Do you remember when you got to stop serving tables, or whatever you did to make ends meet and start shooting film for a living?
Yeah I do, assisting other photographers really helped me out. I felt like I wasn't just waiting tables. I was assisting other photographers; I was getting by with the pay that I was getting. And I was doing photography, and I was learning. I wasn't waiting tables and doing something that was completely contrary to what it was that I wanted to be doing. I really think that assisting is the way to go, you will learn way more assisting then you will in school. Not that you shouldn't go to school. You should go to school, and there are several reasons why you should go to school, to get the solid background and to get information on the technical stuff. But you got to get your foot in the door. I have people here that do internships, and I try to get them on shoots. I started as an intern and I think that is a really, really good way to go. You give up your time for free, you hopefully work on some jobs, you get to know what's going on, you get to know how things are done, and if you work really hard and put your self out there, by the time it comes for you to leave, the person you are interning for will hopefully say, "you know what, I'm not sure I want to go without you. Why don't you stick around and I'll pay you!"
So it's kind of like learning by doing instead of reading a book or something?
There is enough work out there for that. That's how you're going to learn. Everybody's different, I couldn't say that you can't do it without that but I guess to get back to your question, I think there was a point when I was assisting and I started to get work and if I could get somebody to pay my film cost and processing expenses, and I could make as much money that day taking pictures as I did assisting, I considered that a victory. Back in the day I was making $125 assisting a day. And now they make double that, assistants make about $250 a day. But they live in New York City or Brooklyn.
That would be good money down here in Atlanta!
[Laughs] Oh, Yeah!