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Danny Clinch

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Over the past 15 years, Danny Clinch has established himself as one of the premiere photographers on the popular music scene. He has defined a highly distinctive documentary style that combines raw immediacy and elegance of composition. While all photographs by definition capture a moment, Clinch’s work communicates the restlessness that is so much a part of the world of music. Despite their stillness and rough-hewn beauty, his pictures are almost eerily informed by the motion that preceded their creation and that, it sometimes seems, will instantly resume the moment the viewer turns away. They are not so much energy made visible, as some paintings have been described, but evocations of the energy rippling under the surface of momentary tranquility, a kind of storm within the calm. That tension lends his photographs a complex emotional texture that makes them both riveting and rewarding every time you encounter them.

A New Jersey native, Clinch began his professional career working as an intern for Annie Liebowitz, one of his initial inspirations. “The first music images I really loved were Annie’s early work,” he says. “In particular, there was a shot of the Allman Brothers, of Duane and Gregg asleep on a bus or a plane that really stood out for me. Annie was clearly someone who was getting beyond the obvious portrait.” Working for Leibowitz for a year provided priceless insights into the world of major-league photography.

Clinch absorbed other important lessons while assisting Steven Meisel, Timothy White and Mary Ellen Mark. “From her I learned about responding to a situation, having to think on your feet really quickly,” he says. “She was a huge influence.” 

That ability to work spontaneously within unforeseen circumstances is a hallmark of Clinch’s approach. It is also why musicians who don’t ordinarily trust photographers trust Clinch. “I try to make people comfortable, and I try to take an honest photograph,” he says. He has shot everyone from Radiohead to Public Enemy, from Phish to John Lee Hooker. And his work has appeared in Vanity Fair, Spin, Rolling Stone, GQ, Esquire, the New Yorker, New York Times Magazine, Mojo and Q.

 “I like shooting in real situations, when people are doing things that they ordinarily do,” he explains. “I love going into the studio while people are actually recording, or being backstage while musicians are trying to work out a song. And I love location best of all – I’m always going to respond to a setting with beautiful light. I also thrive on situations where someone says to me, ‘You’ve got to go in and photograph this person, and you’ve got five minutes.’ As much as that sucks – five minutes! – it’s also a great challenge.” As the marquee sign in one of Clinch’s photographs reads, “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.”

In addition to his frequent work for magazines and album covers, Clinch has also published two books of photographs: Discovery Inn (1998), which is a collection of work shot over a ten-year period, and When the Iron Bird Flies (2000), which documents the Tibetan Freedom Concerts, where Clinch was the official photographer. His work has been the subject of a September 2001 exhibition at the Govinda Gallery in Washington, D.C. He has also completed “Pleasure and Pain,” a documentary film about Ben Harper, a young roots-rock musician with a passionate following. “I shot the movie the same way I shoot photographs,” Clinch says, “just trying to be there, not be in the way, shoot with some funky cameras using funky film, get some nice compositions, have fun, have a great life experience.”

As for the future, Clinch wants to keep on doing it all – shooting for magazines, putting together books, making films. “I’m known as a music photographer, and I’m very proud of that,” he says. “But I want to continue doing films and photo essays -- personal projects that are good for the soul. The photographers I most admire – like Robert Frank or Irving Penn – never allowed themselves to be pigeonholed. My goal is really to photograph not only musicians, but many types of people that are interesting and have integrity.”“Still, I’ve never been very good at making a plan, either in my work or my life,” he concludes. “I just wing it.”

-- Anthony DeCurtis  March 2002

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For more information about the theatrical release of Pleasure & Pain or to interview directors Danny Clinch or Sam Lee please contact Lynn Hasty at Green Galactic, 323-466-5141 or To arrange interviews with Ben Harper please contact Shelby Meade at Fresh and Clean on 310-396-6772 or




Green Galactic Los Angeles 323.466.5141