Photographer Danny Clinch’s Portraits Of Musicians, Artists & Rock Stars Hit the Right Notes


Bruce Springsteen with Clinch’s Dad
“The other person in the car with Springsteen in this photo is Maxted Clinch, my dad,” Clinch says. “He was helping me break down a Springsteen-themed photo exhibition on the Asbury Park boardwalk in 2009. Springsteen and wife Patti Scialfa showed up in the ’51 Hudson and The Boss offered dad a ride. Bruce took the keys and put them in my dad’s hand and said, ‘Max, you can’t hurt this car, this thing is a tank.’ I went to get my camera and they drove away before I could get in the car. They drove around the city talking about growing up in the area, where they shopped for school clothes, and they talked about the carousel in Asbury. Maxted grew up in Wall. I finally got into the car. They pulled up at Kingsley and Fourth and I yelled, ‘Hey!’ and they turned around and I shot a couple of frames. That was the moment.” Look closely, and you’ll see Springsteen reflected in Maxted’s sunglasses and Danny reflected in Springsteen’s. The Boss wanted the pic in the book. “These photos,” Springsteen said, “where’s the one of me and your pops?”
All Photos © Danny Clinch Photography

Imagine this. Take photos of many of the top names in the music industry over the last 30 or so years, from Keith Richards to Radiohead, Gregg Allman to Tom Waits. Shoot for Spin, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, and Esquire, to name a few. Make said images into a coffee-table book. And to top it off, have some obscure talent like Bruce Springsteen write the elegant foreword for the book. Is it just me or does this sound like a pretty good life?

That’s how it is goes for Danny Clinch whose revealing and often intimate portraits of musicians, rock stars, and celebrities are works of art in themselves.

We don’t get a lot of star power like that in the small New England town where I live, so in an effort to see if this life of shooting rock ‘n’ roll headliners all over the globe is as great a gig as it sounds like, I set up a Skype interview with Clinch. If you’re hoping to hear that it’s just a dull grind full of sleepless nights and crazy editors to work with so you can sit back in your Barcalounger and feel bad for the guy, sorry.

Clinch really has a dream job, right up there with being a wardrobe assistant at a Victoria’s Secret shoot.

Let’s learn a little more about him.

Elvis Costello with Questlove, 2013.

Johnny Cash backstage in New York, 1994.

Lucinda Williams in L.A., 2008.

Music Man
To begin with, Clinch’s life revolves around music. In addition to his stellar catalogue of images taken for magazines, publicists, and personal use, he also directs music videos, with his Springsteen and John Mayer videos garnering Grammy Award nominations. In his “off” hours, Clinch can be found in his New York/New Jersey stomping grounds playing harmonica with his Tangiers Blues Band. You could describe him as either a musician who takes pictures or a photographer who is into music, the line is pretty blurred.

But there is nothing blurred about his photography. You can easily see from his images that he has the ability that all of the best people photographers must possess, the confidence in his own ability to create that image that goes beyond a mere record shot to reveal the subject’s personality. This comes from a concrete understanding of the music world he inhabits plus the technical mastery of his photography skills.

His latest book, Danny Clinch: Still Moving is divided into sections, including Portrait, Documentary, Backstage, Live, and Friends and Family. Each section features a short written introduction by Clinch.

Alluding to the trust factor I mentioned earlier, Clinch writes in his intro to the Friends and Family section about his fellow musicians: “These are my friends and family. They trust me to capture these often intimate encounters. And for that I am grateful.”

Neil Young in Nashville, 2005.

Pearl Jam at Wrigley Field, 2013.

Respect The Subject
Looking through the images, they are pretty diverse. Some of the Portraits are carefully constructed, a far cry from Metallica playing for San Quentin inmates or Tom Waits riding the carousel in the Documentary section.

If there is a common thread to the photos, I’d have to say it lies in the photographer’s respect for his subjects. While there are many revealing moments, I doubt that there are any that the subjects would not want seen by the public. It can’t be stressed enough that the only way to capture these kinds of images is by creating that bond of trust between photographer and subject.

Clinch started out in photography by using his grandfather’s Yashica Lynx 1000 camera, sort of a poor man’s Leica, and perhaps that’s why many times he still shoots film with a Leica and anything from a 20 to 35mm lens. His gear arsenal can be unconventional or strikingly traditional. Sometimes he’ll use a Holga or Hasselblad or even a Widelux. His go-to digital gear is usually a Canon EOS 5D with a 24-70mm lens.

A true Renaissance man, Clinch wears many hats. One day may see him shooting fashion work for a John Varvatos campaign, or directing a music video. The next day you’ll find him coaching his son’s soccer team. Weekends may be spent playing mouth harp in New York City with his band.

I asked Clinch his “secret” to making it in this competitive niche. As expected, there is no secret. “I made it in this industry through relationships and hard work,” he explains. “I was always on the scene looking for opportunities, trying to do good work and let people spread the word. Don’t ever let anyone say you can’t do it.”

Or, as Bruce Springsteen describes him in the introduction to Still Moving: “A disciple of the church of rock and roll’s great image men and women, Danny Clinch is as spontaneous as the Leica, his holy medal, slung around his neck. Danny’s my patron saint of new rock dreams. Shoot on, brother.”

Slick Rick in NYC, 1991
“This was taken the day before he was to go to prison in 1991,” Clinch recalls. “It was one of my earliest assignments for Spin magazine. I met him at a bar/restaurant and was surprised to see how perfectly he matched the leopard skin booth. I lit him with a Dynalite pack and used a small umbrella that I didn’t open up all the way, so that it was more focused and didn’t flood the entire frame/room. I also recall opening the shutter to let a bit of ambient light in as well. It was probably taken at 1/30 at f/8 with my old Hasselblad C body with a 50mm lens.”

Tupac in New York City, 1993.

Bob Dylan (newspaper) in Los Angeles, California, 1999.

You can see more of Danny Clinch’s images on his website:

Danny Clinch: Still Moving is published by Harry N. Abrams.