When you think about contemporary music photography, few names pop up as standouts or icons—but of the ones that do, Danny Clinch is at the top of the list. Since cutting his teeth in the early ’90s with everyone from Tupac to Pearl Jam, Clinch has attained a level of comfort with major artists that few photographers enjoy, to the point of even joining them onstage with his harmonica from time to time.
When he’s not shooting campaigns for John Varvatos, he’s a staple at most major music events—his portable portrait studio is a mainstay at Bonnaroo and backstage at the Grammys. Clinch is a rare name brand, far removed from the unwashed hordes that are the digital era’s freelance photographers, a master of his craft and a member of the A list he shoots. His Instagram feed is proof of that status, often showing celebrity images you’ve had burned into your retinas but never knew who shot them, but just as often offering a glimpse of his life on the road or the quieter side of things, surfing or chilling in South America. With a newish book—Still Moving—and a show up at the Milk Gallery in New York City, Clinch is a busy guy, to say the least. We caught him between shoots for a quick interview, and he’ll be taking over our own Instagram account for a couple days starting Monday.
So how did you get your start in photography?
My mom is the snapshot queen! She got me interested initially, then my love of music and photography took over.
What photographers influenced you?
My early influences were Annie Leibovitz and Jim Marshall, then I discovered Irving Penn, Robert Frank, and Danny Lyon.
How has Instagram changed or influenced the way you approach photography?
I have always been a photographer that never leaves home without his camera, so being able to share photographs spontaneously is really cool.
It’s also is a great marketing tool and lets people know what you’re up to. The other thing I love about Instagram is that I feel like people who otherwise would have never picked up a camera are learning to see the world in new ways.
Who are your favorite accounts?
Lots of friends, Wayne Lawrence from the Orchard Beach series, Sacha Lecca. Clark Little…Too many to note! Shane Dorian. For some reason, I’m drawn to surfing, cars, and motorcycles, as well as music.
What have you been working on lately?
My book, Still Moving, came out in September, so a lot of book signings and gallery shows. I have one up now at Milk Gallery in NYC called Walls of Sound. A new limited edition book called Motor Drive, which is a series of musicians with, in, or on cars, motorcycles, tour buses…anything with a motor. It’s limited to 340 books, the same number of cubic inches in Tom Morello’s 1972 Dodge Demon motor. Also, a doc on Blind Melon singer Shannon Hoon, whose family gave me all his personal videotapes from his time with the band. He was a relentless documentarian, pre-iPhone, and it will be a powerful film.
You’ve been shooting music for a long time. How have you seen it change with the advent of digital and phone photography?
Well, of course everyone has a camera phone and is now a photographer. Digital creates a very easy entry point for new photographers, but at the end of the day, it still needs to be a great photograph!
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever shot?
I would say going to San Quentin with Metallica and the Malloy Brothers to shoot the video for “St. Anger.” We had to sign a release stating that they would not negotiate for our release if we happened to be taken hostage. I have some of these photographs in Still Moving.
What’s the worst shooting situation you’ve ever been in?
I can’t recall. I’m usually up for the challenge of creating something positive out of chaos.