Q&A | Markus Klinko
Markus Klinko is a legendary creator of beauty— well known as the photographer of icons, although his career took root in music. After achieving his childhood dream as a trained classical solo harpist, he traded in strings and sheet music for film and photo gear. Whether he’s on stage or set, creating art from a single moment is Klinko’s undeniable forte.
Over the past three decades, he has captured a collection of work with famed cultural icons: Beyoncé, David Bowie, Kim Kardashian, Lady Gaga, Mariah Carey, and Kanye West to name a few. Gracing album covers, magazines, ad campaigns, and gallery walls with his photo genius; his craft stimulates a remarkable sense of intimacy between subject and viewer.
Accompanied by Markus’ notable archive work, I spoke with the multi-faceted creator, discussing the evolution of his career and what’s to come.
You were a successful classical harp soloist before exploring fashion photography. How did you go from performing to visual arts?
When I moved to Paris from Switzerland in my late teens, I became very interested in fashion magazines, but also started looking at photography magazines. I had friends who were models and photographers, but for some reason, I never thought about taking pictures myself, and never even owned any type of camera. As my career as an international concert harpist started to develop, magazines such as GQ, Vogue Italia, Vanity Fair, and Harper's Bazaar started to write about me. I was often photographed by these magazines, and also for my album covers for EMI Classics.
In 1994, at the height of my performing and recording career, a mysterious hand issue forced me to cancel all upcoming engagements, and all that led me to decide that I had somehow achieved my childhood dream of being a classical soloist, and I abruptly decided to become a fashion photographer. I bought a book about cameras, sold all my harps, and went and purchased all imaginable photography equipment all at once, still without ever having taken a single picture myself.
But I was a fast learner, and very disciplined from all the years of practicing the harp 10 hours a day. After just one year, I got my start and shot my first cosmetics campaign in Paris, and started shooting for magazines in London and Paris.
Would you say you had a lot of creative influences in your childhood?
My dad was a member of symphony orchestras, and I grew up in that environment. But I also started playing in bands around age 12. I think during those years, I actually was quite tunnel-visioned and really focused on becoming a professional musician.
How was retiring from your international concert and recording career? Was it hard making a switch in your career?
It was a rude awakening for sure. I had gotten used to a certain level of success during my music career, giving interviews and being on TV and generally just living a bit of an ivory tower existence. When I decided to become a photographer, I was certain it would just continue like that. I had to learn a few lessons and very quickly realized that the world didn't exactly revolve around me! But I adjusted eventually and was lucky enough to get some early breaks and support from iconic editors such as Interview Magazine's Ingrid Sischy and Isabella Blow at the London Sunday Times, who gave me my first major assignments.
You have photographed a great roster of cultural icons — Beyoncé, David Bowie, Kim Kardashian, Lady Gaga, Kanye West…What is it like to work with such big, well-known celebrities, each with their respective cult followings?
When I first started with photography, I was only interested in shooting models. It actually took some convincing from my agents for me to agree to begin shooting celebrities.
But when I met David Bowie and Iman, everything changed, and I started to become very passionate about collaborating with great artists and ultra-talented people. Artists have often hired me at major turning points in their careers. For example, when I shot Mariah Carey's "The Emancipation of Mimi" covers, she was at the brink of a major comeback and needed a very powerful and fresh image.
I also shot Beyoncé's "Dangerously in Love" covers at a critical time for her, when she was transitioning into her solo career. I needed to create the image of Beyoncé for who she was about to become.
You do a wide spectrum of works — from album and magazine covers to ad campaigns and gallery walls. What do you personally prefer doing?
I shoot all these different types of genres because I love them equally. I usually love most whatever it was I shot last, or whatever I'm about to shoot. After 25 years in this business, I feel the best is yet to come, and I am just about ready to get started now!
I also really love the technical aspects of photography and have been collaborating very closely with Fujifilm for nearly 20 years. It is an amazing company that creates not only the best cameras and lenses for what I do but also art print paper and film. I also design and adapt a lot of photo equipment for my own specific needs.
What is your favorite project in your career thus far?
As far as my art gallery career is concerned, my work with David Bowie is the most successful with collectors around the world, and he is also one of my favorite subjects I had the privilege of working with.
Tell us about the upcoming exhibitions you have.
I have a very large show currently in Sweden at Tres Hombres Art Gallery that will last all summer. It spans all the way from my earlier work in the 2000s to brand new images shot just a couple of months ago, together with my photography partner, Koala. All the current work is shot with her – we both shoot at the same time.
At the end of July, the Marbella Art Fair in Spain is presenting 18 prints of mine, and my first London solo exhibition opens in October. This fall, I also have a featured role at Fine Art Asia in Hong Kong. I had a very successful solo exhibition in Hong Kong earlier this year, and really love the city, so I am excited to return.
What's in your future?
I am working on many new projects currently including a photo book and a TV show. Until now, all of my work that has been in galleries has been shot for other purposes, such as magazines and campaigns. I love it when my work moves very quickly from a magazine onto the walls of galleries! I love this immediacy and want to continue to do more projects that are specifically for large scale exhibitions.
I also look forward to continuing to work at the cutting edge of technology. This is a very exciting time in photography. Fujifilm has just released the new GFX 100, a revolutionary camera that opens a lot of new frontiers and pushes the limits in many ways. I couldn't be more excited about it all!