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Award-Winning Photographer Markus Klinko Talks us Through His Unseen David Bowie Pictures

Award-Winning Photographer Markus Klinko Talks us Through His Unseen David Bowie Pictures

David Bowie with a wolf on a leash

Extraordinary, never-before-seen images of the iconic musician David Bowie by award-winning celebrity and fashion photographer Markus Klinko will be unveiled on 1 October by Zebra One Gallery for his ‘Bowie Unseen’ Exhibition at London’s exclusive member’s club Tramp. The images include eerie shots of Bowie as a blind man; him fiercely posing with a pack of wild wolves and cradling a baby.

We caught up with Markus to talk about what it was like photographing and working with Bowie while harnessing his creative and playful side. Plus, working with the likes of Beyonce and Janet Jackson (and panthers) and what it’s like collaborating with the present and future of pop music Billy Eilish, who Marcus thinks has striking similarities to David Bowie.

The MALESTROM: Wonderful Images Markus, you must be very excited to share them with the public at this London based Bowie Unseen exhibition?

Markus Klinko: Very much so. I’m excited to bring them to London. The gallery and I have decided to show some never before seen images. Throughout my career, I’ve always loved coming to London for photoshoots.

But to bring this exhibition to London, especially with the whole sort of way everything’s come together.

You’ve got Tramp, the private member’s club for the opening, where David was a regular, and then this beautiful Zebra One gallery in Hampstead and the very important charity affiliation, it’s great.

Every exhibition of mine has a cancer charity attached. I couldn’t be more excited.

TM: The shoot with Bowie was for Bowie’s 2002 Heathen album. Can you tell us about it, what the shoot was like and did you find Bowie an easy character to work with?

MK: Absolutely. There couldn’t be a greater collaborator in every sense. First of all, obviously he was very photogenic. That’s a given.

But he was very intelligent and had so much knowledge about photography and post-production and you know, everything else, he was such a well rounded, intelligent person.

A lot of artists have intelligence but they might not be as interested in other areas of art and technology and so forth. So he was a pleasure, very fast, so spontaneous, a great collaborator.

Heathen (2002) album cover. Credit Markus Klinko
Heathen (2002) album cover. Credit Markus Klinko

TM: Did he sort of let you do your own thing? Or was he very stuck to his own vision?

MK: Both. He had his own vision that he was very keen on making sure we got in the can so to speak. He had a very specific idea of the blind man on the Heathen cover. What he tried to get across was a man who lost belief, who no longer believes in the rules of religion and politics. For the actual album cover image, he has strong references based on Man Ray.

That was his specific starting concept, he had some selfies, although we didn’t call them selfies at this time, they were from his own bedroom.

He brought them to me alone to show what his vision was for the cover. But once that was achieved, probably by 11 o’clock in the morning, he felt very good about it and then he became… playful is really the word, I use the word playfully as he became very animated.

David Bowie smoking a cigarette
Bowie smoking. Credit: Markus Klinko

He had fun, he absolutely listened to my ideas and went for it. He was much faster a transition to work with than most other subjects. Because sometimes after two or three frames, he was “we got this, let’s move on.”

There are some celebrities that literally take six hours to switch a T-shirt. They go back to the dressing area, and it’s almost childbirth like.

He was just so quick. He was literally on set, change code to something else and he’d fall into such interesting positions. He needed only very loose directions, he gets it, he knows what angles work, really smart.

The Savior. Credit: Markus Klinko
The Savior. Credit: Markus Klinko

TM: Is it true he invited you to his studio to listen to some of the tracks to get ideas together?

MK: Yes, absolutely he did. Two months after I initially met him, 9/11 happened in New York, which sort of shut everything down for a little bit.

But then he called me personally on the phone one afternoon in November. And he invited me to come over to his recording studio, which was very close by my photo studio at that time in Soho.

So I went over there, it was a very intimate setting just him and Tony Visconti were in the studio. He played these tracks, they were not even completely finished in the mix. And it was this beautiful experience of having him sit there and smoke a cigarette, he was sitting in a window smoking with this very bittersweet music playing.

And we talked about, you know, doing the shoot very quickly. He wanted to do it right away, he wanted to do it the next day. I told him I needed a little more time to pull it all together. It was done within 72 hours of sitting there in the studio discussing it. He was anxious, he wanted to get it done.

Meditation. Credit Markus Klinko
Meditation. Credit: Markus Klinko

TM: For the GQ photos it was a body double with the wolves, but you used the images you’d already taken?

MK: Right. So, what happened, about four or five months later, GQ knew that I did the album cover. And at the time, I was a regular contributor to GQ, loved working with them, and they called to see if they could have a cover with David. So I called him and he said. “I’m really sorry I can’t do it I’m on tour.”

So I came up with the idea of doing this photo composition project and I talked with David about it. He loved the idea, he said “If you can pull this off I’ll never have to do another photoshoot.”

He didn’t particularly love doing photoshoots, he had fun doing this one and it’s been said this was one of his last grand, iconic photoshoots, rather than some quicker portrait shoots.

So I went ahead and I cast the body model by his attitude and size, it’s pretty complex. And then I got these wolves and he loved it. GQ disclosed it, no one pretended he was in there with the wolves, it was just a fun creative concept that worked extremely well. People really love the wolves.

TM: What was it like working with the animals, because they looked pretty wild in the photos…

MK: They were very gorgeous, proud and tall. They were taller than you’d expect. It’s one thing to see them in a photo, but when they actually come in, and they look around, it’s different in person.

There were three of them, two brothers and the mother. And they were from a farm, but wild. I think someone had taken them in to nurture them. So, they came in with a trainer.

You would have thought they might be quite unpredictable. But they behaved well, they weren’t mean. They weren’t attacking, but you could see they could definitely turn if they got upset. You definitely wouldn’t want to be caught in the middle.

The body model did a great job, he was very brave, he had them on the leash and the handler kept throwing meat for them. It was definitely an action moment.

David Bowie with a wolf on a leash
Natural Villains. Credit: Markus Klinko

I had a similar experience with Janet Jackson when I shot black panthers with her. That was much, much more scary. Obviously, she was not with them in the studio and there was no body model. Only a stuffed panther was used. Those were really scary, I was absolutely scared to death.

The panthers were very different from the wolves. The wolves were almost like very large dogs, with an edge. When they opened the panther’s cages they were roaring and it just went through your bones.

TM: Was that the hairiest moment you’ve had when you’ve been taking shots?

MK: Yeah, I’d say so. I worked with Daphne Guinness with an owl. Believe it or not, the owl was quite scary, I think I was more scared of the owl than the wolves.

They’re huge when they open up their wings, Daphne was a trooper with that owl. I wouldn’t have had that owl on my shoulder, especially cause I’m a photographer and I value my eyesight.

TM: Are your celebrity subjects ever badly behaved like some of these animals? Or are they generally pretty good?

MK: This summer marks my 25th anniversary in the business. I would say that I was very lucky, because I haven’t had a really bad celebrity experience ever. And even some of the most notorious celebrities have been amazing to work with.

Mariah Carey, for example, is incredibly sweet, I’ve worked with her many times and she’s amazing. A lot of times these rumours become legend, they’re often a lot worse than the person actually is.

I’ve been very blessed that I’ve been hired for jobs based on the work that they’ve seen, they’re big fans of certain images or they come in with that enthusiasm. It’s much easier to work with someone when they respect the work.

Generally, people want to look like Beyonce, I get that many, many times. Especially musicians. She’s obviously the inspiration to countless people. And Bowie, obviously, for everyone else.

You know, I just had a photoshoot with Billy Eilish. Despite what you might think she had such a great interesting aura and vibe around her.

She actually reminded me of David Bowie. I told her that and she was excited about that. There’s something in her personality that reminded me of him. She’s probably the number 1 pop star in the world right now, she’s massively successful.

TM: You’ve taken all these super iconic shots. It must make you really proud that you’ve been able to do that throughout your career?

MK: I am proud. I’m also very eager to do more. I sort of consider these first 25 years of mine, my learning and growing years.

I feel very excited and very ready to take it to the next level, especially now that my career is partially focused on the gallery and art world. I’m now exploring new mediums, new installation types, larger exhibitions.

It’s enlarged the playing field for me. It’s also the technology, Fujifilm have a camera called the GFX 100. It’s a camera unlike any others before, the resolution and the capabilities of this camera are so great and so immediate, that it just opens up new creative opportunities that are so fun to explore.

I really love to be on a red line between technology and creativity and fashion and all these ideas that just sort of like, utilise all of these new modern opportunities to capture the emotions even stronger.

In the end, it’s all about the emotions. To me, there’s no difference between what some people label art and other people would label commercial photography. I see no difference. There’s only good and bad. It’s also about the test of time.

Markus’ Bowie Unseen exhibition will be on show at Tramp private members club throughout October before moving to Zebra One Gallery in Hampstead until the end of November.


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