By Marc Ang
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 12/16/221 – There are photographers and then there are the truly great. Markus Klinko’s prolific work in the 2000’s created some of the most defining moments of the decade in music. From iconic images of Britney Spears in her 2004 heyday to Mary J. Blige to the groundbreaking debut album cover of Beyonce’s “Dangerously In Love”, Klinko captured the essence of these hitmakers at the pinnacle of their careers. Technically, his attention to detail is pervasive throughout his work, evoking depth and dichotomies within one single shot.
Klinko had a successful career as a classical harpist before he became a famous photographer. He toured the world giving recitals and appeared as a guest soloist to symphony orchestras. Under contract with EMI classics, he made several recordings but in 1994, developed a hand issue that forced him to cancel tours and recording sessions. It was then that Klinko decided he had reached his childhood goals of becoming a successful classical concert soloist, and shifted gears to become a fashion photographer. He recognized his own temperament and personality being more suitable to this new line of work, saying, “Practicing 10 hours a day is like Olympic ice skating. I prefer the fun, creative schedule of a photographer.”
Klinko’s Big Break With David Bowie & Iman
Klinko’s career itself is noteworthy. His big break in photography came due to his professional friendship with Iman and David Bowie, which led to work on Bowie’s album covers and Iman’s DeBeers campaigns. His website features one of the most breathtaking photographs of the legend himself, which simultaneously celebrated his quirkiness but also his relatable humanity. His Bowie series remains his most successful series in terms of fine art and limited edition prints in galleries, featured in over 40 galleries worldwide.
Britney Spears 2004 & #FreeBritney
Klinko worked with Britney on her Onyx Hotel Tour, one of her most successful tours in promotion of her album In The Zone, containing one of her biggest hits “Toxic”. He was hired to do a big photoshoot which resulted in multiple Vanity Fair covers and the outtakes were used for her fragrance campaigns. Britney’s team already had the stage and concert design and gave Klinko concepts, which he translated into a photoshoot. The setups she had written down on a piece of paper included: Ice Princess, Lobby, Magic Forest, and Jazz Club. With only two days notice, Klinko pulled it together with a couple of set designers and Britney’s stylist.
Meeting Britney for the first time, he recalls thinking that she was the most beautiful woman on earth. Klinko wasn’t easily starstruck, having worked with numerous supermodels and celebrities. What he loved was Britney’s down to earth, personable, girl-next-door quality. He says of Britney, “I met Britney as an incredibly creative, smart, independent collaborator. Essentially, her dad and her management team sat in the back room playing cards. Everything I heard on the documentary seemed horrifying and the furthest from how I knew her. How could it be said that she was not in charge of her life? All I can say is I’m very happy for her and I hope she will return to being that super exciting, creative artist. I would love to work with her again.”
Mariah Carey’s “Emancipation of Mimi” Album Cover Shoot
My favorite moment, and what I consider Klinko’s crown jewel, was the album cover of Mariah Carey’s “Emancipation of Mimi”. Before the album was released, Mariah was written off by many critics. But the first single “It’s Like That” and its video sequel, her 14-week #1 hit “We Belong Together” swiftly changed public opinion. Much of her comeback was visual – a display of strength, like a phoenix rising above the ashes after an embarrassing downward spiral earlier in the decade, caused by exhaustion and subsequent mental health issues.
Klinko played a key role in this comeback, with his photography for the album cover, capturing that essence of truly breaking free, not as a young girl rebelling against ex husband and Sony executive Tommy Mottola, but finally as a woman who broke free of the constraints she put on herself. In one simple photo, Mariah’s statue-like pose and bronze finish, was the picture worth a thousand words and a symbol of resilience, resolve and self-actualization, embracing her multicultural background. His success led LA Reid to give him high fives after a previous photographer gave Mariah and her team no usable shots. Klinko hit his home run.
The Revival of the 2000s
After the global pandemic, Klinko believes people have shifted their priorities and it has awakened nostalgia. This is why people are looking back to previous decades. He cites previous movements looking 20 years back, to the 60s, 70s and 80s. However, now he is seeing a resurgence of his iconic photography in art galleries, which are primarily from the 2000s. This includes his artwork on Beyonce, Britney, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, Jennifer Lopez, Kimora Lee Simmons and even Kelis, responsible for the hit “Milkshake”. He recalls seeing his work at the Art Basel in Miami.
He also cites that the fashion is coming back. When asked what that style is specifically, Klinko cites that he was in the moment and was actually inspired by the 1970s, such as Tom Ford, Gucci and disco. He calls his style a “2000 interpretation of the 1970s” and cites a colorful vibe, with bling. On Beyonce’s “Dangerously In Love” cover, he used a diamond top and points out that her pose and gaze communicate “sexy” and “fun”, allowing for a world of escape from all the angst and anxiety. He says his goal is “embellishing, it’s about bringing out the very best of the celebrities, capturing a moment that defines them at the height of their career.” That, he achieved in spades.
21 Iconic Pictures, One For Each Year of the Millennium
Klinko is about to release a new coffee table book but before that, a limited edition box set of 21 of his works, one for each year, will be available. With only 100 released, each will be signed, numbered and only available through select galleries worldwide. A percentage of the proceeds are going to benefit selected nonprofits committed to mental health. This was a creative idea from Klinko’s advertising agency, which was responsible for books with Calvin Klein, among others.
For 2000, it’s French supermodel Laetitia Casta, the face of Victoria’s Secret. 2001, it’s David Bowie, an outtake from his album cover photoshoot. 2002 will be a shot of Pharrell Williams when Klinko shot him for Interview Magazine. At the time, Pharrell was just a young up and coming musician. 2003 will be Beyonce and 2004 will be Britney Spears. 2008 will be Aubrey O’Day from Danity Kane’s Playboy spread, one of the best selling issues of all time. It will end with 2021, featuring Tik Tok superstar, Loren Gray, who has 54 million followers, who Klinko photographed for her recent single. Klinko believes it shows “the shifting landscape in pop culture, where kids are interested in the social media stars.” In addition, Klinko is proud to include European pop superstar, Laura Pausini, who is huge globally but not necessarily in the US.
Mental Health Awareness & Klinko’s History of Philanthropy
Proceeds of the box will go to mental health awareness, a cause dear to Klinko’s heart. He sees social media as a problem for the self esteem of young girls, especially. The amount of time spent on social media, the unrealistic standards and seeing people “doing great” and comparing themselves to an illusion seems to be a real epidemic. As a creator of pop culture and photography, he feels a responsibility to give back and in this case, it’s giving back the truth and wisdom.
“Be the best you can be, and be happy with that. And that’s my message, especially to young girls on social media. Don’t believe the hype. Don’t believe that friend of yours that’s always on vacation that’s always happy and surrounded by sunshine and Ferraris. Let’s spend a little less time on social media and a little bit more time at the gym, eating healthy, and things will change. Depression, and social anxiety can be controlled by becoming aware that none of this is real.”
In the past, Klinko has helped the “Keep A Child Alive” charity, where Kim Kardashian posed dead in a coffin. Klinko raised over $1 million dollars in 24 hours for the HIV/AIDS cause. His works with David Bowie are linked to cancer. Today, he believes in solving the problems of mental health, which is also related to homelessness, which is one of his next projects.
Perfection Is Not Reality
“We live in a society, where celebrity has basically been raised to the status of gods and goddesses. We’re literally worshipping Kim Kardashian. I’ve worked with her. She’s amazing, but she’s not a goddess, she’s a person. People need to remember that nobody’s perfect. My work has an aesthetic and has a way of presenting itself that is very perfected, but it is also asking the question, ‘why are we doing this?’ I’m not against it. I think it’s wonderful to bring out the best in people, stylize them and make them look absolutely amazing. But it’s not reality. My photography is not a document of what’s completely real, it’s a fantasy.”
Powerful words. Klinko is open about this and cites his photography of David Bowie and wild wolves. “That’s a fantasy story. He was never there with those wolves. And we always talked about that. This was a complex post production situation with body models, and the wolves came five months later. David Bowie and I laughed about it, because he said, ‘This looks so real, I almost remember being there.’” Bowie joked that he would never have to do another photo shoot. But Klinko reminds everyone that his photos are manipulated and he’s not a snapshot photographer, but more like a painter who starts with a blank canvas and then layers it, even with simple portraits.
Klinko believes in taking care of his health, regularly working out 2 hours a day and eats very healthy. His discipline helps him avoid unhealthy foods because he doesn’t want to gain weight. He also stresses the importance of this in the world of COVID. “Now with COVID, for instance, I’m very aware that it’s better to go to bed a little hungry, to have your immune system stimulated by not overeating, and indulging in alcohol, cigarettes, drugs. Even espresso, I’m an espresso addict.”
Upcoming Projects: January Mint NFT Drop in Los Angeles
Besides the 21 Box and an upcoming museum announcement, Klinko is traveling the world with exhibitions opening in Toronto, Munich, Montecarlo, Sydney and London. He also just wrapped up a photo shoot with Woody McClain for the magazine Galore, shot in Miami Beach at the National Hotel and Ferrari. He is heartened by the fact that his work, which used to take 20 years to move to galleries, is now moving to them in a month, such as when he shot Billie Eilish for Vogue in March of 2019.
However, his next major project will be a Mint NFT Drop. He went back to his childhood for inspiration. As a teenager he played electric guitar in a rock band and he picked it up again due to being locked up for 14 months at home during pandemic. He called sponsor Fujifilm and did a photoshoot with his custom Suhr guitar, the Rolls Royce of custom guitars. He shot still lifes with Fujifilm’s new lens. These shots will be released as NFTs, and a live minting in Los Angeles, called “I’m Ready For My Closeup”, with closeups of lips, eyes and the guitars. It will be Klinko’s first major NFT drop.
To conclude, Klinko is realistic and displays modesty when talking about his iconic photography for musicians. “The music has to be fantastic. And the artist has to be talented. As a photographer, I can only help launch the music. I cannot take credit for anything else except bringing attention towards the music.”
Find Markus Klinko’s work at a gallery in your local city, or Washington’s Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. Check out @klinkostudio on social media and http://www.markusklinkostudio.