We often take music photography for granted. We see it line the pages of periodicals and posted on innumerable blogs and websites and often times we’ll mindlessly scroll through a gallery. However, if you take the time to actually look at these photos, you’ll find that one image. It’s that image, that one nanosecond in time that a photographer has captured something that has transcended documentation — it’s art. Live, vibrant, beautiful art.
Danny Clinch has spent his entire career creating some of the most breathtaking, intimate, creative, and iconic pieces of art of the last 20 plus years. The Jersey Shore native has gone from hustling shoots as a young photographer, to becoming the man – an acclaimed music photographer, director and pretty damn good harmonica player. Clinch has been our visual guide into the wild world of concert photography and the intimate world of artist portraits. He’s captured Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder, Dave Grohl, Ringo, Dylan, Tom Waits, and just about everyone you can think of with a brilliant, insightful eye. His photos stop the world around you — simply put, they are masterpieces.
This summer, the Asbury Park Boardwalk struck gold when Clinch decided to take up residency with a pop-up shop inside Convention Hall. On select dates Clinch can often be found hanging out signing autographs, talking shop with budding photographers, and humbly regaling people with tales of working with the all-time greats in the music industry.
Recently, Pop-Break’s editor-in-chief, Bill Bodkin, caught up with Danny Clinch to discuss his new shop, his love for the famed city-by-the-sea, the current state of music photography, and his book, Still Moving.
Why put up a pop-up gallery in Conventional Hall?
My friend Tim Donnelly who works over at Madison Marquette (who manages Convention Hall); he has a lot to do with trying to continue to bring interesting, artful people into the fold. He found out that the space would be available for a couple of months in the beginning of the summer. I had just had a very big show at the Milk Gallery in Chelsea in the city. He just said this space [in Convention Hall] was available if I wanted it. I had all these prints that were already printed and such, and I love the Grand Arcade next to the Paramount Theater. It’s awesome there, and such a vibey spot, in the summer at Asbury Park, it was a great opportunity for me to put something up there. My son, who just graduated high school, I put him in the store to work it, so that was really cool as well. He’s been looking after the store when I’m not there, which is often. Also, I’m from Tom’s River and I love Asbury Park, I love the water, the ocean, the boardwalk, its in my DNA.
Let’s talk about Asbury Park – you’ve seen it go from the glory days to a ghost town to a thriving beach and art community. It’s been part of your work throughout your career – what is it about this city that keeps bringing you, and artistic and creative people like yourself back?
There’s a lot of history there from the early ’30s and ’40s, when it was a real hopping place. People from all over would come to Asbury Park. So, the architecture is really cool, and it’s a throwback. Then you go right into the rough times, but in the late ’60s and early ’70s Springsteen and the whole Jersey Shore rock ‘n’ roll scene added to the mystery and mystique of it. So there is a lot of musical history there and architectural history.
So to me, when Asbury was in decline, even in the ’90s, if there was a band that would come to the city, and wanted to do a photo shoot, and didn’t want to do the city shoot, they would ask me for ideas and I would take them to Asbury Park. I took a band named Idle Wild to Asbury. I would just bring bands down there, and everything was just cool — the architecture was cool, the boardwalk was cool, and it was usually empty too so it was a great space. I remember someone back then who would let us into The Paramount, and the good thing is if you think about it, how could it not come back? It’s a city on the ocean, that’s my thing, how could it not come back? There’s just no way it won’t, it’s prime real estate.
What I love about it right now, is that people have come back in, the artist, the gay community, the musicians, and everyone is just coming back and embracing it cause it’s a great little town, so its picking back up, and I hope the momentum stays, and I can feel that it will stay, and I can feel the good vibes being out there. If you think a couple years back, the Grand Arcade where the gallery is, there was nothing there. People just have to take some chances on it.
Do you have a favorite Asbury concert you have shot?
Yes, one would be The Light of Day, where all these great bands will play. Another is Joe Grushecky and the House Rockers, and of course Bruce (Springsteen). I became friends with Joe through Bruce, and my blues band (The Tangiers Blues Band) had played the Stone Pony or the Wonder Bar, I can’t remember, and we had played a gig in honor of Light of Day. [Joe] said our band was awesome after playing with us. So he invited us to jam with the House Rockers.
So when I get there he said for me to go on for “Murder Incorporated,” which I said okay to. I knew it was a song he wrote with Bruce and plays with Bruce. So Bruce came, and Joe said, “Danny is going to play some harmonica for ‘Murder Incorporated’.” And Bruce was cool with it, so I go out there to jam, and Bruce and Joe are talking to each other. They tell me they are going to do “Pink Cadillac” in G, and they told me “Murder Incorporated” in A before. I’m standing there with my D harmonica in hand, and I’m just thinking “Oh crap, they are changing it up on me” (laughs). Luckily, I had three other harmonicas with me and I had the proper harmonica with me, which is a C. When I came back out they started playing the riff for “Pink Cadillac,” and Bruce looks at me like all right, and they gave it to me, and I got to jam with Bruce and Joe in Asbury Park on the Paramount Theatre stage and it was just ridiculous.
Do you ever sit back on your life and think, I still can’t believe any of this, and this is my life now in an awestruck moment?
I feel that way all the time, I’m always just so grateful, I don’t ever take it for granted. I shake my head more often than not (laughs).
Do you remember the moment where you knew this is what you wanted to do for the rest of your life?
I was always a fan of photography and of music, and I would sneak my camera in shows I would go to. I went to a Van Halen concert and I snuck my camera in and I got a great shot of David Lee Roth, during the 1984 tour, jumping off of an amplifier. There was a moment I talked about in the past, with the Bruce Springsteen photo I took. I was shooting a short film for Devils and Dusk record, and I took a portrait of him, which is one of my favorite of him. I just remember looking into the camera and thinking to myself how did I become the guy in Bruce’s place filming these songs that no one has ever heard before to put on the record? I just felt like I had arrived, and not only did I get the opportunity, but I came through to myself and to him.
There are so many talented photographers out there today, and there are so many outlets for them to be published. Do you believe it’s harder for a photographer to break out and reach the level of success you have today than opposed to when you were breaking in? Or is is just different time, different struggle?
I think a lot of it’s different. You have to prepare yourself in different ways, with all the content out there; you have to be able to make films as well as taking photos. I just feel if you are destined to take photographs of musicians, and you have the right frame of mind, you can do it either way. I mean, guys like Jim Marshall, Henry Dill, Bob Greun, etc., those guys were doing it just because they loved it, making like 50 bucks if lucky. Henry Dill was just shooting his friends. Jim Marshall was a bit of a hustler in terms of where he would work. He would get to shoot the band Cream because he was hired by a teen beat magazine to do it. He wanted the money and liked the band and he just went for it. My point is, I got into it because I loved it and I would do it regardless of the money. You can’t get into it because of the money — you certainly can think, ‘Will I ever get anywhere with this?’ I did the same thing. But — What is your hustle? What is your game? How do you turn it into something? Where you get people to trust you to get you into the sweet spot for those photos? That’s what you have to do.
In your book, Still Moving, you’ve broken it down into different types of photos, live show, portrait, etc. What is the most difficult photo to take? Is it the portrait, the live show, or the fly on the wall type of photo?
It depends on the subject, but I would probably say the portrait. Just engaging them and trying to capture the moment that is worth capturing. If I had to choose one, it would be that.
How is the Shannon Hoon documentary coming along?
It’s great. We are putting a plan together. We are going to rent an edit space, and we are going to continue to go through the footage and create the story. It’s a really long process, there’s a lot of footage we haven’t gone through yet. It’s a band that didn’t really get its due, and I find myself defending them a lot.
So who is on your hit list for bands you want to shoot?
Top of my list would be Prince, I really want to photograph Prince. Another would be Bob Seger, our paths never have crossed just yet, but he’s one also.
Any newer artists?
Florence from Florence and the Machine, I like her vibe and her music, I would love to photograph her. There are some young hip-hop guys who I think are interesting, and I would love to photograph like A$AP Rocky and [his crew] they are interesting.
What have you learned about yourself through taking photos of other people?
I’ve learned that I certainly like meeting new people; I like meeting curious people, which make me curious. I find the people that are most interesting to me have this curious energy. They are always asking questions and are interested in what’s going on around them and new things, learning, and creating. I just realize this is why I gravitate towards the music industry. In a sense, with all the album covers I’ve done, I work for the advertisement industry in a sense, and I work with other creative people who don’t really play by the rules. So I work with other artists, not suits, and they don’t tell me to dumb it down, they allow me to stretch it, and create it, and take creative chances.
Danny Clinch’s Pop-Up Gallery at The Grand Arcade in Convention Hall at The Asbury Park Boardwalk is open this weekend. You can pick up prints of Danny Clinch’s work, or his published photo books.
Bill Bodkin is the Owner, Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Pop-Break. Most importantly, however, he is the proud father of a beautiful daughter, Sophie. He is beyond excited that Pop-Break will be six years old in 2015 as this site has come a long, long way from the day he launched in it in his bachelor pad at the Jersey Shore. He can be read every Monday for the Happy Mondays Interview Series as well as his weekly reviews on True Detective, Law & Order: SVU, Mad Men and Hannibal. His goal, once again, is to write 500 stories this year (a goal he accomplished in 2014). He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites