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David Bowie's Visual Legacy Lives On

David Bowie undeniably revolutionized pop culture with his profound understanding of human emotion, allegorical song writing, and avant-garde artistic vision. He shifted rock music to reflect and illuminate the darker experiences of life after an era of “flower power” and boy bands.

Of course, Bowie pushed experimentation beyond just his musical abilities. He created bold and provocative visual aesthetics building his ascent to global influence.

With the third anniversary of Bowie’s death earlier this month on January 10, we caught up with photographer, Markus Klinko, to discuss his upcoming David Bowie exhibit benefiting Hong Kong Adventist Hospital Foundation. His work at Alisan Fine Arts will include seamlessly executed editorial shots, the album art for Heathen, and cover story for British GQ. Klinko has also worked with countless other musical and pop culture icons collaborating with them to create some of their most memorable imagery.

First off, congratulations on your David Bowie exhibit at Alisan Fine Arts in Hong Kong. Which of your pieces is your favorite photo of him and why?

Thanks, I am extremely excited to bring the show to Hong Kong. This exhibition is in partnership with HK Adventist Hospital Foundation, which I am so proud to support.

Amongst the work chosen for this exhibition, my favorite might be Meditation. I remember the moment he spontaneously to that position for just a second, I was hand held and just shot one frame, then he got back up. It was totally unplanned, and sort of just happened.

Which qualities of Bowie’s personality were most inspiring for you during his shoots?

His phenomenal intelligence, coupled with great curiosity. He was simply a visionary, and so well rounded. Being one of the most photogenic stars I ever encountered, my job was very easy with him!

Do you and your subjects need an artistic connection to make great work together? How did you develop the right direction to photograph Bowie?

I like to believe that it is possible to take great pictures, even of someone who’s art or personality may be more difficult for me to grasp. But, of course, when the subject happens to be someone I am already naturally inspired by, or who happens to be very charismatic, everything does become a lot easier.

What was the process like on set in getting Bowie to a place where you could capture his emotion?

David had a very precise idea for the actual cover image and was anxious to have me capture that at first. But it did not take long, and so we had a chance to try and improvise and just kept shooting. As the day progressed, he become more playful and relaxed, and visibly had fun getting into character. The day went by so quickly.

You have not only photographed Bowie, but also Beyonce, Lady Gaga, and countless other icons. How do you shift your focus and style to best portray each subject?

I love collaborating with artists in different ways, sometimes I come up with most of the concepts, sometimes the artist has their own ideas.

The most successful collaborations happen usually when both sides contribute, and build on each others ideas.

Most people will never meet the celebrities you photograph. How do you craft your work to accurately represent and communicate who they are to the world?

I will always research their work and history, and spend time to learn about their current projects. But it is important to me to try and add a new element, and help create an image that is the “next step” for them. When I worked with Beyonce, for the cover of Dangerously In Love, she was still developing as a solo artist. The cover represented who she was about to become, and how the world would eventually see her. This is a very exciting process!

What are your top priorities while photographing a subject?

I want the images to become iconic, timeless and a defining moment in someone’s career. This is not always easy to do, but that is my number one goal when working with artists and stars.

Do you have your eyes set on any up and coming photographers? Who do you feel is making great work right now?

Since 2016, I work with Koala. We are Markus&Koala, and we both shoot. She is a phenomenal photographer and a great artist.

We start usually from very different point of views. As someone much younger than me, her references often come from social media, while mine might be something from the past, the 60s, 70s or something like that.

By working as a team, we are able to combine a much greater range of influences, and produce work that resonates with a wide audience.

Images courtesy of Markus Klinko

Stay tuned to Milk for more legendary artists.

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