Markus Klinko Is Bringing Back The 2000s
Next week, Markus Klinko is bringing back the 2000’s. Think Britney Spears, Beyonce, Bowie and BLING. Think Kim K circa 2002 and spaghetti straps. From June 15 to June 30, this exhibition will be on show at Mouche Gallery in Beverly Hills. Klinko is partnering up with the CFDA Trust Foundation to auction off 13 of his pieces, and the money will go towards supporting US-based designers through financial grants and mentoring. FUJIFILM North America Corporation is also partnering up with Klinko, as they are one of his longtime sponsors. Milk.xyz sat down with Klinko before the show to glance back on the past, speak about generational industry changes, and see what the future holds. Read on below for our full interview.
Tell more about your “2000s” exhibit. Who is Becky G?
Becky G, she is a young pop star; last week, she had one of the number one billboard hits. She’s amazing. She’s also an actress. She’s in movies, and I guess the reason that I asked her to host this was that she’s kind of like today’s equivalent of the pop stars and actresses that are in the 2000s exhibit. We’re doing one new photo shoot with Becky; everything else in the exhibit is obviously from the 2000s as that’s the title of the show. It’s going to be nearly 40 prints; I’m still finalizing last details.
Who are the people that you want to include? You shot so many people in that time.
I wanted to talk to you about this time period because it’s amazing how much the 2000s are in the air today. Gucci was just promoting an ad on Instagram yesterday; the background is all the glitz and glam—and I feel like I premiered that, you know, with my Diamond.com with Laetitia Casta, and Beyonce shoots; that’s kind of when people started using those star filters and diamonds and bling; bling is really the word, you know, super blinged out. I guess the most blinged out people that I have shot: Beyonce, Jay Z, Christina Aguilera, Mary J. Blige; Bowie will be in there. Kanye, Pharell, Outkast.
It’s so wild because I’m 23 so I grew up looking at all those images as a kid.
I love that you’re saying that. I’ve been hearing that a lot in the last few weeks, I love that it can connect to today’s generation and can inspire. A lot of young photographers are now using similar approaches: effect light, post production, and all that. It’s great to have kind of influenced a generation in a way.
Every generation does have an aesthetic. How would you describe how the early 2000s looked?
The bling element is definitely one thing. Shooting in studio with colorful lights and all that. I guess it’s a certain combination of things: retouching, the process, the lighting, the fashion too, of course. A lot of the colorful visors, spaghetti straps, the mini skirts, the crystals.
All the work up to 2013, I shot, so the show will primarily just be Markus Klinko. As people now commission new shoots from us, and when I say us, for the last four years I’ve worked as a duo with Koala; We are Markus & Koala.Now we’re working as an equal duo. I shoot, she shoots. We have two cameras always going at the same time. So for instance, the Becky G shoots that we’ll be doing for the gallery and her other projects, that’s all Markus and Koala.
How does that dynamic work? How would you say that you work together to create the image or create the kind of environment you;d like to work in?
It’s really dynamic of juxtaposition. She’s in her twenties. She’s Chinese-American, so she has a quite different point of view. She has different references. She’s very Instagram-savvy. She also models, so she’s in front of the camera and behind the camera. She acts, she designs.
She’s a jack of all trades.
Yeah, in style of what a lot of people do today; especially a lot of Instagram artists. They are not just doing one thing. They aren’t just makeup artists or designers. They are also photographers and stylists too.
I think that one of our differences is that, when Koala and I talk about doing a shoot, I would probably reference Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin, you know things that I did back in the late nineties. It’s not necessarily that I’m all retro though—my inspiration comes from a mix of things I’m just seeing as well.
I really like working with her because I feel that the younger millennials are more connected also to reality in a way. People are much more like, okay, we’re hustling, and we know how difficult the photo business can be.
Have you noticed any significant changes in the industry?
One of the biggest changes for me personally, having had a lot of commercial success in those 2000s with lots of big campaigns—perfume, cosmetics, fashion, cigarette campaigns—were that you could easily make a million dollars in two days. Today, not so much. There are so many people, and brands and clients have majorly taken advantage of that fact that they could just hit up someone on instagram and they’ll shoot it for nothing, you know? They can just try 10 different Instagram photographers, they pick out of the 10 submissions, whatever images they like and they give them $2 and people are really happy because they get exposure.
However, that doesn’t always work when things get very technical and complicated. For example with a cosmetics campaign; the coloring, lighting, and angle have to be exactly what the client needs. So I think just like the 2000s are kind of coming back, there is a shift back from a lot of high-end clients to want to actually use more technical photographers again.
What changes have you noticed in the process of creating an image?
When I say the 2000s, I refer mainly to the period of late 1999 to about 2004. From 2005 on, digital photography started being able to replace film. I think I switched in 2004. Up to that time, everything was shot on film and scanned then the digital file was edited on the computer.
I personally have no dark room experience. I started photography in 1994, so I was in the first crop of people who started using digital post production, but not digital capture. I think until about 2002, plenty of people were still using dark rooms because that’s what they were used to. But because I started photography relatively late in life, I guess I immediately fell into the whole digital production.
How did you start?
Coming into photography was an accident. I was a classical musician, a classical concert harpist. I was under contract with EMI Classics and represented by Columbia Artists and touring the world all the time, giving concerts, recitals with symphony orchestras, making recordings and all of that. And in 1994, I had a very strange situation with my right hand, my thumb, some issue that to this day no one knows exactly what it was, but to simplify it, I guess it was an inability to perform the same way as I was able up to that day. I did all the kinds of tests and had all kinds of doctors, and nothing was really wrong with me, I just couldn’t play.
My childhood dream since when I was very young, was to be a successful, classical musician and make records, and win awards, and tour the world. And I guess when that happened in my thirties, I tried to analyze my life; and in a way, I had reached my dream. And yet I thought I might want to do something else. At the time I was photographed a lot for music magazines, but even in Vanity Fair and Harper’s Bazaar, a lot of fashion magazines: articles about a young classical musician playing an unusual instrument like the harp. And I always enjoyed it so much, you know, being the subject of photography. A lot of friends of mine were fashion photographers. I always envied them to a certain degree, because I felt their lives more fun. I had to practice 10 hours every single day. It’s so hard, you know, traveling and touring and performing.
I had a lot of anxiety. I had some very difficult afternoons, sitting in the hotel room waiting to go to the concert hall, you know, warming up and dressing in those ridiculous tails. Then coming out and playing in front of 5,000 people with a symphony. You could really screw up and look like an idiot. It’s like going ice skating at the Olympics or something. It’s kind of like that every night. So I was really stressed and I saw these fashion photographers, castings, and models, and it just seemed like such a sweet life. So I was like, you know, I’m just going to try that. And one day I called EMI and Columbia and told them to cancel the next four years of tours.
They all said, “Okay, we’ll give you three months, you know, don’t quit your day job.” And I had some friends at modeling agencies and stuff and they helped me set up some tests. I read a book and I basically locked myself into my loft and practiced with a mannequin and took photos for 10 hours a day. And after two weeks, I needed models and I got started and then I moved to Miami, then I moved back to Paris, and within a year, I had an agent in Paris. I shot a L’Oreal campaign and started shooting editorials in London and Paris. And then I came back to New York and I met someone in Paris and who was a digital post-production expert that was working at a company there, doing mainly perfume and high-end advertising and I basically stole him from the company; I hired him and brought him to New York and started being a photographer.
That was around 1996. It a couple of years to come together. I mainly did the more underground magazines. But then music started happening; I started getting calls from labels, and that’s probably one of the best 2000s examples. My first big album cover was a big major label, you know, a big budget production, for Vitamin C. Do you know her?
Of course—that was my childhood! She had the orange hair.
Yeah! I’m the one who shot that orange cover. I shot that and two weeks later after handing the photos to Elektra Records, I was walking to the gym and I see these Vitamin C street posters covering New York. There were literally thousands of posters everywhere, and all I could think was, “Wow, this is not bad.” I guess after I quit being a classical performer, the idea of shooting musicians, even actors, or celebrities in general didn’t appeal to me that much; coming from my experience in front of the camera as a musician, being shot for album covers and all that, it was not what attracted me the most. I wanted to shoot models, fashion, and beauty. This opportunity had to kind of be drilled into my head that, “Hey, music is something that I understand very well. I understand how labels work. I understand how musicians think.” And so after that shoot with Vitamin C, I kind of got over that. And that started taking off really, really quickly. One thing led to another and I started working with Iman and David Bowie, Destiny’s Child and Beyonce. And interestingly enough, it’s precisely those musicians like Beyonce , who then opened the door, to shooting L’Oreal. I did shoot some L’Oreal when it was in the very early first year, but not major global campaigns. Once the Beyonce pictures came out for her album cover, L’Oreal called.
It was really like a great time, but towards the end of that “2000s” period, everything changed: the economy was just awful, photography budgets were plummeting. It was this huge shift. So then we have things like Instagram, and people started looking for alternatives and that’s when the landscape kind of changed. And it wasn’t that fun for me, because I wasn’t immediately that excited about, you know, changing the way I work. I used to work with very large set-ups. You know, all these 2000s shoots had like 20 interns. It was this whole machine.
It was a huge production.
Exactly, it was a huge production; that was my frame of mind. Now, in the last couple of years, working with Koala, I’ve completely gone the other way. I like doing everything myself. I like setting up lighting myself. I have assistants and they sit there, they talk to the clients, and bring them coffee or they help the makeup artists take their bags to the car.
I love working with an experimental set-up. I help design and develop everything. It’s really hands on, with my vinyl gloves and screwdrivers; it’s a ginormous change from my attitude before.
I was scrolling through my phone earlier and my friend reposted a tweet from Paris Hilton saying, “The early 2000’s was such a fun & iconic era for fashion. People didn’t have stylists & actually had personal style. Now everyone kinda looks the same! ” What do you think about that? Do you agree?
I think she is right. I mean, I don’t know. People still have individual styles.
What would you say, just even on set—have you noticed any difference in the amount of styling or any way that the processes have changed during a shoot?
It hasn’t changed that much, but I think we see shifts because the budgets have changed so much from before. Let’s say with record companies, for example; it wasn’t unusual for a shoot to have a several hundred thousand dollar budget ; this literally went from, let’s say a couple hundred thousand dollars being an average production budget for a shoot, to now, saying we have nothing. We have no money.
The music industry has completely changed in itself, with streaming and the amount of income they take in—and where that income comes from. You can see a total correlation there with the different industries.
I think what’s interesting as a photographer, and someone who is passionate about it, I’m not doing it so much as to earn a living, I’m doing it as a passion. Of course, it’s a side effect—it’s my job, but it’s not what motivates me. Especially in the last few years, I never think about the amount of effort and work versus the money. I’m not saying, okay, “they’re only paying me this much, so I’m only going to put in this much effort,” you know what I’m saying? I work as intensely and as passionately for a favor for a friend or their Instagram, as I do when it is a Vogue cover or a Vanity Fair cover.
Sometimes it’s the first question out of people’s mouths like, “Well how much is it, what’s the budget?” And I’m like, that’s like the least important. What’s the need? What’s the point? What are we doing, you know—we will always figure out how to cover it. So I guess that is one of the differences, you know, that the money has just the flow of the money has changed.
What are you focusing on now?
At the moment, I’m very intuitive. I like working with closeups and macro photography. When I say that I mean: eyes, lips, nails—you know, very tight; the face as a canvas. It’s quite complicated. It’s quite technical. I think some of these more technical areas of photography are really exciting because creativity and technical challenges kind of all come at the same time. In order to do a really great macro shot of an eye, you have to use a lot of different experimentations and knowledge, while also utilizing different ideas.
Images courtesy of Markus Klinko
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