7 Questions for Photographer Markus Klinko on His Era-Defining Images of Beyoncé, Mariah Carey, and David Bowie

Marking the 20th anniversary of 'Dangerously in Love,' Klinko has announced a special edition going on view with Pop International Galleries, New York.

Photographer Markus Klinko. Courtesy of the artist.

Swiss photographer Markus Klinko (b. 1961) is world renowned for his work in high fashion and with celebrities, and his early career images of musicians—from David Bowie and Beyoncé to Britney Spears and Mariah Carey—are seen as aughts defining masterworks. Klinko’s high concept and production photographs from across his decades-long career continue to garner the photographer followers, and shape mass visual culture through today. Late last year, Pop International Galleries in New York announced their representation of Klinko, an exciting development for both artist and gallery.

Gallery founder Jeff Jaffe said, “As a gallery that represents Pop Art and ‘Art Of Popular Culture,’ Klinko is a natural fit. In the 25 years that Pop International Galleries has been around, adding the work of this astonishing photographer to our amazing stable of artists is both a privilege, and a visual imperative. He sees the world of celebrity in a way that celebrities wish to be seen, offering forth a joyous visual plethora that reflects Pop Culture and remains unequivocally Markus Klinko.”

We caught up with Klinko to learn more about his journey to becoming a top celebrity photographer, and what’s in store for the 20th anniversary of his iconic photo of Beyoncé.

Markus Klinko, Mariah Carey, Emancipation of Mimi (2005). Courtesy of the artist.

Markus Klinko, Mariah Carey, Emancipation of Mimi (2005). Courtesy of the artist.

You are world-renowned for your images of famous people, so I was surprised to read that you were resistant to photographing musicians and celebrities early in your career. Why was this, and what changed your mind?

As a child, my dream was to become a famous classical concert harpist and recording artist. Against all odds, this dream actually manifested in the early ’90s, and I traveled the world playing concerts and recording exclusively for EMI Classics, being represented by Columbia Artists. Vanity Fair, Italian Vogue, The New York Times, and GQ photographed me for features, and I truly believed the world revolved around moi! LOL

But by 1994, a mysterious hand injury forced me to abandon a lucrative career, which initially drove me into a state of sheer panic. However, within a couple of weeks, an epiphany made me realize that I had indeed achieved my childhood’s lofty goals and that continuing on that strenuous path, practicing the harp for 10 hours a day, was somewhat repetitive—maybe redundant even.

So, one morning shortly thereafter, I decided to become a fashion photographer headfirst, with zero experience and never having taken a single photograph. My only experience was on the other side of the camera, posing with my harp!

I decided to teach myself, and after purchasing a truckload of photo equipment that I didn’t have a clue how to use, I locked myself into my New York City loft and called in favors to do some model tests for Elite, Ford, etc. I used the dedication and focus I had previously learned from my classical training and advanced very quickly through trial and error.

However, I initially looked at this new endeavor as more of a “reward” for all the hard work I put in for 30 years as a harpist—and was mostly interested in shooting sexy models! The idea of shooting other musicians or celebrities was not too appealing.

In 1995, I moved back to Paris for a bit, and quickly found an agent when things actually took off a little, and I started getting assignments from smaller fashion magazines in Paris and London. I also started to experiment very early on—way before that was the norm—with digital post-production.

By 1999, the style that I developed started to attract major labels and bigger magazines. And they mostly wanted me to shoot celebrity covers! It took a little bit for me to warm up to this, but all changed dramatically once David Bowie asked me to shoot the cover art for his album, Heathen, in 2001. This was sort of the official start of my photo career. From there on, everything escalated very rapidly!

Markus Klinko, Beyonce, Dangerously in Love (2003). Courtesy of Pop International.

Markus Klinko, Beyoncé, Dangerously in Love (2003). Courtesy of the artist and Pop International Galleries, New York.

This year marks 20 years since you first photographed Beyoncé for her iconic Dangerously in Love album, and you’ve worked with her several times since. Do you have a favorite image of her? Or can you tell us about any particularly memorable moments?

These images are amongst my most successful work, and it would be hard to narrow them down to just one!

When Beyoncé asked me to shoot the cover of her debut solo album, Dangerously in Love, she mentioned a campaign I’d done showing Laetitia Casta lying in a diamond-studded spiderweb. Beyoncé wanted something similar, but smaller. When she arrived for the shoot, with her mother styling her, I pointed at the diamond top as they brought out all the outfits and said: “That’s exactly what we discussed.” But Beyoncé was reluctant because her mother had only brought skirts to pair it with, and she felt it would make the look too red carpet-like. I suggested she pair it with jeans. She liked that idea, but they hadn’t brought any. So, I gave her mine—on that famous, iconic cover, she is wearing my jeans! People ask if that meant I wasn’t wearing any trousers while shooting her, but I was—I had another pair, luckily. A few months later, she returned the jeans. She’d had them cleaned and they were nicely wrapped with a ribbon. This was 20 years ago, and since then this cover has come to represent an entire era, the 2000s.

This week, I am releasing a very limited BEYONCÉ DIAMOND DUST, 20th ANNIVERSARY EDITION. It was difficult for me to choose the initial three works for that. Also, I finally decided to showcase the jeans alongside the new Diamond Editions, in a specially designed art plexiglass box! The jeans will have their debut next month at Pop Galleries in New York.

Markus Klinko, Rhythm Roulette (2001). Courtesy of the artist.

Markus Klinko, Rhythm Roulette (2001). Courtesy of the artist.

Of all the celebrities you’ve photographed, who have you worked with that you would most like to work with again?

David Bowie. He was such an inspiration. He left us way too early.

Can you describe your creative process? Do you go into a shoot with a clear idea of what you want to capture, or is it more spontaneous?

Both, literally. I am very prepared with precise ideas, my mood boards, and all, but I keep the possibilities wide open for magic to happen.

What are some places that you look to for inspiration? Are there other photographers or artists—either historic or contemporary—that have influenced your practice?

I am influenced by a broad range of pop culture, and actually consider myself a “documentarian of pop culture,” more so than a fashion photographer.

I am quite obsessed with Warhol, and extremely inspired by how he organized himself as an artist, as well as an entrepreneur, being able to seamlessly work with brands and celebrities, and turn it all into the defining art of his time.

I also love Helmut Newton’s work, but most other photographers out there are much less of an influence. I like to walk in my own direction.

Markus Klinko, The Angel Factory, Emerald #8 (2023). Courtesy of the artist.

With the advent of things like AI, social media, and other tech, do you have any observations or predictions on the future of photography?

Besides fashion stylists, makeup artists, hair wizards, set designers, retouching, and photo-compositing artists, my team indeed now also includes a very accomplished AI expert! I continue to stay a few steps ahead in this game.

In 2004, I was the very first photographer to shoot a global L’Oreal Paris advertising campaign with a digital camera! They were so scared but trusted me, and it was a huge success! I abandoned film and scanning in 2004.

I am also collaborating very closely with Fujifilm in the development of their flagship medium format cameras, such as the GFX 100S.

I am a very technical photographer and explore all advancements eagerly.

Are you able to tell us anything about what you are working on now? Or, alternatively, something you’d like to work on that you haven’t yet?

I have several big upcoming solo exhibitions opening in the next few months, including at Markowicz Gallery, Dallas, on June 8, and Jennifer Balcos Gallery, Atlanta, on June 15. Both opening events are supported by Rolls Royce, and I am also currently working with them on new shoots as well! But I am particularly excited about opening this fall at Pop International Galleries in New York!

I am also constantly shooting new projects back-to-back. For example, I just photographed the last cover of Paper magazine with Ice Spice, who is the number one hottest artist in the world right now! Seeing my work with her move from magazine cover to the walls of Pop International Galleries within just a few days was somewhat of an unprecedented experience. Normally, that takes at least 20 years for celebrity shoots to make it into art galleries—so I am proud to be able to change the game a bit!

Markus Klinko, The Bath (2023). Courtesy of the artist.

Markus Klinko, Ice Spice, The Bath (2023). Courtesy of the artist.

Explore the work of Markus Klinko with Pop International Galleries here.


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