Three years after his death, never before seen images of David Bowie have been unveiled to the public for the first time. We speak to the photographer behind the lens.
A ny photographer lucky enough to work with the legendary David Bowie knew to expect the unexpected. Markus Klinko was no different.
Back in 2001 Klinko, who by then already had an enviable portfolio, was working with Bowie’s supermodel wife on images for her biography I Am Iman. The right cover shot was crucial to the book’s success and when the final edits were ready Iman brought her husband along for a vital second opinion.
“I was a bit taken aback,” says American-born Klinko, who began his career as a classical harpist before switching to photography. “I mean it’s not every day you open the door of your studio and find David Bowie standing there. He did his best to put me at ease though. I remember he was incredibly charismatic and down to earth, but also really knowledgeable about photography.
“Bowie was someone who thought in a visual way. He was an all-round artist, someone who understood the photographic process and I liked that.”
So impressed was Bowie with Klinko’s work that when he recorded the Heathen album the following year he knew exactly who he wanted to shoot the cover.
“Some artists just want you to take a good picture and that’s it. Bowie wanted me to really understand what it was he had been working on. He invited me over to his Broadway studio and the first thing he did was sit me down and play the album.
“There was nothing particularly fancy about where he worked. Even now when I think about that day I can see Bowie sitting by a window smoking cigarettes while his producer Tony Visconti played some rough tracks.”
Bowie had very clear ideas about what kind of image he wanted on the cover, but he was also keen to hear Klinko’s thoughts about what would work.
“That was one of those commissions which really felt like a collaboration. He might have been the star, an icon of the music business but he treated me as an equal and that doesn’t always happen.”
The resulting photoshoot took place over the course of just one day, but by the end Klinko had captured an eclectic set of images, including one of Bowie holding a baby and another of him apparently blind – it was the latter which made the final cover.
“While he was very interested in photography, he was quite strict about the shoot itself,” he says. “He likened it to a session at the dentist. It was something he wanted over and done with and it had to start at 9am and finish on the dot of 5pm. It meant we were all focused for every one of those eight hours.
“Some of the shots have a feel of 1940s Humphrey Bogart, but like much of Bowie’s work there is also something a little quirky about them, something you can’t put your finger on.”
Following Bowie’s death from cancer in 2016 at the age of 69, Klinko began thinking about that day 15 years earlier and of the many shots which had never seen the light of day. The result is
Unseen Bowie, which also includes a subsequent set of images which were commissioned by GQ magazine.
“They’d really wanted to do a new photoshoot, but he was busy and the timings didn’t work so they asked whether it would be possible to create a photomontage.
“I found a model who was the exact same height and build and photographed him with two wolves, which I then merged with the original images I had taken of Bowie.
“Some artists are understandably incredibly precious about images being tampered with, but Bowie loved it. In fact he said it was so good he was contemplating never doing another photoshoot in his life.”
That was a pretty good testimonial for someone who had never taken a single photograph in his life until a hand injury in his 20s meant he could no longer play the harp professionally.
“I had a good career in classical music,” he says. “I was the first harpist on EMI’s label, I’d won awards and I’d played with some of the world’s best orchestras.
“I’d achieved a lot and when the end came, I remember thinking, ‘Ok I can’t do that anymore, I better find something else I can do’.
“At the time I was friends with a fashion photographer who seemed to spend a lot of his time on Miami Beach. It looked like a pretty good life so I bought a book and started teaching myself.”
Klinko has since worked with the likes of Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Mariah Carey, Kanye West and Naomi Campbell, but the time he spent with Bowie will always hold a special place in his heart.
“The Japanese photographer Masayoshi Sukita worked with Bowie many times over the years. When he saw my images the first thing he said was, ‘You have captured the real spirit of the man’. There is no better compliment than that.”