Rock Star Photographer Turns Lens on Dewar’s

Rock star photographer Danny Clinch

In a brilliant re-imaging move by Dewar’s, renowned rock and roll photographer, Danny Clinch was tapped to shoot the company’s new look – the redesign of the entire portfolio featuring new curvier bottles — but inside, still the same number one selling premium Scotch in the nation.

Clinch is one of the most prolific rock photographers around. He has shot Sting, Tupak Shakur, Iggy Pop, Johnny Cash, Jay-Z, Bruce Springsteen, The Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, Eminem, Radiohead, Willie Nelson, Metallica and many, many more. Clinch is also the photographer rock stars choose when they want that perfect shot to illustrate their next album cover. Hundreds of them.

Also an accomplished filmmaker, Clinch has shot documentary films with Jay-Z, John Mayer and Ben Harper. But wait, there’s more. He’s also a musician who plays harmonica in the Tangiers Blues band. According to Dewar’s, Clinch is of course, the perfect brand ambassador because he effortlessly epitomizes the Dewar’s man.

The New Jersey native began his professional career working as an intern for the legendary Annie Leibovitz. His work has appeared in publications including Vanity Fair, Spin, Rolling Stone, GQ, Esquire, The New Yorker, and The New York Times Magazine.

Recently, Clinch appeared in Miami at the unveiling of the new Dewar’s bottles and his images at a cocktail reception in the Design District. We met first at the W Hotel South Beach, where his other photographs hang in every room in the hotel. Clinch is unexpectedly friendly and shockingly unaffected for someone who regularly hangs with rock royalty and who is a star in his own right.

Daisy Olivera

DAISY: Who haven’t you shot?! It’s probably easier to ask that! So many iconic rock photos that we’ve seen a million times… that haunting, yet oh-so-hot photo of Sting. How did that happen?

DC: Years ago, I was hired to photograph Sting’s show in Philly. I’m from New Jersey so I know my way around there. I knew there was a prison nearby. The Eastern State Penitentiary where Al Capone supposedly spent some time. It was five miles from the venue so I called and said, ‘I know I’m not there to do portraits, but would Sting consider coming over for some photos?’ I was pretty young in my career then. I was surprised. He came… a super nice guy. Went into the corridor and the light was amazing.  A year later, I saw him at an event. I didn’t know if he remembered. When I saw him, he turned to me and said, “The last I saw you we were in prison.” (Laughs) That was cool.

DAISY: When did you start on the road to becoming the rocker specialist?
DC: I started shooting in the music industry in ‘91for Spin magazine, I loved music but didn’t have a plan. I just wanted to be a photographer. I’d worked for Annie Leibovitz as an intern and for Steven Meissel.

DAISY: Betcha got some stories there!
DC: (Laughs) No comment!

DAISY: What was the major turning point in your shooting career?
DC: I started shooting musicians when hip-hop was becoming more commercial, I met the art directors for Def Jam records and shot guys like LL Cool J, Public Enemy, then started freelancing on other jobs for hip hop artists. I was there at the right time. The rock and roll people were also interested in this new hip-hop genre, which led to interest in me and it all kind of snowballed.

DAISY: Are there weird, interesting or stupid common denominators among musicians?
DC: Uhmm… (does fake head-scratching and laughs…)

DAISY: Ok, how about this: your bio says your “unobtrusive style” makes you very rocker friendly.
DC: That’s better! Everybody likes something different and the  musicians that I end up gravitating towards and have long term relationships with like the Foo Fighters, the Dave Matthews Band,  Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, they’re big rock stars, but the aesthetic they appreciate is not formal, more loose, hanging out, organic.

DAISY: You do have that chilled out vibe — it puts them at ease.
DC: I can fit in… maybe pop stars want pomp and circumstance, they want David LaChapelle to come out being all fabulous and bring the circus, but that’s not how I roll.

DAISY: Weirdest thing you had to come up with for a shoot?
DC: We had to bring a huuuge, huge snake to the Alice Cooper/John Varvatos shoot. It worked so well. It took four guys to bring in the 400 lb snake.

DAISY: So Dewar’s. Creatively, how did you make the jump from rockers and snakes to, let’s face it, inanimate bottles filled with liquid?

DC: Funny enough, I don’t normally photograph products so I was surprised when I was told that I was photographing the redesigned bottles. I hired an assistant that was very well-versed at lighting bottles properly. Glass is very difficult to light. We were there early to pre-light the studio, a natural light studio, which I chose for that reason. Then the Dewar’s rep said that they want me to shoot in my own style not typical ad style. They gave me guidelines needed for a certain point of view of the bottles that are necessary to show the brand but gave me free reign. We stopped the lighting. There were really beautiful, long shadows coming in on the floor, the sunset…that was inspiring and fun and I was then able to bring the same spontaneity to the Dewar’s bottles that I bring to portraits.

DAISY: Another advantage,  bottles don’t talk back.

DC: (Laughs) It was nice actually… for once! In one shot, the New York skyline is inverted in the bottle. Cool, simple… doesn’t take away from brand. Another side of it was abstract. I had a couple of vintage cameras, an old Bolex I like to shoot with. I started shooting through the bottles with the Bolex next to the guitar or through the bottle and the liquid to the guitar strings and creating abstract images.

DAISY: What other directive did they give you? Do your rocker thing? Don’t drink the product?
DC: (Laughs)

DAISY: Or do drink the product!?
DC: (Laughs) Well, I was nipping at each bottle a little at a time… a great experience all around.


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