Toms River Regional Schools Hall of Fame

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Danny Clinch

Danny Clinch is a man who follows his muse wherever it leads. His passion for photography and love of music has made him one of the most visible photographers of the past decade. His work appears on album covers and liner art for artists as diverse as Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, Tupac, Foo Fighters, Smashing Pumpkins, Dave Matthews Band, Phish, and Bjork. His "unobtrusive" style is one of the features that Clinch's photographic subjects enjoy. It is used in a countless number of promotional and magazine portraits, and he has documented the Tibetan Freedom Concert since its inception in 1996. His photographs appear in various noteworthy publications including Vanity Fair, Spin, and Rolling Stone. In short, he has made a lasting impact on the music and photography worlds recently and is only just getting started.

Born in Toms River, NJ in 1964, Danny attended Silver Bay Elementary School, Hooper Avenue Elementary School, and Intermediate East and graduated from Toms River High School East in 1982. Then after attending Ocean County College, he decided he wanted to focus on photography as a career. "I was always interested in art and photography," he says, "but I thought I should lean towards photo. You should always focus on one thing your excited about." He searched around for a trade school to attend, and finally settled on the New England School of Photography, a two-year institution in Boston. He discovered the ad in the back of a photo magazine, and upon visiting, decided it was for him.

After graduating in 1985, Danny took part in two photographic workshops: Bruce Davidson's "The Photograph as a Document," and The Ansel Adams Workshop in Yosemite, which was coordinated by Annie Liebowitz. Working with Liebowitz yielded a great return; he was invited to intern for her in 1986. He worked his way up to her full time assistant, giving him the opportunity to travel the country with her. In time, he was also put with Mary Ellen Mark, Stephen Meizel, and Timothy White. He began to get sporadic assignments while assisting, but as he put it, took what he could get as long as somebody paid for the film and processing. Band portraiture worked its way into Danny's work early on. At Ocean County Community College, he had a photojournalism class, so he started to apply what he learned to music photography. He discovered a Boston-area alternative rock band called Rick Berlin: The Movie, and began to document them in portraits. However, he says he preferred shooting more spontaneous situations, such as concerts.

Danny started to shoot for Spin Magazine in 1992, first shooting the New York City hip-hop act 3rd Base. It was around this time that hip-hop was starting to emerge into the mainstream, and Danny, on a whim brought his photos to Steve Karr of Def Jam Records. The two hit it off, and he began to shoot other acts on the rise like Public Enemy and L.L. Cool J, getting his pictures seen by other record labels and musicians. As he describes it, there wasn't a big budget for hip-hop photographers at the time, since the genre was still up and coming. But when these bands were all considered big stars, he had them in his portfolio. From there, it didn't take much longer for Danny's work to branch off into the alternative rock world, and then across the musical board. While he is best known for photographing musicians, his interests go far beyond the confines of portraiture.

In 1995, Greg Dulli -- front man of the moody rock quartet Afghan Whigs -- approached Danny with the idea of doing some conceptual photography to illustrate the band's upcoming LP, Black Love. "He described to me this look he wanted: film noir, gritty black and white images. We talked about illustrating each song with a photo. The end result was an absolutely stirring series of twelve photographs found on the inner booklet of Black Love. In the end, the Black Love photographs are some of the most evocative -- and least recognized -- of Danny's career.

The next job he was asked to do was a gig photographing the Tibetan Freedom Concert, a festival created by Adam Yauch of the seminal New York Hip-Hop crew, The Beastie Boys, to create awareness of the persecution of Tibetans in China. Danny was friends with Shelby Mead, the Beasties' publicist at the Nasty Little Man PR firm. Shelby gave Danny a peek at the lineup of the first festival, held in Los Angeles in 1996. The roster boasted big names like Rage Against the Machine, Beck, Sonic Youth, and the Beasties themselves. After paying his own way to the festival, he gained an all access pass and wound up hanging a backdrop in the backstage area, taking portraits of the artists and shooting the festival itself. Danny ended up with thoughts of producing a book as well as a heightened awareness of what was going on across the world. "There would be a press conference before the show each day, and there would be nuns and monks there," Danny recalls. "They had spent 20 or 30 years in prison because of their religion; Chinese police would find religious paraphernalia on them and throw them in jail... I'm not an activist, but I do really strongly believe that people deserve their human rights." Danny has had a hand in every Tibetan Freedom Festival since, and photos he has taken along the way are gathered in his latest book, When the Iron Bird Flies in 2000.

The book is Danny's second; his first, Discovery Inn, was released in November of 1998, and is a compilation of the best of his portraiture. He describes the project as "gathering some friends, dumping all my pictures on a table, and going through them over several months." His harmonica playing is featured on the Foo Fighters' song "Another Round" off of 2005's In Your Honor and during a live performance of their song "Stacked Actors." Clinch was also one of the two photographers for that album and is featured on Foo Fighters live album Skin and Bones.

In 2003, Danny founded the film company Three on the Tree Productions, based in New York City. He is also among the 43 noted photographers invited to donate a print to FOCUS: an auction of the finest photography to benefit City Harvest. The September 18, 2008 fund raiser supported City Harvest, a food collection bank in New York City.

He directed a concert DVD documenting Pearl Jam's 2006 tour of Italy entitled Imagine in Cornice which was released in 2007. He also directed the DVD portion of Springsteen's Devils & Dust DVD box-set.

Danny has recently had a gallery exhibition in Washington DC, his first series that was shown for an extended period of time. The show is a combination of all his music-themed work, combining images from both books as well as outtakes, for an overall career spanning set. The Toms River Hall Schools Hall of Fame Board of Trustees now proudly honors Danny Clinch as a 2009 member of the Hall of Fame.


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