An Exclusive Interview With ‘Heathen’ Photographer Markus Klinko

December 13th, 2022 | by Nick
An Exclusive Interview With ‘Heathen’ Photographer Markus Klinko

Markus Klinko is a name familiar to every Heathen aficionado. He defined Bowie’s 2002 era with his stunning photographs and captured brilliantly the concepts of the album. His career is remarkable, having photographed the likes of celebrities, musicians and supermodels, all with his trademark style. He has also collaborated with Vanity Fair, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and many others. He kindly agreed to answer our questions below..

You are a recording artist yourself and performed as a solo harp player. What attracted you to such instrument and how long did it take you to master it?

I was forced to learn piano at the age of 3, but I only became interested in music once I discovered Elvis around the age of 8.

At that point, I was allowed to switch to classical guitar, but also got an electric guitar, and became very good at it quickly, and began performing in public.

One day, I attended a harp recital, and was so fascinated by this much larger instrument, that I decided on the spot to become a classical concert harpist!

At the age of 17, I got admitted to the prestigious Paris National Conservatory,the most famous school for the harp in the world.

I was on the way to realize my dream, and by the mid 80s started my professional career as a concert soloist, signing an exclusive recording contract with EMI Classics, and was managed by Columbia Artists.

In 1994, I won a major award in Paris for my recording with the Paris Opera Bastille Orchestra.

During this time, I was photographed regularly by magazines like Vogue, Vanity Fair and Harper’s Bazaar, and started developing a keen interest in fashion photography, and befriended a few photographers.

At that time, did you see yourself as a professional musician for the rest of your career?

Absolutely! I never anticipated that I would ever do anything else.

What steered you away from music and into photography?

A sudden, unexplainable problem with my right hand in the summer of 1994 forced me to cancel tours and recording sessions.

When no doctors could fully explain what happened, I realized that I had in fact reached my childhood goal of becoming a successful performer and recording artist, and that it would be ok to try and start a new career. While I never took any photos myself, my experience as a subject in front of the camera, and my growing recent interest in photography made me decide to embark in this new career.

What was your approach to photography in the beginning of your career?

I wanted to learn all the technical aspects of studio photography, but was not interested in going to school, or assisting other photographers.

So I had to teach myself which I did with the help of a store window mannequin, and an enormous amount of gear that I acquired before taking a single picture.

Do you recall your first assignments? What did you learn from them?

My first assignments came surprisingly quickly, from fashion magazines in Paris and London.

It was an amazing chance to train on the job. These boosted my confidence, and made me want to work even harder!

Your photos are very distinctive. How much of their uniqueness would you say relies on your technique, your instinct and the subject?

All of the above!

How did you land the session with Iman and Bowie? What went through your mind when they told you that you had been chosen?

Iman came first! Angelina Jolie’s makeup artist showed her my portfolio, and she immediately decided to hire me to shoot the cover of her art book, I AM IMAN!

She came back to my studio for an editing session, and to my great surprise was accompanied by David!

After they spent a few minutes looking through the film, he turned around and asked me if I wanted to shoot the cover of his next album!

Can you tell us about your experiences photographing Iman?

It was very exciting. Alexander McQueen sent over all these dresses, and she was just so iconic!

As you may know, the I Am Iman book was accompanied by a supplementary promo CD signed by David. Did you hold on to your copy? It is a very rare and valuable item nowadays.

No, I am not good at collecting things like that, lol!

Can you tell us about how you were approached to photograph Bowie for the Heathen album? I believe he played some songs for you. What ideas came to your mind as you heard the record?

A few weeks after meeting him at my studio, David called me and asked me to come to his recording studio on Broadway, as indeed he wanted to play the album for me!

As I listened to bittersweet tracks of Heathen, he sat in a window and smoked, and it was just such a moment! I started immediately visualizing the overall atmosphere of the shoot!

Were the shots the result of your vision that Bowie went along with or did he have some ideas on the spot?

David had very precise ideas about the actual cover, with the blind eyes. He even took selfies to illustrate what he wanted to accomplish!

However, once we nailed this cover image, he became very open to my ideas for the rest of the shoot.

The portrait of Bowie holding the cigarette is absolutely stunning. What does it convey to you personally?

I think it’s such a Humphrey Bogart moment!

What is your interpretation on all the imagery and iconography throughout the photos in the album booklet and in the session?

I love the graphic treatment, it worked very well with my photos!


Please tell us about the idea of having the wolves posing with a model.

After Heathen was released in the spring of 2002, GQ in London called me and asked me to shoot David for the cover of their upcoming Men Of The Year issue. I asked David, but he said he was already on tour, and was too busy for another session.

But I found a solution, and suggested using intricate photo composition, and to pair him with a pack of wild wolves. David loved the idea, and gave me carte blanche.

Which is your favourite photo from the session?

There are so many!

Meditation, The Cross, Natural Villains, Smoking, Repentance, The Savior, The Look….and of course The Protector.

What was it like for you seeing your work on the album cover, singles and promotional material?

It was definitely a moment! I was very proud of the work, and happy that David loved the photos so much.

Are there still any unseen images from the session in your archive? If so, do you have plans to publish them in the future?

As I have already done so since 2016, I will continue to release unseen images over time, absolutely!


Besides the Bowie work what is a session you feel very proud of?

My work with Beyonce, Britney Spears and Lady Gaga are all amongst my favorites.

Moving forward to 2013, you directed the video for Bowie’s single Valentine’s Day from The Next Day. Can you share what it was like to reunite with Bowie for this project?

Over the years I kept working with Iman all the time. I shot her LVMH campaigns for De Beers, and many magazine covers. But I’ve only seen Bowie a few times between the Heathen session and 2013. So when he called me and asked me to direct Valentine’s Day, it was a happy moment to reconnect. He looked great, and was in top shape for the video. Nothing indicated that there was not much time left.

Above, Bowie at Red Hook by Jimmy King.

After listening to the track, how did you envision what the music video should be like?

I wanted him to play that red guitar, and really felt this video needed to be very simple, more like an animated portrait almost!

Above, Markus sat in David’s place at Red Hook (Valentine’s Day video shoot) so Bowie could check the lighting and visualise the shot. 

Why did you choose the Red Hook Grain Terminal for the shoot?

It had the perfect depth and lighting for the mood. And I loved the graphism of the large columns.

Was the Valentine’s Day music video the last time you saw Bowie?

Yes, indeed.

Is there any unseen footage left from the video shoot?

No, unfortunately.

Did you have other projects together in mind?

Yes, we had been discussing another still shoot for Vanity Fair, but sadly it was too late.

You published ICONS, which is a superb book. Have you considered a Bowie-centric book?

Maybe! Let’s see!

What was your reaction to the news of his passing in 2016?

I knew that he wasn’t well, but it was still such a shock, I was very sad.

What are your current projects and plans for the near future?

I am now very focused on my art gallery career. I am planning a big exhibition in New York in 2023, working with POP International Galleries. There will be a lot of my Bowie work included.

The gallery represents Warhol, Basquiat, Haring and Lichtenstein so I am really excited and proud to see my work amongst my absolute favorite artists in the world.

I am also currently shooting new work for another upcoming exhibition, called The Angel Factory. It will be my first project specifically created for an art show.

Many thanks to Markus.

Limited edition prints available from

Printed by Weldon Color Lab on Fujicolor Crystal Archive Digital Pearl Paper 

(Scroll down for more of Markus’s gorgeous shots of David)

You can follow Markus on Instagram here

And via his website here

Interview by Francisco Beristain & Nick Vernon exclusively for David Bowie News. © 2022.

Edited by Nick Vernon.

All images © Markus Klinko.

Limited edition prints available from

Printed by Weldon Color Lab on Fujicolor Crystal Archive Digital Pearl Paper 

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