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Beyonce, Britney, and Barbie (Oh, and Bowie)

Mon, 07/31/2023 - 16:08
"Bowie, Beyonce (above left), Britney, Ice Spice (above right) -- they're all in the show because they are my favorites," Markus Klinko said when asked about the thousands of celebrity photographs he has taken over the last two decades.
Markus Klinko

In Barbie Land, at least in Greta Gerwig's version in her summer blockbuster movie, girls rule and boys are . . . well, accessories. However, watch the movie and you might feel that Ryan Gosling's Ken doll comic character somehow upstages Barbie, with his swishy boy band moves and deadpan delivery of all the best lines. A genitalia-less, peroxide blond, pretty boy manages to subvert the patriarchal deconstruction. Typical!

Something eerily similar is happening in Bridgehampton, where the celebrity photographer Markus Klinko opened his show "Bowie, Beyonce and Beyond" on Saturday at the White Room Gallery. The gallery space has been transformed into a dream house of sorts, its walls filled with dazzling photographs of pop royalty: Beyonce, Britney Spears, Ice Spice, Lady Gaga, and even Barbie. Oh yes, and David Bowie.

Britney and Beyonce represent two iconic 20th-century Mattel dolls: Troubled White Barbie and Queen Bee Barbie. But even beyond that, the Barbie tie-ins within the photography show are uncanny. There's Mr. Klinko's photograph for the cover of Paper magazine of the New York rapper Ice Spice, who at only 23 has been heralded as the next Nicki Minaj. The veteran and her protege have collaborated on the single "Barbie World," on the film's soundtrack, released by Atlantic Records, 10K Projects, and Capitol Records, which fizzes with plastic playfulness that's somehow simultaneously sugary, juicy, and PG-rated.

Also on the Barbie soundtrack is another of Mr. Klinko's subjects -- Billie Eilish, who croons her way through the single "What Was I Made For?" The list of music and Hollywood greats shot by the photographer reads like a suite of Barbies on a shelf: Mary J. Blige, Anne Hathaway, Jennifer Lopez, Mariah Carey, Kate Winslet, Eva Mendes, Kim Kardashian, Naomi Campbell and Iman, each one representing the doll's many distortions -- pneumatic bosoms, a teeny waist, outrageously curvy hips, and endless legs.

But, ultimately, Mr. Klinko's Bridgehampton show is all about David Bowie. Like Ryan Gosling's Ken doll, Bowie, the ultimate androgynous star with his boyish physique and girlish smile, steals the limelight here, too. The main Bowie print is XL-sized (60 by 80 inches) and it's the first image to greet a visitor. It's quite breathtaking to stand level with those famous eyes, the slicked-back hair, the cigarette held up to the mouth. You are literally face-to-face with an icon of rebellion, reinvention, and of scandalizing the respectable. 

Across from Bowie is the famous Beyonce shot, with the diva draped in not much more than diamonds and jeans. A Sony Music executive apparently quipped after seeing the Beyonce photograph that everyone looks better after "the Klinko treatment," the photographer said over Zoom. "But, all I'm doing is freezing them in time as gods and goddesses when they're just human beings."

Mr. Klinko, a Swiss national who lives in Los Angeles, first achieved fame in the 1990s as a world class harp soloist, having performed in recitals and as a featured soloist with symphony orchestras around the world. He became one of the only harp players to land an exclusive recording contract and received the Grand Prix de Disque (a sort of Grammys for classical music) for his recording of French harp music with members of the orchestra of the Paris Opera Bastille. But, around 1994, at the height of his success, he experienced a painful hand injury that remains undiagnosed today. 

Within six months of ending his classical music career, he said he "decided to become a fashion photographer," adding that the only experience he had with the medium was sitting in front of the camera for regular interviews and shoots for various glossy publications. 

"I taught myself. I never went to school for photography," said Mr. Klinko. "And it was much harder back then, in the days before digital photography because everything was shot on film so we had to deal with processing labs and all that. But I moved back to Paris [from New York City] in 1994 and was immediately embraced by Thierry Mugler and the fashion world."

On Saturday, over 150 people attended his Bridgehampton show, which will be on exhibit until Sunday. Sponsored by Rolls Royce Long Island, it's part of a mini-tour of exhibitions around the country. Mr. Klinko will continue his exploration of plastic fantastic fun with his next exhibition, opening this week in Salzburg, Austria, titled "The Angel Factory." In collaboration with high-tech medical companies, such as Emerald Laser for fat loss and Weber Laser Systems, which developed a wristband that supposedly encourages microcirculation of the blood, the show features very perfected humans, said the photographer, adding that it's a wry nod to Kim Kardashian and society's obsession with plastic surgery.

"The idea is to hold up a mirror to society. Celebrity is the religion of our time," Mr. Klinko explained. "I'm not criticizing it or endorsing it. I'm just saying this is what's happening. It's almost a caricature, a subtle caricature of a perfected vision. But it's tongue-in-cheek because they're so perfected that they don't look real."

Just like Barbie.

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