Art Basel

Art Basel: When fans snapped photos of Lenny Kravitz, the rocker snapped back

Musician and actor Lenny Kravitz has turned his lens on the paparazzi, putting shutterbugs on the wrong end of a camera. He's opening an photography exhibition called Flash in the Design District during Art Basel week.
Musician and actor Lenny Kravitz has turned his lens on the paparazzi, putting shutterbugs on the wrong end of a camera. He's opening an photography exhibition called Flash in the Design District during Art Basel week.

It started off as a joke.

When rocker Lenny Kravitz hit the town after shows on a European tour to indulge his newfound taste for photography, crowds of fans and paparazzi mobbed him.

“I couldn’t get the shots,” Kravitz said. “They were in the way, taking pictures of me. So I started taking pictures of them, too. I wasn’t serious about it. They were a nuisance, and it became this kind of dance.”

But a year later, Kravitz asked a friend, the French fashion photographer Jean-Baptiste Mondino, to look through his work. Mondino’s eye settled on the shots of the crowds taking photos of the singer.

“He told me that no one in my position had ever done work like this before,” Kravitz said in an interview. “He said this had to be the theme of my first show.”

Now the former Miami Beach resident, known for rock hits including Fly Away and Are You Gonna Go My Way, is bringing his exhibition of photographs, “Flash,” to a space in the Design District for Art Week.

The show has made previous stops in Los Angeles, Berlin and Vienna.

It features tightly composed, black-and-white shots of people reacting as they realize the object of their affection is turning his attention on them.

Many keep shooting. The paparazzi paid to tail Kravitz never stop, even if their shots are marred by the camera in front of his face.

But some fans realize what’s happening and bask in the glow of his lens.

One of the most compelling images features a dark-haired young woman putting her camera to the side as she smiles at Kravitz from the other side of his tour bus window.

It’s clear that they’re vibing.

“We’re leaving the concert, and she was shooting, and I dropped my camera and I looked at her and I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a cute girl,’ ” said the four-time Grammy winner, his gray paisley shirt open just far enough to expose a hint of bulging pectoral muscle. “And then she kind of dropped her camera and looked at me, and I almost said to the driver, ‘Stop. Let me get this girl’s number.’ But I didn’t. I let it go. And that was the moment.”

All of the shots show off Kravitz’s ability to capture a moment as it happens. It’s like a live performance. There are no retakes.

It would have been easy for the exhibit to take on a cynical tone. And some of the photos of paparazzi squinting and glaring behind their cameras as they invade Kravitz’s space do bring to mind Ron Galella, the infamous shutterbug who tailed Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and other celebs for years despite lawsuits and restraining orders.

But the smiling faces of the fans make it clear that both they and Kravitz are having fun.

The show, in a two-story space in the Design District owned by developer Craig Robins, features about 40 photos.

All the works, taken on tour about five years ago, are for sale, with the proceeds going to charity. (Which charity hasn’t been decided yet.)

Smaller, 16-by-24-inch prints are available for $1,800. Larger, 3-by-5-foot prints sell for $4,000. A book of the photos will be on sale, too.

Kravitz isn’t alone in turning his lens on his admirers. Other celebrities including Mark Wahlberg, Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber have been snapped taking ironic photos of paparazzi. It may be their way of coping.

Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe even wore the same outfit for six months every night when he left a theater in London where he was playing so that paparazzi shots of him would be worthless.

But none turned their jokes into art until Kravitz.

“I think taking these shots may have been therapeutic for Lenny,” said Reiner Opoku, the Berlin-based artist agent and curator who organized Kravitz’s Miami show. “His development as a photographer has been amazing to watch. … He definitely has a classical approach. If you look at all the works we have here, they all have a center, and he thinks a lot about perspective, distance and how to shape the personalities in the picture.”

Brooklyn-born Kravitz rose to fame in the early ’90s with soulful rock anthems and a musical versatility that allowed him to play many of the instrumentals on his tracks.

In 2003, he started an interior-design firm that has worked on some of Miami’s luxury hotels and condos. He also has appeared as an actor in the Hollywood films Precious, The Hunger Games and The Butler.

His father, Sy, was a journalist, photographer and producer for NBC News. Kravitz said that as a toddler he used to play with his dad’s old Leicaflex. But he didn’t get interested in the art form until decades later, when photographers started snapping him after shows.

Today, Kravitz still uses Leicas, including the Leica M2, Leica Monochrom and the Leica Correspondent, which he designed with the German manufacturer and named to honor his father. The camera sells for $24,500. Leica Galleries is also sponsoring the show.

“Lenny is a filmmaker, he’s an artist, he’s a musician, he’s a designer,” Opoku said. “He’s one of those people who has so many different abilities inside of him that they have to come out.”

For Kravitz, who now lives in the Bahamas, Art Basel was a natural destination for his work.

“I was at the first Art Basel,” Kravitz said. “I’ve always met new artists that I’ve stayed connected with.”

He said his next show will focus more on portraiture.

As he talked, seated near a window that looked out on a busy Design District street, eager tourists camped out on the other side.

They took out their cameras and phones to snap his picture.

Kravitz kept on talking.

If You Go

What: ‘Flash,’ an exhibition of photographs by musician Lenny Kravitz (free).

Where: 160 NE 40th St., Miami.

When: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.

Contact: 305-531-8241