On Monday afternoon, Lenny Kravitz was on the phone from Miami. He was getting ready to hang his first photography exhibit at a local gallery in the Design District for its opening the following day, just in time for Art Basel Miami Beach. Kravitz, a regular of the Miami Beach scene in the 90's, explained the genesis of Flash, as the exhibit is called, actually came from paparazzi. After a lifetime of paps bugging him and interrupting his photography hobby, Kravitz turned the cameras back on them. The result is a series of stunning high-contrast black-and-white photos that offer a never-before-seen perspective on fame from one of music's most recognizable faces. In conversation, he also became reflective about the mood in Paris, his longtime home, after the November terrorist attacks. "It takes a tragedy sometimes for people to realize that they need to come together," he said.
When did you come up with the idea for Flash?
Not until most of the photographs had been taken and they had sat for several months. While I was on tour in Europe one summer a few years ago, I decided that on my days off I was gonna go out and shoot. So I would grab my cameras, I'd go out, and I would be confronted with people, with fans, with paparazzi and it was interfering with my shooting. After a while I realized that this wasn’t going to stop happening, that I wouldn’t be able to just go outside and shoot and, you know, have my freedom to just be anonymous, and so I began to turn the camera on the people shooting me. And I wasn’t doing it thinking, 'Oh one day I’ll show these photographs.' I was just doing it just to do it because that’s all I had to shoot. I ended up putting the pictures to the side and I have a dear friend who is a great photographer named Jean-Baptiste Mondino and he came over to look at my photographs one day and he said, 'This should be your first exhibition and your first book and I thought... not. You know, it wasn’t what I wanted to show. But he did some research and found out that it had not ever been done and he said you have to do this—it's not often a photographer gets to show something that hasn’t been done and so I decided to listen to him. It was just something that happened that was very organic and not planned, which was kind of interesting. And I think that’s what it’s about—no matter what kind of art you’re doing, you know, let it be organic to who you are, to your life, to what you're offered. We’re all offered different things and that’s what I was offered. And I’m glad that I shot what I was offered.
Have you always been interested in photography?
Well, my father was a journalist and he worked for NBC News in New York City and he ended up going to Vietnam and covering the war, doing all of these different things. He wasn’t a professional photographer, but he always had his camera—he had a Leica. This was the first camera I saw when I was a child; I used to play with it but obviously had no idea how to operate it. Then when I became an artist and I started being photographed. I found it fascinating, not so much me being photographed, but the process and also the development process. I became friends with the photographers and I would sit and watch them develop film and listen to them talk about techniques and stuff and that was kind of fascinating, but I didn’t have an understanding of the camera. So then I ended up getting a camera for myself. When the new digital Leica M8 came out, I had a friend who had one and I just thought it was just a beautiful camera. So I got one and I really got into that one and that’s when I really started to shoot—with that camera. This exhibition is shot on that camera as well.
Is that still your favorite camera?
I mean, now we’ve gone past that and I actually just designed my own camera for Leica called the "Correspondent" that came out and sold out—it’s a camera that I designed with two lenses. I love Leicas. I have many different ones, film cameras, digital cameras. They’re my favorite to shoot with, to walk around and carry. It works very well with the way that I shoot which is primarily on the street.
Who are some of your favorite photographers?
Oh, I love Bruce Davidson—he’s one of my favorites. I love Helmut Newton, I love Richard Avedon, I love Gordon Parks, William Eggleston—I mean I could continue, but those are some of my favorites right there.
You’ve obviously been to Basel before —
Oh yeah, I went to the very first one. I lived in Miami for many years, so you know I don’t have a home here currently but it feels like home to me. I’ve spent so much time here.
Does it feel any different being at the fair as a presenting artist rather than a guest?
I mean, I haven’t done it yet, but I’ll tell you tomorrow! But, no I’m very honored to be having a show here and to be a part of Art Basel. I think it’s a great event and you get to be around so much art and artists, it’s inspiring.
Do you have any favorite memories from past years at the fair?
Well, the first year that I went I remember I got turned onto an artist that I love, Chris Ofili, and I ended up buying two watercolors at that Art Basel. Also meeting Mickalene Thomas. Actually, I got introduced to the art [at the fair] and then met her at her studio in Brooklyn. Those are two artists that I became aware of at that first Art Basel and ended up getting pieces and ended up getting to know one of them. That was a a good day.
Is there anything you’re looking forward to at the fair this year—aside from your show, of course?
Well, I’m looking forward to the whole thing. I’m very open. My friend Swizz Beats is having an art fair that he set up called No Commission which I think is going to be very interesting, so I’m going to check that out and you know just see everything at the fair. See who’s selling what, what’s going on, learn about some new artists.
What do you hope viewers take away from your show?
It’s really open. There’s nothing that I want somebody to take away, it’s just what you get from it. The interesting thing that I found about these photographs after I’d been shooting them, when I started to analyze them, is the stories in the photos. Obviously these are all people that are shooting me and so it’s almost like I’m being hunted by these people, and it was something that at first I wasn’t very happy with, but what I found was these beautiful stories in the eyes, in the faces of these people. I turned something that I thought was annoying at the moment into a beautiful exchange of energy and of stories, so when I look at all these photos, I can spend time on each face and interpret my interpretation, what I think I’m getting. But when other people look at the photographs and they find a face or a certain set of eyes that they connect with, they come up with a story that goes with it. Whether it’s accurate or it’s not, it’s interesting to take the time to look into somebody’s face or eyes and get something from it, you know emotions, a story, sadness, pain, happiness, intrigue, whatever it is.
You recently opened up to Rolling Stone about your home in Paris. Have you been back since the attacks?
No, I’ve been preparing for the show and I’ve been over here, but I really have a desire to be there. I actually called some friends yesterday that I was checking on and I really have the desire to be there , to be with my friends, to be around people. It’s a really sad thing that happened and, of course, as you read there are people that are in my camp that were killed or injured and then friends and friends… so as horrible as it would be anyway, it’s that much more personal when you know people, you know? But the attitude in the street, in all the people that I know, is that attitude is really strong and the attitude is to continue living and to not succumb to this. People are going out, they're living, they're expressing themselves, and theyre coming together which is nice. I mean, it’s always sad that it takes a tragedy sometimes for people to realize that they need to come together, but that’s the vibe that’s going on right now.