How Lenny Kravitz Turned the Tables on the Paparazzi (By Picking Up a Camera)

Steffen Keil and Lenny Kravitz
Chris Weeks/Getty Images

Steffen Keil and Lenny Kravitz attend "Flash" by Lenny Kravitz presented by Leica at Leica Store LA on March 5, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  

Rocker holds first photo exhibit in Los Angeles

Lenny Kravitz has found a way of turning the tables on the paparazzi and morph it into a creative endeavor.

The rocker turned the lens back on photographers, snapping shots around the world of both paps and fans taking pictures of him. The resulting photos have been turned into a new photography book, Flash, and a gallery exhibit that premiered in L.A. recently at the Leica gallery and will make several stops at galleries around the world (next up: Germany).

Kravitz sat down with Billboard to talk about where the concept was born, how assembling an exhibit is like recording an album and his aspirations to direct.

What was the first moment you realized this exhibit was something you wanted to do?

When a friend of mine, Jean-Baptiste Mondino, who is a great photographer, was looking at them. I was showing him all kinds of photos that I had done and he said, "I really think that you should go with this theme as your first exhibition." I liked the photos, but I didn't think to do anything with them. And he said, "This has never been done." Which I was surprised, because everything's been done, right? He thought there was a real calmness to the photographs, even though they were in these real hectic situations of being hunted. There was a real calmness to them and beauty to them, so he was the one that convinced me to move forward with it.

Do you know what happened to all the photos of you that were taken as you were taking these?

I've seen a couple, but not many.

Tim Heidecker 'Leaks' Katy Perry & Lenny Kravitz's Super Bowl Song

Where did you take the first photo?

It could've been in Italy, in Florence. I remember walking out with my godkids, who were out on tour for a summer. We had taken three or four kids from the family on tour, to take them around and we were walking around trying to hang out. I had my camera to shoot other things that I was seeing and we got bombarded. I decided to turn it into an exercise instead of being annoyed that I couldn't go and shoot what I was trying to because I had all these people in my face or chasing me down the street. I decided to deal with that.

How did taking the photos change your perspective on what the photographers are doing?

It turned it from something that would be annoying into something that's challenging and interesting. Also, you feel the flashes if you're being chased or you're trying to get through and they're not letting you through, there's a lot of movement. At the same time I'm working with a manual camera so I'm dealing with getting my light, getting my focus, getting everything straight while I'm trying to maneuver to get from point A to point B. So it became a real challenge that I actually welcomed. "Okay, here they come, let's go, let me try and get my camera out and get a shot."

Is this something you continue to do?

I haven't done it in like a year or so.

Lenny Kravitz Releasing New Album 'Strut' in September Through Kobalt Label Services 

Do you notice not doing it when you are in high-profile situations, like, I don't know, playing the Super Bowl?

It's funny because I did it so much and because this show was happening when that was going on I was like, "Damn, I'm missing some good shots." I had all these cameras in my face. I'm sure I'll continue to do some of it, but I'm sure, because of the way I am, I'm gonna move onto the next thing.

Have you figured out what the next theme is?

No, I don't know if it'll be a theme, it might be all over the place.

Would you incorporate the music and photography together?

Could be. It probably will even move into moving images, me directing things. I love it.

Is the photography influencing your writing at all?

No, they complement each other when I am using different mediums. It's a great way to get away from what you are doing, do something else, but yet you are still being creative and you can come back to what you are doing and be refreshed. You're reinspired.

When you are making an album, artists always need some distance to get perspective.

Absolutely, that's why these photos had to sit for a couple of years. For me, things have to sit and I have to get away from them, forget them and then when I see them again it's fresh. Same thing with music: When you're in the studio because it's that intense, you're like a laser beam. You're focusing on every little aspect, every beat, every note, every moment. After a while it can become a little cloudy so you have to put it away, go work on something else, forget about it, then maybe two, three weeks, a month later, you listen to it again when you're in an open mood and it sounds like something else.

So when you put away the photos and came back and looked at them were there things that you noticed or that changed for you?

Especially looking at them with Jean-Baptiste and listening to him comment on them while we looked at them, I saw them in a completely different light. And then I spent the time focusing on all the faces, all the people, all moods, their spirits, their vibes, even sometimes their pain. And it was very interesting.

Listen to Lenny Kravitz's New Song 'Sex': Exclusive Premiere

You are turning the tables on people who do this for a living. Did they ever comment?

No, they never say anything. They'd just keep shooting while I was shooting. "Well, we'll get this picture now, he's holding a camera." They would just keep shooting.

Click on the link below to images Kravitz captured in his book, Flash.