NICK CLARK: Photographer
What do you like about the area?
My studio is near the Uxbridge Road. I love the cultural mix of characters; such an extraordinary range of faces, such eccentric and interesting-looking people.
Where are your favourite local haunts?
My two favourites are on Uxbridge Road, right next door to each other. The Nut Case is run by a Lebanese family and they take such pride in their incredible selection of nuts and baklava, all so beautifully presented. And delicious too. I often get my lunch from the falafel house next door.
Why did you become a photographer?
My mum gave me her old Box Brownie (Kodak camera) to learn photography. It was the process that fascinated me in the beginning and only later that the creative process became more compelling. I had no notion you could have a career as a photographer. When I left school I was guided towards business studies and my first job was as a trainee accountant. I wasn't very interested in it, and one day I had the revelation that I could end up spending my whole working life in that one open-plan office, moving from desk to desk as my job description changed. I wanted more from the world so I left and went as a volunteer to a kibbutz (communal farm) in Israel. I took the camera that my parents gave me for my 21st birthday and that's where it started. I remember feeling nervous, but the moment I got on that plane and did up the buckle, I said to myself, there's no going back. You might as well just go for it. It opened my eyes.
The moment I got on that plane and did up the buckle, I said to myself, there's no going back
You assisted legendary photographer David Bailey. What did you learn from him?
I worked for two great photographers, David Bailey and Barry Lategan, both legends from the 60s. Barry photographed people more sculpturally whereas Bailey confronted them head-on to understand who they were. I first met him working in Holborn Studios, just off Farringdon Road, one of the first studios for hire where all the photographers went when they needed more space. After photography college, I got a job there and I met all the greats. A friend was working for Bailey and he moved on so I took over. I was lucky.
For people unfamiliar with the history of photography, who are the greats?
For landscape: Ansell Adams. Reportage: Don McCullin, but you won't top (Henri) Cartier-Bresson. Portraiture: Bailey and (Richard) Avedon.
Portraiture is your passion and you've photographed actors such as Jeremy Irons, and singers such as Charlotte Church and Robbie Williams. Did he entertain you?
Not really. After an edgy start things soon went along much better. He was filming a video and my stills were used in in that and later in his tour programme.
You've also photographed artist Grayson Perry. How did you go about revealing the real man behind the dress? Is it your job to show people as you see them or as they want to be seen?
That's an interesting question. Grayson is a fabulous communicator, but I felt that in that session with him as "Claire", it was more about his performance in that role rather than searching for the man behind. That aside, it is my challenge to sum people up or at least to reveal some facet of them.
If your studio caught fire, which of your photographs would you save?
I'm happy with a tattoo series called 'Look At Me'. He (in photo background) was a street sweeper outside my studio, having a fag by his trolley, and I couldn't walk past him without asking if I could take his portrait.
Has anyone ever refused to let you photograph them?
Quite a few. If someone catches your eye on the street and you ask to take their portrait, I suppose it's a slightly odd request. Some find it flattering, but others find it threatening.
Who do you want to photograph before you hang up your camera?
I always wanted to photograph Bailey. I did photograph him a few times working but I couldn't get past what he gave me. That was a frustration. I wasn't experienced enough back then, and he knew every trick. There was no way I was going to out-smart him then. I'm not sure I could now. He's pretty smart. Don McCullin, he's another hero of mine. I heard stories from other photographers of his commitment and bravery in action.
As so many people now carry a camera, is it harder for a professional photographer to stand out?
Photography has changed enormously in the last ten, fifteen years. When we all used film, photography had a mystique. We had tricks and techniques to achieve results which have become redundant now. With the democratisation of digital, the new tools are available to everyone, but it still takes skill and experience to do it well. The process is much the same; it's just that the tools are different.
Do people always ask you to bring your camera to their weddings?
It's very hard to be a guest and take pictures. You can't be casual about it. The concentration required, always looking out for things to happen, that's work and you can't do it half-heartedly. I don't want to disappoint them so now I say, it's all or nothing.
Do you take photographs every day?
Not every day, but I always carry a camera. A couple of years ago I set myself a project called '52', to take a photograph every week for a year, simply for my own joy in photography. It created a discipline to always be aware of my surroundings. There are pictures around us everywhere.
What are you showing at your current exhibition?
As much as I love London, the chance to get away offers the opportunity to look at things with a fresh eye. When Finlay Brewer kindly invited me to show my work, I decided on some recent landscapes from the Scottish East Coast where the winter light is so crisp, and from Devon which is another favourite.
Thank you, Nick. It's been a real pleasure to meet you.
More of Nick's photographs can be seen on www.nickclark.co.uk
This interview first appeared in ASKEW magazine, March 2015. Interviewed by Jo Reynolds
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