My Favourite Photographers - Bob Carlos Clarke

What can you say about Bob Carlos Clarke? I've shown people some of his pictures, which is usually followed by the sound of a jaw hitting the floor and a cry of "Whaaaaat!!!" We can only guess what was going on his head when he created some of his most famous images and what drove him to walk in front of a train at a level crossing. 

Demented and deranged? Possibly. Talented? Without question. He produced some of the most remarkable images I've ever seen and they still have an impact on me when I see them now. With nods in the direction of both Horst P Horst and Helmut Newton, Carlos-Clarke put his own unique stamp onto the erotic photography genre. Some photographers are described as close to the edge, but Bob was clearly way over it and some of his images are so disturbing that they defy interpretation without recourse to psychotherapy.


Much of his work has been described as misogynistic, but these aren't simpering 50 shades of grey women, some of the fetishistic dressed ladies in his pictures scare the hell out of me. They look like they give as good as they get, if not more. Like Robert Mapplethorpe, Carlos Clarke images tends to polarise opinion, and its not difficult to see why, but love them or hate them, its difficult to be indifferent towards them.

His pictures show aggression, eroticism, violence and a kind of disturbed, unhinged humour. Even his social documentary pictures and still lifes aren't easy viewing. But as Jung said:- "Own your shadow" and Bob certainly seemed to embrace his with a passion. He is far from everbodys taste, and there are stories that the fact he fell out of favour contributed to his suicide, however I have always (its difficult to think of a word to put here) responded to his work, though maybe going too far into why that might be is not something I choose to explore. I think it has something to do with the whole "This is what I do, take it or leave it" sensibility of what he created. Again, like Mapplethorpe, much of this is on the edge of the pornographic and it certainly makes anything Page 3 comes up with seem prudish by comparison. 

I also think its the sheer bravado of it that impresses me, the fact that he was prepared to explore this and create such graphic stylised images. Stories about him suggest that he wasn't an easy man to deal with in either his personal and professional life, and I seriously doubt whether anybody would employ him, or somebody like him today. He did shoot fashion and portraits as well as his extraordinary personal work and those days of the photographer dictating the agenda at commissioned shoots are long gone. 

From what I know about him, I doubt that I would have liked him personally, but I do admire his maverick, driven approach to creating images. Too often these days "art" is reduced to unbelievable blandness and its primary function seems to be not to offend anybody. Bob Carlos Clarke had no such inhibitions and went his own way. Some people may think that he was on a road that headed into territory that most of us try to avoid, but he continued down it none the less, and was unapologetic about making pictures the way that he did. His "art" if indeed that is what it was, certainly wasn't comfortable or normal (whatever that means) but it was unique and created from a personal vision, however strange that vision might have been. 

Again, like Mapplethorpe, I am unsure as to whether I like him because of what he photographed or in spite of it, but the fact that he challenges me to think about what I like and why is no bad thing. Safe is easy to create, something that hints at a completely different expectation is another matter. Carlos Clarke was obviously working with his own demons and daring us to do the same. Our reactions to his images are something that we can only understand ourselves, but the very fact that happens makes him a special photographer in my book. Have a look at some of his work and see what you think. Again I would warn, if you are easily shocked or offended, then that might be something you would be better off avoiding.


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