05 April 2006

"It's an addiction"

It’s not just ‘Crash’, which took away the best picture of the year award, among others, in this year’s Oscars, that toys with our imagination and our guilt. All of photographer Robert Carlos Clarke’s books do the same. And, with titles such as Obsession, The Dark Summer, White Heat, Insatiable, and Shooting Sex, who would disbelieve it. Clarke’s work has always been difficult to understand and controversial in terms of acceptability, but he has definitely created a name for himself as one of Britain’s, and the world’s, greatest photographers.

Born in Ireland, Clarke studied art and design in London before embarking on his career in photography. He is known to have become a photographer while chasing a part-time model who became his wife, but left him later because of his infidelities. Clarke had always been obsessed with sex and the female body. “With an obsessive compulsion I’ve taken more or less the same photographs over and over again during the past three decades,” Clarke has written in a passage published on the web site of his book Shooting Sex. “It’s not a job – it’s an addiction.” He wanted his pictures to make us aware that sexual desire is not something that we need feel guilty about or disturbed by.

But many were disturbed. And Robert Carlos Clarke’s work was not readily accepted by the media and the critics. His pictures, with titles such as ‘Unexploded Female’ or ‘Adult Females Attack Without Provocation’, showing sexually-charged rubber-clad women, not only shocked the world, they did not endear him to the feminist movement either. Some of his models included Rachel Weisz, Jerry Hall, Caprice, but he preferred to photograph women he met on the streets or in night clubs. According to Clarke, they were more natural as models. But he successfully combined his fetishistic photography with commercial work (for Levi’s, Volkswagen and Smirnoff), real life images (his collection of still-life is pensive, even emotional), and celebrity portraits.

Once, when quizzed about his unexpected propensity for photographing still-life, Clarke had observed casually, “I shoot celebrities for a living, but photographing rocks is more peaceable than photographing rock stars.” A sample of Clarke’s work, as a
slideshow, can be found on his website (you should be above 18 years of age to view this). And, you can read an interview he did with Eyestorm here.

Robert Carlos Clarke, photographer. Born 24 June 1950. Died 25 March 2006, aged 56.

www.bobcarlosclarke.com, Photo District News, British Journal of Photography, The Guardian, The Independent, Sunday Independent Ireland, Telegraph, The Times.]

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