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This is one of these books that I knew would eventually see the light of day now that several years have passed since the death of Photographer Bob Carlos Clarke so before I left for my holidays I rushed into town and picked up my copy from Waterstones in Glasgow in the hope that I had secured a good read in the coming week.
This book is definitely not laid out in your standard fashion but is presented to you as page after page of snippets from interviews, gossip and hearsay from friends, relatives, pop stars, models, general good time girls and last but not least his wife and child. This style would be fine if there was some kind of coherency to time scales, dates etc but you find yourself been told similar information from various time periods throughout his life and people and places become confusing as you jump from one short paragraph to the next. All in all a very frustrating exercise in deriving some kind of overall picture of the man himself.
I found this approach to be rather disrespectful of the subject matter and perhaps in time someone else will take up the challenge of getting beneath the skin of one of our finest photographers. In the meantime we have this book which includes little you could not find out about him from his last published book, "Shooting Sex", other snippets of info are culled from magazine articles old and new. The remaining book is padded out with memories and stories from celebrities, models, lovers and friends. His daugher Scarlett and wife Lindsay at least add some kind of credence to the book and present the reader with some genuine insight into the photographer, the husband and the father which at times is both moving and genuinely insightful especially from his daughter Scarlett.
I would not go as far as to say that the book is a bad purchase, to anyone not that familiar with his work or would like a little insight into the life of a famous photographer this would be acceptable but his long time admirers deserve better.
The whole exercise on writing an account of photographer Bob Carlos Clarke is a missed opportunity. To get behind the facade of the renowned photographer to try understand his depression and give light to what having depression for many creative people means. This topic is discussed but never in such a way as to explain why he was such an obsessive person both in his photography and personal life. Depression is a disease which can and does go unnoticed, sometimes for years, and may account for many of his curious decisions and actions which seem very familiar to someone such as myself who also suffers from depression.
Fame has never come knocking on my door and never will but what I share is an obsession for my craft and this can sometimes be seen by outsiders as obsessive behaviour, verging on paranoia at times. When the creative spark is lost and everything you do or say drags you further down to that special place. Your womb within a room, that dark place within your mind where consideration for anyone is lost among all the self loathing and pity that is your life. Nearing the end of the book, Bob's wife lets us know that he had this place and this was the scariest place she ever went to.
Oblivion is only a walk away and there are some people whom are beyond help, Bob was to become one of these long line of creative genius whom could no longer see the light for the dark and would eventually take his own life by jumping in front of a speeding train.
My lasting memory of Bob Carlos Clarke was when I met the great man at an Ilford road show in the early 80's at Heriott Watt University in Edinburgh. After the lecture was finished I and two other members of the audience remained in our seats until the auditorium was empty then Bob turned around to us and said "I assume you want to ask me something". The following 25 minutes had us standing chatting away with him on many subjects which had not been discussed previous, he gladly signed my well thumbed copy of "The Dark Summer" which I had been grasping throughout, shook all our hands, wished all well and thanked us for attending. He was a pure gent and his obvious obsession and enthusiasm for his art was contagious, since that meeting I have never let anything stand in the way of my own creative path.
Bob Carlos Clarke entered a mid life crisis where there seemed to be no direction for his creative output and little respect for what he had achieved in the proceeding years. I am now only walking that path where many have trod before, the big 50 is seems only a moment away and yes I also have similar thoughts about . My depression comes and goes but I am blessed with a wife and two great children who are there for me, they have seen and witnessed the dark times and appreciate the lighter times. I am now at that time of life when I often think what the hell is it all about, why should I try anymore, my art and photography often seems dated my personal work gets darker and the commercial pressures are greater than ever at a time when I really want to tell some clients where to go...sound familiar?
Perhaps soon we will be privileged to read a true bio on one of the finest photographers this country has produced by someone with a little more insight, someone willing to go that extra mile much like Bob. Until then we are left with this rather shallow and ill conceived production whose subtitle alone, "The unusual life and violent death of Bob Clarkes Clarke" displays such a tacky sensationalist epitaph to this wonderful but misunderstood man.
Words by Victor Habbick.