Bob Carlos Clarke: Possibly My Ultimate Photographic Hero

"Adult Females Attack Without Provocation"
"Adult Females Attack Without Provocation"

Bob Carlos Clarke: Wall To Wall
8th May to 3rd July 2009

It’s a bit late in the day for me to be talking about this exhibition, I confess. I first learned of the existence of The Little Black Gallery, The Bob Carlos Clarke Foundation and this exhibition about two weeks ago, almost by accident. If I’m honest, I felt a little hurt and a little cheated that nobody had thought to tell me, what with me being Bob’s biggest fan. Then I sat down to write this article and realized the reality is that, in spite of my claim to be a huge, HUGE fan, I actually know very little about Bob Carlos Clarke.

I first became aware of his work back in the 80s when I opened a magazine and was knocked sideways by this magnificent full-page advert, which I believe was for Russell & Bromley. It was black and white, a rear view of two gorgeous models dressed completely inappropriately for the location (apparently a London street) and with their hands provocatively placed on each other’s backsides. I can’t swear that I have all the elements of this spot on (it was a long time ago!) but I can tell you this; I was completely blown away by the image. The photograph was supposed to be an advertisement, but what I saw was art, pure and simple. Shortly after this, Bob’s work was featured in a photography magazine article and I realized that I had seen quite a few of his images without knowing his name.

The magazine article promoted his new/forthcoming book, “The Dark Summer”, so I’m guessing this was around 1984/85. I headed into town (several towns, in fact) to see if I could buy a copy, without luck. Eventually, I found a book shop with one member of staff who had actually heard of Bob Carlos Clarke and I decided to order the book. Of all my photography-related books (I have about 60), “The Dark Summer” is still my favourite. No-one and nothing has excited me or inspired me (photographically speaking) like the creations of Bob Carlos Clarke.

“To qualify as a legend, get famous young, die tragically and dramatically and never underestimate the importance of your iconic photographs.”

Bob Carlos Clarke

His images have often been quite challenging for the viewer; my wife (who is very open-minded) recently gave me a copy of “Shooting Sex” for my birthday and her face was the very definition of “confusion” when she opened the book to browse. I like to think that Bob would like that. I remember reading that he was fed up with people telling him how great his photos were and he wanted to push the boundaries to see if people would ask him what the hell he was thinking!

“Bob Carlos Clarke: Wall to Wall” is the first retrospective of his work, three years after his death, featuring pictures from his 30 year career, including some which have never been seen or made available for sale before. The exhibition also coincides with the publication of the biography “Exposure: The Unusual Life and Violent Death of Bob Carlos Clarke” written by award winning writer Simon Garfield (Ebury Press, 14 May 2009).

Reading an extract from the book is one of the reasons I have not tried to fill this article with “facts” – most of what I thought I knew, I don’t. And what I have learnt over the last few weeks can best be told by those who really know.

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Held at The Little Black Gallery and put on in association with The Bob Carlos Clarke Foundation, the exhibition runs until the 3rd July 2009 (like I said, a bit late for me to be covering it!). If you can get there, do. If not, I’m making it my personal goal to bring news of the gallery’s future exhibitions to the attention of as many people as possible, so be warned!

During my first contact with Ghislain Pascal, Bob’s long-term agent and friend, I have to admit to a small amount of fawning and sycophancy. I couldn’t help it, but I feel a bit embarrassed now; I mean, I’m not exactly a star-struck teenager (I wasn’t exactly a teenager in 1985 either, for that matter!). But we got past that, I’ve pulled myself together and we managed to have a proper chat.

“I first met Bob in 1996 when he photographed one of my clients, Tamara Beckwith, on the roof of Whiteleys shopping centre for an editorial shoot. I became friends with him and Lindsey and have been ever since.

Tamara and Bob and Lindsey had been friends for years… in fact ever since Tamara was about 17/18 when Bob was the only photographer that all the London girls wanted to be photographed by! At the time of Bob’s death they were neighbours on the same street in Chelsea.

We remained friends for years and he photographed all of my clients, as I owned a celebrity management company. Bob naturally became our photographer of choice for all shoots! Then years later Bob and I set up a picture agency together (Panic Pictures) to syndicate all his images. I then became his agent.

Lindsey and Bob had talked about owning a gallery for years. After Bob’s death, Lindsey and I got fed up with dealing with other galleries and dealers around the world to sell Bob’s work and decided to open our own gallery.

The primary aim of the foundation is to promote the work of Bob. But the secondary aim is to support young photographers through an annual photographic competition with the winning entries being exhibited in the gallery. Once the gallery is more established we will do this.”

I struggled, searching for a good title for this article. I wanted to get across just how big an influence Bob has been on me. So why only “possibly my ultimate photographic hero”? Because something tells me Bob Carlos Clarke would have thought me a complete tosser for saying it.

I’d like to thank Ghislain for taking the time to answer my questions and for granting permission to show Bob’s pictures on TDM.

The Little Black Gallery

The Little Black Gallery was opened in November 2008 by Lindsey Carlos Clarke, Ghislain Pascal and Tamara Beckwith and has had several critically acclaimed exhibitions. These shows have exhibited a diverse range of photographers including both well known and up and coming photographers. The gallery also has a “Bob Carlos Clarke” room holding a rotating exhibition of the legend’s work.

The Bob Carlos Clarke Foundation

The Bob Carlos Clarke Foundation was set up following Bob’s death in 2006 by his wife Lindsey, daughter Scarlett, and agent Ghislain Pascal. Its primary objective is to promote the work and memory of Bob Carlos Clarke. One of its other aims is to support young photographers by holding an annual photographic competition in association with The Little Black Gallery. All profits from this catalogue will be donated to The Bob Carlos Clarke Foundation.

3 Replies to “Bob Carlos Clarke: Possibly My Ultimate Photographic Hero”

  1. Just learned that the gallery will be taking the pictures down on Friday 3rd July and re-hanging, so if you are going then you need to go before that day.

    The gallery is open Tuesday to Saturday, 11:00am till 6:00pm

  2. Millions of people around the world instantly recognise Bob Carlos Clarke’s timeless photographs – they certainly rank top of my list of ultimate images any day – even if most of us are not familiar with the photographer behind them.

    Inspired to see the exhibition, I left the office promptly, endured the soaring 30°C+ temperatures of the London underground, a long and very hot walk past queues of stationary black cabs, Ferraris and delivery vans all held up by the abandoned roadworks that are currently plaguing the Fulham Road, only to find the gallery empty, the doors locked … alas, they had shut up shop early that day, gone to a party so I was told.

    Still, definitely worth seeing, so trying again, rang to check before I set off this time, but the number remained obstinately engaged, not my day! With temperatures still rising in London, risked the luxury of a cab this time – and to my great relief the gallery was open.

    Amazing to see in person the familiar images that we have all known for such a long time, but blown up to gallery-size prints. The very evident grain in many images came as a surprise, a gentle reminder that image making was film-based not so very long ago, but adding rather than detracting from the style and beauty of those frozen moments in time: makes a mockery of the camera manufacturers current race for zillion pixel digital camera sensors!

    Downstairs, a set of six colour-toned portraits that I had never seen before was a real find â?? we think we know Bob Carlos Clarke, but there is always still more to discover. Bob Carlos Clarke is one of the greats of 20th Century image making, but where are the ultimate image makers for the 21st Century to inspire our tomorrows?

  3. I met Bob, some years ago, to organise an exhibition with Ann Summers in Madrid, in 2006. It was wonderful to talk with him and to know about all his ideas and feelings…I remember he asked me to find spanish bulls to photography. He was a wonderful profesional, as well as a very handsome man.

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