HECTOR CLARK on ORIGINALITY and PIERCING through HOMOGENEITY
stylist SEAN MCCALLUM
hair and makeup ROSE LETHO
assistant GABE HANVEY
Being in the right place at the right time seems to be Hector Clark’s strong point. With a career that kicked off almost instantly out of university, he’s now firmly embedded himself throughout emerging arts sectors across the globe. With a unique practice that straddles the intersection of fine art and fashion photography, Clark seeks to steer clear of “flippant and boring image making.” Rather, his focus lies in taking the most original form possible – with everything he touches.
Leaving behind plans to study chemistry, Clark instead studied photography to pursue a career in the field. After a chance encounter at his exhibition in Canada, Clark was invited to intern in New York with one of the biggest names in fashion photography history. He’s now moved to the golden state, California, where he’s immersing himself in the lay of the land, delving deeper into his practice and continuing to push ideological and conceptual barriers in photography and art.
Here, Clark discusses his determination to evolve his own meaning of it all. As he says, “the world doesn’t care, so you have to make it listen.” Refusing to be an echo chamber of the past, Clark walks us through his vision for an unhomogenised version of a future free from censorship, and full of freedom.
Can you tell me a little about your experience in Canada and how that led you to interning in New York?
So, not too long ago I had the opportunity to study in Canada for a semester. I was really impressed by the level of authenticity in, and obsession with, the photography I saw at Ryerson University.
It was really interesting to see people on the other side of the world thinking about the same things and challenging the same concepts. It was there that I produced a body of work, including a book, which
I think was a turning point for my personal aesthetic and interest in the conceptual exploration of photography. I was then lucky to be asked to do two shows featuring that body of work. This took me down to New York and after a few weeks of exploring the city I was put in touch with a member of a top fashion photographer’s team, which led to an internship. It was an extremely lucky situation, to intern for such a prominent and historically important photographer, and I valued my time there a lot. I learnt a lot about the machinations of top-level fashion photography, especially behind the scenes. This experience still really drives me to gain that level of perfection.
I find that your work always has a strong narrative throughout. How important is this within your practice?
Communication is everything. The levels of which when displayed to an audience is where the nuance takes place. It is different for every photographer. Ambiguity in image making is very important to me. To leave the audience wondering how something is done or what the subjects of the image are involved in. Let the viewer take the lead. Allow them to take control and prescribe or project their own reading onto the image. Take this series, for example. The images are formulaic but the subjects are intertwined, somewhere between DIY formalism and an imaginative experiment. The imagination is drawn onto the print, however it does not explain the image. That is up to the viewer. With that said, I think I would rephrase my response by formalising the differences between communication and miscommunication. Both are extremely useful. Either one, or a combination of both, will form your narrative.
I know you like to develop and work your own film. Can you tell us a little about your work process without sharing of all your secrets?
I haven’t shot digitally for a while. It’s obviously variable on a client to client basis. But to be honest, a lot of people are requesting film, which is nice. I shoot almost everything on my 6x7 or 4x5. I much prefer the workflow. I enjoy shooting without a computer screen. I think it focuses every member of the set to their tasks and lets them visualise without distraction. It also allows the photographer and talent to really focus on the image making process. I enjoy making C-types and black-and-white prints in the darkroom when I can, and also using Flex-tight scanning as a way to re-evaluate the image. It’s all pretty common. In terms of the technical work, the thing I really take seriously is my lighting. I think it’s important to have complexity and complete control in the setup of lighting. It is photography after all, and that’s kind of the job in its most rudimentary form. There’s a lot of flippant and boring image making out there and I just want to steer clear of that!
Do you collect mementos and inspirations physically?
Not physically, no. I’ve never been overly inspired by the physical manifestation of things. My inspiration or ideas are more internal in their infancy. I understand that identity and personality are shaped by one’s external environment. So, to say I’m ignorant to the external and physical would be obtuse. However, while some gain inspiration from walking the street, I find it much more productive sitting and staring at a chair or a wall. Originality is of the utmost importance to me, so I like to do things this way. My friend David Croland introduced me to this broad idea of ‘talking to a chair’ when we first met, and I really took it onboard. Conversations with people are also of great inspiration. I like to talk a lot, probably to my detriment. I think the term ‘accumulate’ is an important one. A lot of people talk about creativity and this spark of one infectious idea. I don’t fit into that mould. I like to have a large group of concepts all being discussed at once. I think this can result in an internal discourse, which in turn can potentially result in something much better – almost like an internalised peer review.
You’ve done so much in such a short space of time. What has been your driving force?
I’ll be honest, I’m not sure how to answer that question. I don’t feel like I’ve achieved enough! And while I have goals and I’ve been lucky to meet a lot of them, there’s a lot to be done and I’ll continue to just keep making work. Hopefully people keep responding. I have spoken about this before, but I think utilising the idea of positive nihilism is very useful. Coming out of universities, institutes and art programs, I think there is a falsified idea of self-propagated ‘meaning’ thrust upon peoples’ shoulders. It is the concept that “my thoughts are of utmost importance and thus the world will listen to me.” This concept isn’t a good way to make photographs, or any art for that matter. I think it is important to recognise that the world does not care about what it is that you or I do (I mean everyone). It’s just too chaotic. It might sound negative at first, but I believe that understanding this creates a limitless environment. The world doesn’t care so you have to make it listen – you have to create your own meaning. That way, there are no restrictions and I believe that’s empowering. I think you have to create work that makes people notice rather than wait around for someone to do that for you. In an effort to answer your question more specifically, I’ll touch on the idea of ‘drive’. I think it’s extremely important to be your own #1 worst critic. I have a pretty poor relationship with my work and can’t really look at it after a few weeks. It makes me more driven in some respects, but I think it also propagates self-doubt. My theory is that in order to be better and improve, you need to hate and love your output almost simultaneously. I need to hate my work enough to make it better each time, and I need to like my work enough to continue. It’s a double-edged sword, but I think that dichotomy produces an aggressive work ethic and is a good drive for making photographs and art.
If you could see anything in the world changed, what would it be? What can we look out for in the near future?
Where do we start? Things are pretty wild. There are a lot of opinions out there, but alas I will give you mine. Something I do think about frequently is censorship. I’m interested in the outcome of censorship and where it takes us. I am a firm believer in discourse and the necessity of freedom of speech. Subjective censorship is where things get a little crazy for me. We are living through a period where objectivity is secondary and subjective truths are primary. This subjectivity in truth has led to a modern affection for ‘echo chambers’. I cannot understand why people want to be surrounded only by others who have the same ideas they have. Where is the opportunity for education or growth in that? Where is the opportunity for discourse or diversity in such environments? I despise echo chambers as they homogenise the world down to something so simplistic. Us versus them, without the opportunity for discourse involving differing opinions. Simple ideas can morph and mutate into the most extreme versions of themselves. I believe in the power of civil discourse. I’d like to see that come into the world order. But, if your ideas involve hurting anyone else then you can properly fuck off.
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