Today on Artist Strong we welcome photographer Oliver Clarke. From his website, “Originally from the UK, Oliver Clarke is a Dubai based Photojournalist, Commercial Photographer and Videographer. Oliver brings more than 20 years experience from London, the Caribbean and the past eight years in the Middle East.”
Carrie: Welcome to Artist Strong Oliver. When did you first realize you were a photographer?
Thanks, my pleasure to contribute: from an early age, around 15 or 16 I think. My mother was a keen photographer so there were always cameras around the house. I began my career in the Lithographic Printing industry and studied Reprographic Techniques as part of my apprenticeship (I am actually a Class 1 Craft Trained Lithographic Printer as recognized by the then, now defunct, National Graphical Association which back in the 80’s was kind of a big deal as I was one of the UK’s last official apprentices); I made Photography part of my qualifying project work. I left the printing industry after realising that I was only reproducing other peoples creative work, I wanted to be part of the creative process myself. I’m now fortunate enough to have made my love of photography my work.
Carrie: When you go out and take photographs, do you already know what work you plan to create or is the process more give and take? (How much preparation and planning go into your photo shoots?)
Well speaking of my own personal work I usually have an idea of the type of pictures that I want to create, a subject perhaps. For example I’m currently in Spain on vacation, my wife and I have just bought a house here, in a little known region of Aragon between Barcelona and Zaragoza. Yesterday I found this amazing abandoned farming village right out in the countryside, I didn’t take my camera out of the car though, I had a good look around the place, it’s quite eerie there, almost spooky. I’m still thinking about how I will shoot this place as a series of pictures: what time of day to go back, what angles, how to show the emotions I felt there in pictures, what story the pictures will tell.
This is not necessarily a project that will be published, just something for my own enjoyment. I may spend another week thinking about this place before I return there to shoot it. I don’t have any lighting with me for my holiday, just one camera and one lens. I choose the time of day correctly and really think of how to shoot this project and thats all I need. For me the crux of the experience is to relax and enjoy myself.
Prep and planning for my commercial work though is a whole different story….
Carrie: How does your life experience and emotional state feed into your art?
I know this is something of a cliche’ but everything I have done, especially my first career in the printing industry has led me to where I am today, especially the technical side of photography. (I know a lot of photographers and budding photographers struggle with the technology, but for me the grounding I had in the printing industry was very technology led). The theory of image and colour is second nature, therefore allowing me more “brain space” to concentrate on the actual image rather than the technology. For example I don’t need to think about how to control the camera to achieve the effect I require, it’s instinctive, as are the limitations of the technology.
Regarding emotional state, yes this definitely has an effect. This is more apparent when I am on a working paid assignment, as I don’t get to chose what the assignment is. Belief in my own ability has a huge impact on the quality of images that I provide to a client.
Carrie: When you process an image, how do you know when it is “finished?”
When the picture is what I saw with either my eye, in my mind’s eye, or a combination of both.
Carrie: What are important strategies or choices you make that help support your creative process?
Recently I have been shooting less pictures, less actual quantity: with digital photography it’s very easy to fall into the trap of shooting hundreds of mediocre pictures instead of sitting back for a while and thinking about each individual shot. So if I spend half a day wandering around around looking for shots, a good day could be to return with only 2 or 3 great pictures that I love rather than lots that I don’t love.
Carrie: What has been one hurdle you’ve overcome as a creative and how did you navigate that problem?
Shooting great pictures of people was always difficult for me in the beginning until I realised that I needed to make a connection with the subject. For even just a moment, your subject has to trust you and to a certain degree even like you. For example, when you view a successful portrait there is something almost indescribable in the eyes, I think this is trust between the photographer and the subject. Making some type of connection with the subject is an enormous help to making them feel at ease with you. I’m not always brilliant at it though, it’s a work in progress and self confidence I believe is the key to success, and comprehending that fact even more so.
Carrie: How do you take risk in your art?
I don’t see my own personal work as risk as such. When I’m on a client assignment I sometimes producing more abstract work in what could be considered a dull environment, like an editorial press conference job. I get all my standard, safe, essential shots out of the way and then begin to play around. I look for interesting shadows and reflections; some clients like this and some don’t – but it keeps me entertained too.
Carrie: What do you do when you feel creatively stuck?
One of my other loves is fly fishing. I often combine the two: take a break from the fishing and shoot some landscapes. Both usually involve travel to an unknown destination of some type. I hardly shoot my own work at all in the UAE now as after 8 years in Dubai I find it very difficult to find something new to shoot. For me travel is the key, and the UAE is a great base to travel around the Middle East, Sri Lanka, Hongkong, Cambodia, Thailand, etc., etc.
Carrie: What is one thing you really want people/creatives to take away from your photography?
I simply want people to enjoy the work they see; I take a lot of pride and enjoyment in making people smile when they view my portfolio. I want the viewer to catch a glimpse of what I see and capture.
Carrie: What is one creative resource you can’t live without?
I work alongside some great people, when we meet we always discuss what we’ve all been up to recently. I have one friend traveling around the DRC (Congo) right now and another shooting the Commonwealth Games in Scotland. I’m really looking forward to hearing the stories when we meet up after the summer – so other photographer friends are my greatest resource.
Carrie: How do you define Creativity?
I don’t. In my view creativity cannot be defined. (Just look at the argument for conceptual and/ or modern art.)
BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: Are creative friends an important resource for you? How could you go about finding people who share the same creative interests? Let’s talk about it in the comments below.