A life addicted to photographing the beautiful
“HOW do you want me?” she purred.
“Well, naked would be nice,” I replied.
“Oh sure!” she countered sarcastically. “I’m not losing my pants for nobody.”
“No problem,” I assured her. “You can wear them around your ankles.”
According to Bob Carlos Clarke, that conversation happened in his London studio. It’s hard to know if it is true or not, but, in a way, it doesn’t matter, as it reveals more about the mind-set of BCC, as his friends called him, than it does about his clients.
He used that anecdote to publicise a book he wrote three years ago.
A celebrated fashion and glamour photographer, Carlos Clarke, 56, known for his provocative, sexually charged images of women, died in an apparent suicide after being hit by a train in London at the weekend.
Irish-born Clarke spent decades persuading the bold and the beautiful to bare all for his camera. He once described his life photographing women as an addiction.
“I could have entertained a fashionable Class-A drug habit, but chose instead to indulge what was, at a time when most of my world had gone stark raving gay, a highly unfashionable dependence on A- class females.”
These females were the catwalk queens and studio beauties whose bodies were used to sell everything from condoms to condiments.
For a heterosexual male raised in a repressed Irish society, the notion of encountering a beautiful female seemed like an impossible dream.
He grew up in Kinsale in Cork — no place for a libidinous adolescent, particularly a withdrawn Protestant boy in a land where all the hot talent was Catholic and strictly off-limits.
“At parties, in their pie-crust collars and pastel cashmere cardigans, Protestant girls looked bland and pasty compared to their feisty Roman Catholic counterparts. RC girls ate with their pretty mouths open and were saucy and brazen,” he said.
His father owned a company dealing in farm machinery and he remembered the Cork agricultural show as a popular annual fixture and its centrepiece, the procession of combine harvesters, flat-bed trucks and tractors being driven through the city centre.
“My father had the idea of putting his prettiest secretaries in the giant hydraulic shovels of his finest tractors and elevating them high into the air.”
The sight of the girls in their light summer dresses was almost too much.
“I marched with my father at the head of the slow-moving procession, fighting the urge to turn and stare up the girls’ billowing skirts.”
Nearby was a newspaper photographer from the Examiner. This was all the inspiration he needed to decide to become a snapper.
“All the girls wanted their picture taken, and I thought he had the best job in the world.”
More than four decades later, he was one of the most celebrated photographers in the world, better known than many of the women he pictured. His photo album is a who’s who of the most glamorous women. He snapped Jerry Hall in a tiara and rubber tights and other famous lovelies followed suit.
It was hard to dislike someone who still had so much of the wide- eyed adolescent about him and, indeed, his kind of photography retains the texture of something marooned in a different age. It looks like it really belongs to the 1970s — when we watched the Eurovision Song Contest without irony and considered Gary Glitter to be useless but harmless.
He always retained the charm of the naughty schoolboy and that can probably be traced to his schooldays. About the only tolerable childhood memory of Carlos’ days at boarding school was spying on a housemaid taking her bath.
“Sonia was a voluptuous, raven-haired 18-year-old. On Friday nights, after lights out, she’d take her weekly bath in the brightly lit bathroom adjacent to the spartan dormitory I shared with a dozen of my fellow prisoners.”
Each boy would line up at the bathroom door, waiting his turn at the keyhole.
“Sonia’s perfect body was a vision of pure delight in our ugly, loveless little world.”