Bob Carlos Clarke
Published Daily Telegraph March 30, 2006
Bob Carlos Clarke, the photographer who has died aged 56, specialised
in erotic images of women; his models - who ranged from Jerry Hall and
Rachel Weisz to teenage girls plucked off the street - were often clad
in skin-tight latex, posing provocatively, even pornographically, and
his images attracted both controversy and critical acclaim.
Subversive, voyeuristic and overtly sexual, with titles such as
Unexploded Female and Adult Females Attack Without Provocation, his
pictures did not endear him to the feminist movement. But he
successfully combined his fetishistic photography with commercial work
(for companies such as Levi's and Smirnoff), real life images and
portraits, and established a reputation as versatile photographer and
talented photographic printmaker.
Robert Carlos Clarke was born in Cork, Southern Ireland, on June 24
1950, the son of a retired major and his wife, an estate agent. "The
first decade was OK," he wrote in the introduction to his book,
Shooting Sex (2002), "but later it was no place for a libidinous
adolescent, particularly a withdrawn Protestant boy in a land where all
the hot talent was Roman Catholic and strictly off-limits."
After five years at a prep school near Dublin, he was sent to England
to attend Wellington College. He was, he later recalled, "a thoroughly
subversive influence on the established order".
"Robert is not a clever boy," wrote his housemaster to his father, "and
has not made the best of his time at Wellington. He would do well to
put more thought into goals and waste less time on girls and guitars."
Carlos Clarke became a photographer almost by chance while studying art
and design at the West Sussex College of Art. After developing an
"unendurable crush" on a girl in the year above and hearing that she
was a part-time model, he asked her to pose for him. They were married
a few years later, although the union did not survive Carlos Clarke's
After three years at the London College of Printing, in 1975 Carlos
Clarke completed an MA in Photography at the Royal College of Art.
During his student days he had been introduced to the world of
fetishistic photography by an elderly man known as the Commander, who
published a quarterly magazine for the devotees of rubber wear. The
gentleman explained to Carlos Clarke that his predilection for latex
harked back to the days when he had been a frogman in the Royal Navy,
during which time he had become very attached to his diving suit.
Carlos Clarke's friend, the artist Allen Jones, (who attracted
controversy with the images of rubber-clad women in much of his work)
advised him against incorporating the fetish scene into his work. But
the photographer was not to be put off. "Undaunted," he wrote in
Shooting Sex, "I devoted the following decade to shooting women in high
heels, and got myself thoroughly rubber-stamped with a reputation that
became something of an embarrassment a decade later, when pink rubber
party-dresses became synonymous with bottle-blonde bimbos and
provincial sex shops."
He achieved much success with his publications - large glossy coffee
table books which managed to straddle the fine line between erotica and
pornography. His first was an illustrated version of Anaïs Nin's book
Delta of Venus (1981), which was followed by Obsession, a collection of
photographs. The Dark Summer (1995), another collection of sensual
images, was a best-seller. Shooting Sex included Carlos Clarke's candid
accounts of his experiences with his subjects.
Carlos Clarke said that he made more money from selling his property
than from his photography. But he was always aware of the importance of
remaining commercially savvy: "What the magazines require these days is
not art, it's just some sexy pictures of a sultry girl, a formula from
which they rarely digress. If you're a guy at Kwik-Fit who does exhaust
pipes, there's no point in getting clever and imaginative with
exhausts, because they won't work. It's the same with what I do -
there's no point doing strange lighting or funny props, because they
won't run it."
Latterly, mellowed by fatherhood, Carlos Clarke was less interested in
the pornographic element to his work, and he described his material as
"pretty tame now". Nevertheless, even his commercial work could still
attract controversy; several years ago his photographs for the fashion
company Urban Stone were described by one tabloid as "the rudest ads
He was most proud of his documentary photographs, best exemplified by
his pictures of the cook Marco Pierre White at work in his book White
Heat (1987) and by his extraordinary images of anonymous teenagers in
drunken lustful embraces. "What happens in the street, a restaurant, a
club," he explained, "is actually more intriguing than anything you can
invent in the relatively sterile environment of a studio."
Carlos Clarke died on Saturday after falling in front of a train near
Barnes, in south west London.
He is survived by his second wife, Lindsey, and his daughter.