Bob Carlos Clarke
Photographer known for his erotic images and for making chefs look interesting
Eamonn McCabe Monday April 3, 2006 The Guardian
He has been called a provocative photographer, and, when he was taking pictures, he would certainly provoke, yelling and swearing just to get a reaction. But those who knew him say that underneath he was a softie. So shocked was he by the sinking of the pleasure boat, the Marchioness, on the Thames in 1989 that he spent months collecting the detritus of the river along the shoreline and photographed it minutely to try to find out what it all meant. The work was published as a charity calendar the following year.
Of his commercial work, he was most proud of his photographs of leading chef Marco Pierre White for his book White Heat published in 1987. The two men were ready for each other: both were caustic, loud and opinionated. Carlos Clarke shot him as a wild romantic, a sexy figure with a threatening meat cleaver in his hand and the heat of the kitchen dripping down the walls.
This style of photographing chefs is still being used today: they may be all good cooks, but it was Carlos Clarke who made them look interesting. Pierre White and Carlos Clarke were working together again on another project before his death.
Inspired, passionate and often controversial, Carlos Clarke was born in County Cork, Ireland, the son of a retired major and his wife, an estate agent. In his book, aptly called Shooting Sex, he remembers the first decade of being in Cork as all right, "but later it was no place for a libidinous adolescent, particularly a withdrawn Protestant boy in a land where all the hot talent was Roman Catholic and strictly off-limits".
He was sent to Wellington College, in England, but never settled and ended up studying photography by chance at West Sussex College of Art. He was chasing a part-time model and he pretended to be a photographer in order to get her into bed. They married a few years later, but due to Clarke's infidelities it did not last.
Another three years were spent at the London College of Printing before Carlos Clarke made it to the Royal College of Art, where he became good friends with the artist Allen Jones. It was Jones who tried to put Carlos Clarke off using rubber-clad women in his photographs, as they appeared often in his own paintings. Clarke had been introduced to this rubber fetish while at college by a man known simply as the Commander, who published a quarterly magazine for devotees of rubber wear. (The Commander had developed a taste for rubber while serving as a frogman in the Royal Navy, during which time he had become very attached to his diving suit.)
Carlos Clarke spent the next 10 years shooting women in high heels and, as he said, "got myself thoroughly rubber-stamped [sic] with a reputation that became an embarrassment". Unlike Robert Mapplethorpe he was not a part of the scene he photographed, although he did wear a lot of black leather, he was more an observer. A stream of coffee-table books appeared with work that crossed the fine line between erotica and soft porn, including Obsession (1981), The Dark Summer (1985) and Insatiable (2002). But, as he often said, he made more money out of selling property than he ever did out of photography.
He converted part of an old school near Clapham Junction into one of the best equipped studios in London. He was excellent at lighting and strong in black and white, his pictures cut straight to the point, but were never simplistic.
To some, Carlos Clarke was a frustrated writer. He interviewed the like-minded Helmut Newton for his first piece in Amateur Photographer. The then features editor, Terry Hope, remembers it was groundbreaking stuff. He could be unreliable, however, forgetting to turn up for another interview with the ever dapper photographer John Swannell.
Carlos Clarke is survived by his second wife Lindsey and their daughter Scarlett.