Bob Carlos Clarke's photography is synonymous with women. Over his long career he has photographed some of the world's most beautiful examples and still has a queue at his studio door. If you were to ask every man what their dream job would be you'd quickly hear Bob's job sited alongside rock star and astronaut.
But if being a photographer of women is so aspirational, why aren't there more men picking up a camera and shooting big game?
"Your profession chooses you in some respects. I kind off fell into photography through a change of circumstances, which I couldn't have anticipated. Photographing women started really when I borrowed a camera in order to photograph a girl in college that I fancied and was advised the best way to seduce a woman was to become a photographer. I picked up a camera for the day and became a photographer for life. Plus I actually married the model, which was a little over-dramatic."
After that college model became Bob's first wife, he learnt that if he wanted to photograph women regularly he couldn't always marry or even have a relationship with all of them. Surely though, isn't work relations a perk of the job?
"Yeah, I highly recommend it. Although I'd feel less fulfilled if I was left with a lousy post-coital set of pictures. I'd rather come out with a great and permanent photograph than the ephemeral memory of a sexual encounter. Whether it's true or not, it's a mark of a successful erotic shot if the viewer is left with the impression that the model and photographer were lovers."
The voice of a true photographer. Maybe that's the point, the difference between Bob and the rest of us. I mean is John, the pub genius, likely to be thinking about getting the best picture while pointing his kit at some blonde beauty? I don't think so.
"Everyone has different taste, but then some people have more experience in people's tastes - Bob's photographed some of the most popular tastes around from Caprice and a pre-op Jordan to models you've never heard of. But what does he like himself?
I much prefer to work with real people, it's much more rewarding. To work with prepared models is a bit like processed food you tend to get something that's already been half-boiled by a bunch of other cooks. 'Virgin' models are like wild strawberries: tastier, elusive and fun to find."
So are you always looking for models?
"Yeah all the time, I found someone today already, it's like hunting for diamonds, if you find one it's uncut. I'm in a privileged position as a man to play God to a degree and it's quite a trip in a way as well as an honour."
Bob may be synonymous with models, but models are synonymous with being fussy. So how do you handle this? How do you avoid the pitfalls and create a good atmosphere to work within? And most importantly, how do you insure the best picture possible from the shoot?
"Make sure there's good, well-made, fresh hot food. Nothing too heavy or spicy, models don't respond well to that. It's about mutual respect, if you don't get the respect of someone you're shooting then you probably won't get a result, that's really one of the most important things. If you're shooting sex with someone you don't know very well, then don't act sexy or talk dirty because it may freak her out. You need to establish boundaries of trust and respect. You might have to do a whole test shoot before you can do the photo's you want. It's kind of like being a horse whisperer, needing to reassure someone to the point were they can be comfortably naked in your presence."
In his recent book - The Definitive Guide to Undressing Perfect Strangers, part autobiography, part entertaining insight into his seductive world - Bob candidly writes about his unique career.
What's striking when you talk to him however, is how, in spite of all the work for FHM and Penthouse and the reputation for a sharp wit and well, undressing strangers, you find a photographer of the old school, one inspired by real life and what he sees around him. A man not tainted by the media and the chase for the perfect body image. A photographer completely in control of his shutter that hasn't even started to show what he can really do.
"I do very little commercial photography these days, there comes a point in your life and I'm over fifty now, where you have to make a decision about what kind of photographer you really want to be. If I've got another fifteen, twenty years, I don't want to be commercial, photographing Range Rovers, not if I can help it. The photographers I respect didn't do that.
I've spent too much time working for people and as a result I've been slightly diminished in what I can achieve. I think that the time has come now for me to see just what kind of photographer I really am whether I've got as much talent as I'd like to have I still feel like I'm doing the dress rehearsal."
Dress rehearsal indeed! The slideshow featured with this interview is more of what we can expect from Bob Carlos Clarke. He plans to work more on his personal projects with a distinct emphasis on documentary work.
"I suppose it really started with my series of photographs of Marco Pierre White working at his first restaurant in London Harvey's. I reckoned he would be an interesting subject to photograph in action and that proved to be true. He's definitely the wildest chef we've seen in a century. The experience of working in a buzzing, dangerous and exciting kitchen like Dante's Inferno got the adrenalin going and made me realise that real life was a great deal more interesting than fantasy. What happens in the street, a restaurant, a club is actually more intriguing than anything you can invent in the relatively sterile environment of a studio.
The teenage parties was recommended to me by a friend who had gone there with a bunch of younger friends and said you're not going to believe this, it's the most extraordinary phenomenon that you can imagine. The first one I went to was at the Astoria on Charring Cross Road, I walked in at 9 o'clock, not even late and was stepping over bodies. What's interesting is that these kids, all almost exclusively from affluent backgrounds, would choose to mate on the floor of the Hammersmith Palais amongst discarded cigarette ends and coke bottles."
So are these the images that we should remember Bob Carlos Clarke by or the stunning women he's made a career out of photographing?
"If I were going to save my work from a blazing inferno, I'd most certainly rescue the documentary stuff first because it's more interesting, and also much more of what photography should be about: capturing an instantaneous and unrepeatable moment in time. All this post-production manipulation stuff is fun, but it'll never replace the real thing. What I'm trying to do at the moment involves blending fantasy and reality so that you can't see the join. I like to create images that leave people wondering."