26 April 2009

Taking Offense: Bob Carlos Clarke

Black Is My True Love's Heart.
Photograph © Bob Carlos Clarke

In The Guardian today is this homage to photographer Bob Carlos Clarke, about whom I, quite contentedly, knew literally nothing. (Another piece has appeared here in The Independent.) Turns out that Clarke committed suicide a couple of years ago, apparently because he was depressed about (1) lack of recognition and (2) aging, and so, having diminished prospects of banging the models who posed for his vaguely misogynistic work. His work seems to run the gamut from what is roughly soft-core porn to the simply trite. So the lack of recognition seems little surprise to me. There really is not much going on as far as I can tell. OK, some of the portraits are good, but they hardly stand out among the work of other portraitists you might name. As for his diminished prospects of getting laid by vacuous air-brushed women, well that is simply evolution. Simply put, while it is too bad he died as he did, Clarke's death was as self-indulgent as his life. In other words, it was plenty self-indulgent.* And his work is not worth much more than a passing look.
* This from The Guardian: "'If you want to qualify as a legend,' he wrote, 'get famous young, die tragically and dramatically, and never underestimate the importance of your iconic photographs.'" As the father of a talented, wonderful son who died prematurely without the self-generated drama, this makes me sick. Clarke's daughter was 14 when he killed himself. The same age as Jeff. My question? Bob, how could you do that to your kid?

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Blogger Len said...

Thank you for a wonderful, rational comment on a poor pathetic lost soul, too self indulgent to understand that it's not "all about me!".
Len Kowitz
Houston, Texas

26 April, 2009 09:54  
Blogger Stan B. said...

I could overlook most of his all too human frailties (including his "art")- until the part about his obsession with his "gentlemanly ancestry."

26 April, 2009 11:33  
Blogger Dawei_in_Beijing said...

His work is completely mediocre and it seems like he knew it. He probably felt like a huge fraud.

26 April, 2009 18:46  
Blogger Peter said...

I am a big fan of this blog and read it religiously. That being said I feel extremely conflicted about this post. While agreeing with your interpretation of Clarke's "work", I generally find this post tasteless or at a minimum careless. I understand your gut response to Clarke's decision to commit suicide; nevertheless I am not sure if the cynicism evident in some of the remarks is really warranted. For one you seem to suggest that Clarke was depressed. Depression, as far as I understand, is a recognized medical condition. Would you have made similarly caustic comments if Clarke had died of cancer? Probably not? Second (speaking from experience), your question "Bob, how could you do that to your kid?" is in my opinion misguided. If Clarke was truly depressed or perhaps if we understand narcissism as pathological this question is meaningless at best and counterproductive at worst. I don't mean to offend, and I can understand where you are coming from - but knowing where I am coming from - I think this post is lacking the critical and careful stance of your usual commentary.

28 April, 2009 19:36  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Peter, Thanks for the comment. I appreciate your candor. Really. I think I get a sense that you've had experience that I have touched. If so, I apologize for that.

I think your cancer analogy is misguided. One does not choose to die of cancer. My understanding is that Clarke discharged himself from a clinic where he was getting treatment and (allegedly) making progress and then went to commit suicide. It is hard to know the reality of all that from a too brief newspaper report. But minimally, there is choice involved here.

I can understand being unhappy about lack of recognition. But Clarke was a philanderer (something about which I know a bit) and apparently a gleefully malicious one at that. I have no sympathy for his sense that he'd be unable to keep hurting his wife and daughter by acting badly.

That said, I know something about depression myself. There have been days - just a couple, but not long past - when I pulled the car into the garage closed the door behind me and imagined sitting while the engine ran. I didn't. And that is precisely because there are three people (my sons and my sweetheart Susan) who love me who would have been terribly damaged by such a choice.

Depression truly is as awful as you let on. It can be debilitating. But it does not absolve one of responsibility. and it does not eliminate our ability to discriminate better and worse reasons for being depressed and for trying to do something about it. I am not saying that to be self-righteous or self-congratulatory. I am saying that because I imagine Clarke's daughter who was trying to care for him and get him help. I imagine how she felt and feels. If I sounded cynical, I didn't communicate well. For that I'm sorry too.

28 April, 2009 20:39  
Blogger Taichung360 said...

"Depression truly is as awful as you let on. It can be debilitating. But it does not absolve one of responsibility, and it does not eliminate our ability to discriminate better and worse reasons for being depressed and for trying to do something about it."

I've suffered from depression, and I can tell you, your mind isn't capable of rational thought when you fall into the pit of depression! There is no "trying to do something about it". All control is lost. It is family or friends that have the power to save or abandon you, not you yourself.

05 March, 2011 11:05  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...


Thanks for your comment. I understand that this is a touchy post. And I wrote it with an eye toard that touchiness.

I have suffered form depression too. And I simply disagree with you about all control being gone. After all Clarke was getting support from his daughter and he signed himself out of clinical care so he could go kill himself. Why? Because his career seemed to have hit a bad patch.

My son, age 14, dropped dead, his mother took me to court out of venality rather than attend to her own grief, and the mother of my youngest son absconded with him. I know what it is like to be depressed and to have reasons for being depressed. Clarke seems to me to have suffered as much from self-absorption as from depression. And by doing himself in he took out his unhappiness on his teenage daughter. I have scant sympathy.

05 March, 2011 15:44  

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