Roger George Clark Official Website - Page 7 - Retro Photography

                                              Retro Photography

After he left college Roger's first job was Production Editor at the photographic publisher, the Focal Press, in London's Fitzroy Square:-

'I remember volunteering to organise thousands of old photographs. They were spilling out of cardboard boxes onto the floor in  the basement. My boss thought I was mad, but let me get on with it. In those days photography had yet to acquire the status it has now. Most museums ignored it. There were few exhibitions, let alone albums of pictures published by famous photographers. An old photo was just an old photo. But those boxes contained vintage prints by Brassaï, André Kertész, Cecil Beaton, Bill Brandt, Karsh, Ansel Adams, Dr Paul Wolff and others and I wanted to look at them.
The job took weeks and affected my work. People such as David Bailey, Don McCullin, Cartier-Bresson - all the modern photographers - passed me by. None of their pictures was hidden in that basement. I was studying photos taken in the 1920s, '30s and '40s. This meant my early work was anachronistic - old-fashioned claim my critics. I prefer the word retro. I'm a retro photographer.'

One person whom Roger admired was the travel photographer J. Allan Cash. Dozens of his prints were stored in the Focal Press basement.

'Allan was big name then. He wrote numerous articles and easy-to-understand books explaining his techniques. Allan liked taking pictures in bright sunlight and used filters to bring out the clouds. You can see his influence in my early photos - especially my first photo essay on the Isle of Wight. I started work on that soon after I left school. The picture of the thatched church at Freshwater (above) was taken in a classic J. Allan Cash style. So was the Cunard liner Queen Elizabeth (top). I was still under his influence when I began travelling abroad to Malta (below), Paris and Italy. Later I preferred cloudy skies and shadowless light, particularly for street pictures and portraits.

'In my early days my main interest was architecture. I used to go out with a tripod and visit buildings time after time until the sun was in the right direction and the light exactly as I wanted. This has coloured my memory. I thought I took only architecture. But looking through my negatives now I see I was mistaken. I took a large number of human interest pictures, too, and they're more appealing than most of the architectural shots. I have Victor Blackman to thank for that.

'Victor worked as a photographer for the London Daily Express newspaper. Each week he wrote a column in the Amateur Photographer. There he urged readers to take human interest photos. Get people into your pictures, he wrote. So I did, hesitantly at first, then with increasing confidence. I took these pictures so quickly that I dismissed them as unimportant. Surely you had to work at a photo to produce something good? Grabbing one seemed like cheating. But these images have stood the test of time.

'Occasionally, I was able to produce something original, such as the picture of the wooden pier at Yarmouth, on the Isle of Wight (left). But I still have affection for my early images and I've published a few in the gallery on the next page. There you'll see some of my first attempts at environmental portraiture. I took a handful on the Isle of Wight and risked a few candids while visiting to Paris. But my four weeks in Malta marked a turning point. By now I'd seen Paul Strand's work. This fed through into my pictures of farmers and local people, though I was producing weaker images than Strand - a faint echo of the master. But I asked strangers to pose as well as taking candids and did the same during visits to Athens, Crete and Venice.

'Strangely enough, my interest in photography led to my job in the BBC. While working as Production Editor at The Observer Colour Magazine - you can see me marking up galley proofs on the left - I read a small news item in the British Journal of Photography. It said that one of the BBC's new local radio stations, Radio Medway, was broadcasting a weekly half-hour programme about photography. The producer, Trevor Taylor, appealed for anyone interested to get in touch. I did. Trevor asked me to give a few talks then suggested that I borrow a tape recorder and interview well-known photographers - one of whom was J. Allan Cash. The programme was broadcast simultaneously on BBC Radio London and I soon started freelancing for their education programme.

The work was unpaid, but I didn't care. This was a way of getting experience and a foot in the door. A few months later I secured a permanent post as a producer and broadcaster at BBC Radio London. I'd  tried and failed to get a job in the BBC ever since I left college. Radio London would be my last attempt. If I failed again I would abandon the idea of a career in broadcasting and concentrate on photography. Instead,  I ended up doing both. My work at Radio London led to national radio and eventually the BBC World Service. Some of my Radio 4 broadcasts were about photography - on Woman's Hour and Tuesday Call, which was presented by Barbara Myers (above).

'Once I entered the BBC broadcasting became my priority. I earned my living in news, current affairs and features. But I never lost interest in photography. New opportunities opened up for my camera and they changed my work. Whenever I could I took pictures, recording my broadcasting career on film. And I went away on photographic holidays - seeking out themes that would make good sets of pictures. From now on I would go through life with a camera in one hand and a microphone in the other.'