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PERCEPTIONS REDEFINED

Scarlett Carlos Clarke

21st Jan 2016

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Scarlett Carlos Clarke is an artist, photographer, filmmaker and magazine art director with no one medium taking precedence over another. The daughter of celebrated photographer Bob Carlos Clarke, and partner of artist Tim Noble, art is a pivotal aspect of her world ... 

Still young at 24, Carlos Clarke has already made her own mark on the art world. The youngest person to be exhibited at the National Gallery, with her now iconic shots of her father, she has produced her own magazine, Hate, which challenges the readers’ perception of art in differing forms. She recently completed her first music video, an abstract story told with the dramatic backdrop of the south coast, for emerging band Fat White Family. As we speak, Carlos Clarke has a book in production that follows the theme of her recent collection of photographs of plus size model Felicity Hayward. She continues with her publicity shots of friend Eliot Sumner as she launches herself onto the music scene, and is musing over the idea of a possible portrayal of her late father.

Scarlett, with so much going on in your life, is there time to exhale?
I find it hard to cut off from work. I’m almost always thinking and planning my next shoot. We live in a digital age where saturation of information can be a problem, so for me the hardest thing is to move away from the computer. To remedy this we take long walks and go fishing. 

Fishing? Is there an artistic connection there that I’m missing?
Fishing is a hobby which distracts me from work. I like the sea’s unpredictability - you never know what you’re going to catch. I’m the only female who fishes on the pier which I think is strange. More women should get into fishing!

The same stretch of Dover coastline was the setting for your video for Fat White Family’s new single Whitest Boy on the Beach. What was your inspiration?
I had always thought the white cliffs would be a stunning setting for a film, so when we were asked to shoot Whitest Boy on the Beach I thought it would be really great to capture the vastness of the cliffs using a drone camera. We were inspired by that portrait of Frances Bacon where he sits between two halves of a pig carcass. So we drove into town and made them cut a pig down the middle and stitch the head back on. It was a really strong visual. We disposed of the body in a field about a mile away...not realising how difficult it is to drag a pig carcass. We returned a few weeks later to find it humming with maggots. The stench was unreal.

Tell us about Hate. The first issue was a sell-out. What does the spring launch hold for readers?
Luisa [Le Voguer Couyet] and I found the same sanitised and established portrayal of mainstream culture in everything we read and the freedom to challenge the establishment wasn’t even evident online. So we decided to start our own magazine, to have a voice that wasn’t commercially directed. The first edition was a sort of teaser, to see if people would like what we wrote and it completely sold out. The next issue is all about sex but not as you know it. I’ve looked for the sensual elements of all sorts of everyday things including fruit and veg. Think pomegranates and carrots as you’ve never seen them before.

The suggestion of sex played a big part in the dramatic pictures that your father created. Is this sensual exploration of form something that is ingrained in your subconscious?
My dad was so interested in form and nowhere was this more evident than in the human body, hence the body of work that he left behind. For me there is an element of legacy but I also draw my own conclusions. My dad kick-started it by giving me a book on Jeff Koons’ work when I was small. I loved the fantastical aspects of his work. It’s only now as an adult that I can see the certain suggestion that runs through every aspect of his work. Comically, I discovered another copy of my book which my dad had placed his own censorship on. Loads of pages were missing!

One thing that my dad did do through his work was challenge perceptions of what beauty was. This is something that I’ve been proud to continue through my images of plus-size models. When I did a similar shoot with a very skinny girl, the pictures weren’t so well received. It’s contradictory as we all think we want to be thin and yet there is a perception that overweight people are jolly and happy with their lot. Happiness ticks more boxes with people than the size of their waist. 

Photography is the medium that most people will relate the Carlos Clarke name to. Have the opportunities of digital imagery enabled you to separate your work from that of your father’s?
It was and is definitely important for me to be recognised independently but aside from the possibilities that digital manipulation offers. Photography is still driven by your own private interpretation of what you see. Grain and pixel just give you a different finished effect. Obviously digital photography is more commercially viable when you’re shooting for a client and we all need to manage the day job as effectively as possible. Shooting for my own exhibitions is more of a private and personal choice where I can be more selective in the way I choose to take pictures and in what medium.

The world that I live and work in as an artist is a very different place to the one that my dad inhabited. On one side of the fence you have a society that is conformist and sanitised because that is the way the commercial world drives us to think how we should be. As a paid photographer you do have to conform to this line of thinking for the benefit of what you deliver to the client. On the other side there is a group of freer minds that do look at life very differently. In my personal work and in the book that I’m planning I have the chance to get this point of view across.

A book sounds like an enormous project.
It is and it will be a long term project, gathering a body of work. I’m excited about it as a project though and it feels good to be working towards something significant, something that will give me a personally curated platform for my images.

Talking of enormous projects, there was discussion about a film of your father’s life. Is this something that you might tackle yourself?
We [my father’s estate] were in talks about the possibility of a film of his life and it is something that would make sense for me to do myself. There is so much about my dad’s private life that is still very private but would help to make greater sense of him as an artist if it were shown to the outside world. It still requires so much thought though. There are so many significant individual stories that need to be linked together.

It sounds like there is no lack of opportunity on the horizon. What’s next for Scarlett Carlos Clarke?
I would love to work overseas, particularly in Japan. I have never travelled anywhere in the Far East. 

Where do you live in London and why?
I live in an old Victorian studio in Parson’s Green. The area feels quite parochial but I don’t leave the premises when I’m working so it doesn’t matter. When I’m not there I spend every free minute at my house in Kingsdown a tiny fishing village a few miles from the white cliffs of Dover. 

Tell me something that nobody knows about Scarlett Carlos Clarke?
I can play the drums.

Scarlett Carlos Clarke; scarlettecarlosclarke.com 

@scarlett_cc