Lifetime ASMP member Junebug Clark had big shoes to fill growing up. His father Joe Clark was an acclaimed photographer whose work appeared in Life, National Geographic and in Jack Daniel’s Distillery advertisements. By the age of 3 — yes, three! — Junebug got his first camera and began making photos. At the age of 6, he had his first photo published in Look magazine’s 20th anniversary issue. Since then, Junebug has made photos for the Marine Corps, Cessna Aircraft Company, Jack Daniel’s Distillery, Federal Mogul Corporation, Eli Lilly and Company, Budweiser, Time, Life, Newsweek and National Geographic. Joe Clark died in December of 1989, leaving countless images and a legacy of visual storytelling. In 2011, a collection of 2 million Joe and Junebug Clark photos were donated to the University of North Texas libraries, where staff is curating, digitizing and archiving them.
We caught up with Junebug and asked him a few questions about his storied life.
ASMP Dallas: Your father was a great influence on you in terms of learning about photography. What’s the biggest lesson you learned from him that you still use in your work today?
Junebug: My father was 44 when I was born, which meant that when I was 21 and trying to change the world, my father was 65. That meant I got to see, at age 21 and living with a great photographer, what was important at age 65. What battles to fight. What battles to let go. Now that I’m 66 I’m realizing that having a 21-year-old willing to lug gear and pushing for what he thought was new, different and better, benefitted the 65 year old too.
Today, I’m a partner in the VisualMediaGroupllc.com taking a leave of absence to work with photojournalism students at the University of North Texas Mayborn School of Journalism and with The Clark Family Photography Collection that was donated to UNT. Now I’ve come full circle and am surrounded by 21-year-olds. I justify this as paying it back and paying it forward for having had a great career in photography. Plus, the work of Joe Clark, HBSS, is more important than anything I’ve accomplished, and here at the UNT Special Collections Library it is being housed, digitized and cared for in the manner that this collection deserves.
ASMP Dallas: Given that much of your work is documentary in nature, can you point to one or two assignments or situations that taught you something indelible about yourself or humankind? If not one assignment, then perhaps something that your career has taught you about people in general?
Junebug: I’ve learned that when it comes to making great pictures I am on the wrong side of the camera to do much good. It’s not about f/stops, shutter speed or ISO. It’s more about getting the right things to happen in front of your camera’s lens.The number one ingredient to making a great photograph is the relationship you have with your subject and the people around and behind the scenes. If you shoot strangers, you get strange pictures.
Today, virtually anyone with a smart phone or tablet has at his or her fingertips the potential to document and shine a light on events that might not otherwise be known — events that occur in our back yards as well as in war-torn countries thousands of miles away. Many of these events focus on social injustices. What thoughts or advice do you have for people who have this power?
Junebug: My father always kept his camera with him and I feel vulnerable if I leave home without my camera. I think the quality of these devices and the fact that people have smart phone photography in their pocket is wonderful.
Looking at this from a different angle: While going through my father’s 1940s scrapbook I found articles predicting gloom and doom for the professional photographer. I’ve experienced that message myself with the advent of the Polaroid camera, point and shoot cameras, one-hour photo labs, digital cameras, schools pumping out photo grads. In reality there are very few true photographers who know how to run or work in this profession. Photographers who know how to become a tool in their “clients’ toolbox,” and who can be consistently relied upon to produce images that solve a need or problem. In the long term, it is more about being a little bit better and a little bit different with each assignment. No surprises.
I worry that today’s photographers are not outputting reproduction quality hard copies of their images. A system of filing and retrieval of digital images is key to running a true long term business. You have to figure this out before it gets out of hand. It is about as important as developing your personal style and understanding the capabilities of your equipment.
What: The Clark Family Photography Exhibition – Pictures That Tell a Story, an exhibition of photographs from Joe and Junebug Clark
Where: 109 N. Elm Street, Denton
When: Through July 22
Times: 9 a.m. – noon and 1-5 p.m. Monday -Friday, with extended hours until 8 p.m. on Thursdays, and 11 a.m. through 3 p.m. Saturdays