Dave Clarke shoots some of the greatest DJs in black and white

Écrit par Erwan Lecoup
Photo de couverture : ©Gered Mankowitz
Le 27.03.2020, à 11h47
07 MIN LI-
©Gered Mankowitz
Écrit par Erwan Lecoup
Photo de couverture : ©Gered Mankowitz
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On Friday February 7th, “The Baron of Techno” Dave Clarke was in Paris to play at Dehors Brut. Trax took the opportunity to meet him, but not to talk about electronic music or DJing. This time the aim was to discuss photography and megapixels, the second passion of the English artist since his early childhood.
Dave Clarke / Leica©Dave Clarke

We’re here to talk about your hidden talent as a photographer. How long have you been practicing photography ?

I started taking pictures when I was 10 years old. My father was an accountant, he always wanted to be an artist but had to bite the bullet as he was the only person working in the household. He wanted to be an architect, or an artist, like a painter or a photographer. All these technical aspects of my life came from my father: he had recording decks, tape machines, big speakers, but also very good cameras. One day he gave me one of his cameras to use freely as a youngster, that was actually quite a big responsibility in retrospect… To take pictures, you had to put the film in it, choosing the right ISO. The problem was that it was very expensive and as a child I didn’t have any money. So I didn’t take a lot of pictures but would walk for hours and hours to find something interesting. Sometimes I forgot and took the same film again a few months later, and had to wait until I had money to develop the photos… I was very interested, but it was quite difficult as a technique, especially with the light settings.

Jeff Mills
©Dave Clarke

When I was older, around 15, he gave me an old camera of his with two lenses, but unfortunately when I was 17 or 18, I had to sell it. It was my own decision, because I chose to concentrate on one activity to make a living, so I sold it all for music, food and rent. I then totally forgot about taking pictures for a very long time, but I’ve always been fascinated by this discipline. Then I was very lucky, because as an artist I was photographed by very good photographers, without really realizing it. When I was signed by the label Deconstruction Records, I was photographed by Rankin, who is now a super star in photography. I still remember having eclipses of light in my eyes for several days because of the ring flash he used. Every time I had my picture taken, I always asked technical questions. What’s this? What does it do? Why do you use it? It was only the real beginnings of Photoshop, but I’ve always been interested in the whole process of getting a picture, especially the camera and the light, rather than the software.

I think some of these artists know how much respect I have for them, so they probably know that they can be more relaxed when I’m behind the lens.

Dave Clarke

What are your favourite subjects?

I enjoy urban landscapes very much, the different periods of humanity are very inspiring. Architecture can be brutally stunning. Sometimes I take a picture of something that brings a new dimension, changing the vision already in some people’s minds. It is also possible to take just a small part of what is in front of us, perhaps a perspective even the architect hadn’t imagined… I find that really interesting. I also adore bleak naturescapes, it reminds us of our place on this planet.

I also love dogs, they’re fascinating, they’re the best animals in the world. Wolves, wolf-dogs, big dogs… Dogs add spark and humanity to our lives. It’s one of the closest emotional animals to humans. Loyal to the core if you respect them.

©Dave Clarke

You photographed Jeff Mills, Octave One, Louisahhh, Anetha, Nina Kraviz, Derrick May, Robert Hood, and Manu Le Malin. Do you think you bring an extra dimension to the usual party photographers, because of your complicity with these artists and DJs?

It depends, I never meet people thinking that I’m better placed, because that’s not the right attitude. I think some of these artists know how much respect I have for them, so they probably know that they can be more relaxed when I’m behind the lens. Most artists have had  pictures taken of them for years, so it’s not really a question of stress to be in front of a photographer. The fact that I know what they do, how they do it, and why they do it, is part of the result. On stage as well as backstage, but also in the studio, it’s obviously a bonus, because I may not be seen. I’m not hovering and hanging around someone. That’s why some people change their personality (like Manu Le Malin, editor’s note), because I’ve also been in the circuit for over 25 years so I know how things work. They give me an extra spark, I think. But it’s not my ambition to take photos of “DJs”, I prefer to take photos of “artists”, because everyone is a DJ today, but not everyone is an artist. And I’d rather draw attention to artists than DJs.

Derrick May
©Dave Clarke

Your photos are in black and white. Why this choice?

I’ve always been fascinated by black and white photography, such as nuclear bomb shots, or photographers like Terry O’Neill/ Fransesca Woodman/Annie Liebovitz, Corbijn, Burrows, Sarah Moon, Brassaiï Daido Moriyama etc etc. Black and white push away the distraction of the superfluous. When I watched the documentary about Platon, I had tears in my eyes, because it made me realize that the way he described black and white was the way I felt. It makes things much simpler for me, it’s more about contrast and less about diversion. It’s very special and metaphorical, because we are black and white people, but obviously we see a lot of colours. It allows us to concentrate better on the image, because it’s not a normal thing for our eyes. There is something very beautiful in it. Whenever I take pictures in colour, I still convert them to black and white. My girlfriend takes more colour photos than I do, the way she takes them is beautiful and I really appreciate it. But I prefer the brutality of black and white, the odd colour shot does come through though, I’m not immune to their beauty, I mean look at Mapplethorpes flowers in colour compared to André Kertész, both are vital and present.

Then something happened a few years ago and I thought: “It’s time! I’m gonna get a real camera!”.

Dave Clarke

What kind of camera do you use?

The interesting thing about the iPhone is that you can always carry it in your pocket. Once, when I was in Paris, someone from Hong Kong told me that you can edit photos on the iPhone, I hadn’t even thought about it six years ago, because I wasn’t on Instagram. Then something happened a few years ago and I thought: “It’s time! I’m gonna get a real camera!” I bought the nicest camera I could find and it was a Leica Rangefinder. The rendering was beautiful, but I couldn’t get the result I was looking for. But I tried, tried, tried…

When I got the Leica Q2, I got more organic pictures, it was finally the camera I was looking for to work on my technique. It’s the model I take with me all the time now, it’s small enough to be taken everywhere. It’s a fixed lens, which is cool because you can focus on what you have and not on what you could maybe do with too many choices. When you take pictures of cityscapes, you can crop the image and still have a resolution of 20 or 40 megapixels. You still have a massive amount of detail, on a small part of the image. And the other really cool thing is that you can then send all your photos to your smartphone, or edit them on the road with the iPad using Lightroom or Photoshop Pro, in full resolution even using 16-bit TIFF files. I then bought a Leica SL2, the flexibility of using the M lenses is wonderful too!

©Dave Clarke
Do you sometimes work with professional photographers ? If so, what are the reasons?

Yes, at one point I wanted Helena Christensen to take my pictures as an artist, because her BBC documentary was made about lomography around 2004. I was really fascinated by her photos and skill, my girlfriend at the time wouldn’t let me be photographed by Helena Christensen. I said, “Wow, you really think I have a chance with Helena? Do you?” (laughs). Since then, I’ve continued to work with photographers who have always interested me. People Like Marilyn Clark for example. I felt she was the first person to actually capture me in many ways

The last photographer I had was Gered Mankowitz. After unfortunately selling the camera that my father gave me when I was young to get by and eat, I also had to sell vinyl records. One of the vinyls I sold was Sparks, which is funny because I interviewed them for Toazted in another life as a journalist. That vinyl then came out again with the same weird picture on the cover where they’re hanging out in an escalator at London’s Victoria station. It’s a real album, it comes with liner notes and credits… It says the photos are by Gered Mankowitz. So I contacted him via Instagram and asked him if he was still taking pictures. We talked and then I found out by chance that he had done some very famous pictures of Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, big iconic historical pictures, Marianne Faithful and after this contact, he did my last photo shoot.

Have you ever done any exhibitions?

I’ve only really started to consider myself as making serious pictures in the last 18 months. Before that it was more of a hobby. Before exhibiting, it’s really important to build a body of work. I’ve already been asked to do some exhibitions, including one in France in March which I refused because it was too early. I would like to do my first one in Amsterdam, where I live, probably in the middle of October, but nothing is for sure at the moment due to the pandemic. The idea was to sell a few prints for charity too, but lets all get through the next few months safely, nothing else matters.

Studio©Dave Clarke

During your interview in Paris, you were coming to play Dehors Brut. How was the evening?

The club Concrete was such an important part of the development of the techno scene in Paris, as this city has always been  there for me throughout my career.. I’ve been playing at the Rex Club for over 20 years, sometimes two or three times a year when it was a small scene. But when Concrete came along it changed a lot in the city. There was a new breath of vitality and freshness. The same kind of feeling I felt when I played in Rennes or Nantes. In general in France it’s always exciting to play, because there’s passion that drives the techno movement. When the Concrete adventure ended, I was really sad. That night was the first night I played at Dehors Brut. I was impressed by this event and the place, there was a very good atmosphere. And once again I felt the passion behind the people who run this place and a duty to take care of others. You don’t just feel like an artist who comes to fill a place, there is a lot of respect and you feel it. Often it’s much more out of commodity that DJs are invited rather than for their artistic talent. When you play for a club with the artistic respect that goes with it, it’s really special and enjoyable. So I had a really good time last night.

A French version of the interview is also available on Trax’s website.

Dave Clarke’s photos can be seen on his Instagram account.

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