I think we all can admit to being a bit enchanted by the glitz and glamour of celebrity life. It’s very easy to be seduced by the riveting headlines or to get lost while surfing the web and glimpsing the latest Hollywood trend or fairytale-like gathering. Modern technology also allows us to see our favorite luminaries, and be just a click away from following their most clandestine moments.
One of the quickest ways to get a sneak peek into our favorite celeb’s life, is by glancing through the stylish and attractive photographs that often grace glossy magazines and colorful websites.
Sometimes these photos are staged, such as red carpet events, while others are more candid. Regardless of the artistic style a celebrity photographer chooses to embrace, it’s their job to keep up with the latest trends of these highly sought after personalities. The photographer’s career success depends on his ability to get up close and personal to the stars in a way most of us never will.
New York City celebrity photographer, JK Clarke, knows firsthand what this elite, superstar driven world is like. He quickly found his way onto the exclusive red carpet scene when his editor for Theater Pizzazz ( http://www.theaterpizzazz.com/) asked him to occasionally cover these stars. Two years later, he is considered one of the most sought after photographers of this genre. When you learn more about him, it will be easy to see why.
Originally from Sacramento, California, Joe Clarke considers New York City, (where he now lives with his long time love – radio and TV personality – Cooper Lawrence http://www.cooperlawrence.com/ and their fabulous dog, Marconi, named after Guglielmo Marconi, the man who invented radio) to be his permanent home.
“I wanted to live somewhere where I didn’t need to own a car, even though I drive. I’m a big fan of public transportation. I also wanted to live closer to Paris, by plane, where I lived as a student and loved it.”
Whether Clark is photographing movie stars, Broadway icons or radio and TV personalities, he always manages to capture something rare and unique about them. Clarke continually finds ways to document his subjects with an intimacy and sense of humor while incorporating the buzz and excitement surrounding these momentous evenings.
Perhaps it’s Joe’s ability to connect with people so easily that allows him to reveal the deeper component of his subject’s life. Or maybe it’s due to his long time career as a theater critic, where he specializes in Shakespearean productions; that facilitated his intuitive abilities and impacted his visual skills.
Regardless of the reason, one thing is clear, JK Clarke’s photographs always capture the real person behind the face of fame, and for this skill alone, his fans are eternally grateful.
Dr. Cooper Lawrence, Dr. Robi Ludwig and Rita Cosby at The Bella Magazine ‘Your Best Age is Now’ book launch party at Mamo
When did you realize you had a special gift for photography, was there any particular moment or photo?
As a writer, I can express myself with words, but I’ve always wanted to do so visually. Since I can barely draw a stick figure, I guess I was destined to be a photographer. The first time I realized I’d conveyed something with my camera was a genuine rave from an instructor I admired. He encouraged me to continue so that’s what I did.
Why choose celebrities?
That was totally accidental. When Sandi Durell, my editor at Theater Pizzazz, asked me to shoot Broadway red carpets I jumped at the chance. I figured I could learn a lot in short order, both on the technical side of photography and about the theater community at large. I took to it like a fish to water.
Audrey Puente, Rob Shuter and Dari Alexander at Bella Magazine’s ‘Your Best Age is Now’ Book Launch Party at Mamo
What does it take to be a top NYC celebrity photographer?
Most important of all you have to be respectful. In essence (though somewhat indirectly) you’re working freelance for the show’s PR team. They want photos out there to promote the show, so punctuality and generally good manners, which includes not showing up looking like a slob, are vital. You can never be a no-show. “I don’t feel like going today,” doesn’t cut it in this business. You flake on a commitment once and you’re never invited back.
It also helps to know the industry. Not just actors, but writers, directors, producers, choreographers, etc. The technical part is also key. These shoots move fast so you must be on your game.
What’s the most challenging part of photographing celebrities today?
In the theater world (where I do most of my work) it’s keeping up with who’s who. Every show has a crop of actors and creative crew you may never have seen before. And for some of the bigger shows (like, say, Hamilton or Fiddler on the Roof), when you’re on the red carpet there’s a mob of photographers squeezing you out; and getting your shot off in a split second—with your subject looking directly in your lens—before they step away is often almost impossible.
Lin Manuel Miranda of Hamilton
Do you notice a differences between Broadway stars, Movie stars and reality stars when taking your photos?
Oh absolutely! Movie stars have a very “been there, done that” kind of attitude. They move through the step-and-repeat (that’s the ad banner they pose in front of) really quickly, posing perfectly for each photographer, so you have to be really ready. Broadway stars seem genuinely happy to be there and give you all the time you need. They’ve worked very hard for this moment; they generally seem to really enjoy it. Reality stars are dying to get in front of the camera as much as possible, and they milk it. They haven’t done anything to get there, but they sure enjoy the attention. They’re all very nice, however. And that’s important. You don’t ever want to treat a photographer badly because they’ll choose the absolutely worst photos of you to publish. And no matter how beautiful or photogenic you are, there are always some horrible shots that make you look ridiculous.
Howard and Beth Stern
Have you ever gotten star struck on the job?
All the time! I’ve gotten to photograph, and occasionally have a brief chat with some legendary actors, writers and directors I’ve admired for a long time: Jerry Lewis, Eric Idle, Jon Lithgow, Joan Collins, Cicely Tyson, Bernadette Peters, Steve Martin, Larry David, Helen Mirren, James Earl Jones, Lin Manuel Miranda, Martin Short, Steve Buscemi, Joel Grey . . . I had one terrific night when I shot Linda Lavin and Barbara Barrie, who were both on Barney Miller, which is still probably my favorite sitcom ever. I couldn’t believe it!
Joan Collins and Jerry Lewis
Do you have a favorite photograph? What makes it your favorite?
I like photos that I take when someone I admire is communicating with me during the shot. A lot of actors will ham it up, but when they’re doing that specifically for you it’s really exciting. You think, “wow, I’m getting a performance directed solely at me.”
When someone like, say, Bernadette Peters smiles flirtatiously, and tosses her hair for your camera alone it takes your breath away. If only my adolescent self could’ve imagined a moment like this . . .
Bernadette Peters and Eloise Kropp
What are your goals photographically for yourself moving into the future?
There’s not really a way to make a living doing red carpet photography in theater—it’s part of the bigger picture for my site, and it’s for the love of it—but I want to be able to make enough money shooting events and parties. I also want to do more artistic work. I like abstract images of ordinary things: a part of a building that you don’t initially recognize because the shot is so tight. Or the human form. There are a lot of ways to shoot body parts so that it looks like a beautiful, but not immediately recognizable shape and there’s something aesthetically pleasing about that.
Where can people find you and learn more about you?
Search jkclarke at TheaterPizzaz.com. http://www.theaterpizzazz.com/?s=jk+clarke&x=0&y=0