“…finding pockets of light and blocks of contrasting colours or noticing brief, unusual movements, will always be at the front of my mind…” – Joe Clarke
Joe Clarke is an emerging English photographer, whose profoundly compelling imagery poetically explores themes of nostalgia, freedom, and solitude.
Clarke’s interest in photography began as a child, influenced by his rural upbringing and love for the outdoors. In the early 2000s, his father’s purchase of a Nikon Coolpix sparked Clarke’s curiosity. Borrowing the camera one day, he captured a photo of a cow, an experience that, in his own words, left him feeling ‘hooked!’. However, although he continued to photograph throughout his youth and early adulthood, it wasn’t until a trip to Iceland in 2017 that he truly discovered his calling.
“Up until Iceland, I felt like my photography lacked any sense of direction or purpose. That one week in Iceland would result in my first ‘body of work’ so to speak and the first time I had tried to tell a story through my images, so it changed my whole perception about image-making.”
Spontaneity remains a key tenet of his practice today, and was the driving force behind that pivotal trip. He chose not to plan an itinerary or specific routes, instead, driving down small dirt roads off the beaten track, seeking locations that hadn’t been the subject of the ubiquitous images captured in Iceland. It was an approach that, as he describes, ‘forced me to pause and learn the art of noticing’.
This newfound perspective became the foundation of his practice thereafter—an approach characterized by spontaneity and experimentation yet underlined by a new, more focused intent.
While Clarke’s work spans various genres—landscape, street, portrait, and still life—it’s tied together by common threads and aesthetics that, as he puts it, ‘always reflect the experiences I’m having at the time.’ For example, amidst the 2020 Covid lockdown, revisiting his childhood home evoked a profound feeling of nostalgia, inspiring him to start photographing various subjects that hadn’t previously caught his attention.
“I became fixated on time’s passage, noting changes amidst the unchanged. Surprisingly, despite the limitations of the lockdown, I felt an unusual sense of freedom, particularly in my creative pursuits. This period significantly influenced the current direction of my photographic journey’.
In a time where photography saturates our daily lives, Clarke’s images stand out for their uniqueness. Employing techniques such as creative framing, unconventional perspectives, soft focus, and slow shutter speeds to evoke dynamic movement, he also utilizes reflections and rich textures and tones to create painting-like imagery that, at times, evokes the work of early color pioneers Saul Leiter and Ernst Haas, both of whom he cites as important influences.
Outside of photography, he says he is ‘heavily inspired by music, cinema and art, notably, how the Dutch Masters depicted light and shade’, to create ‘subtle and emotive qualities’, something he enjoys referencing in his work. Post-production also plays a significant role in achieving his unique style. Meticulously creative, he studies color theory and emulates the aesthetics of old film stocks, adding ‘a sense of nostalgia in the finished image,’ something he consistently accomplishes with aplomb.
Reflecting on the six years since that pivotal Iceland trip, Clarke acknowledges that his practice has evolved considerably. The distinct style he’s developed results from ‘experimentation, shooting subjects in different ways, and playing around with editing techniques’ leading to work that stands out in the cacophony of online visual space.
However, one gets the sense that the evolution is still ongoing, as he seeks new creative ways to produce imagery. I, for one, eagerly look forward to following his journey.
All images © Joe Clarke