Allen Clark, a renowned photographer and returning ASMP member has traded his camera for a microphone to talk to some of the greatest photographers and artists in the world. With a list of future guests that will take his listeners to the moon and back, he turns his attention to his podcast “The Photo Untaken: Stories From Outside the Frame.”
Allen has been a photographer for over 25 years in the Nashville area but has traveled the world doing what he describes as his dream job with a side of glorified stalking. “When I began as a professional many years ago, I had this idea that no one would even look at my portfolio unless I had someone in there that everyone would recognize. I then just went about finding characters for my book and filled in the spaces with things and people I have admired since I was a child. Over his career, he has photographed 2 presidents, 2 knights, Miss America, top rap artists, a host of musicians, actors, writers, politicians and celebrities, and what he likes to call “everyday hardworking people (you know …the normal ones).”
“I just recently re-joined the ASMP, the Nashville Chapter, as everyone else should, too… we need to be a community and gather our strengths from each other, to learn, and to lean on one another, during this tough time! Glad I am back!”
Rana S. Faure: Tell me about the journey from visual storytelling to audible storytelling.
Allen Clark: When I have been able to tell stories in the past through blogs, newsletters and former iterations of my website, I always tried to let people behind the curtain or speak my thoughts on trends or talk about my career build (that I was very much in the process of) – and it sort of naturally progressed to this podcast now. I went to university for broadcasting originally but never thought my photography world and radio/TV world would ever blend in a new way like this.
RSF: Does your day overlap with activities on all your broad talents and pursuits? Or do you focus on each area at a time?
AC: I think you almost have to divide it into what you should consider to be your short game and your long game. If not – you are in danger of spinning out or never accomplishing anything by being overwhelmed. There are simply things you can do now, and things you should do later. Take only one or two of your interests on at a time. Then move to the next and so on. A lot of us take on too much at once.
RSF: Are you living in a world of imagery or sound or is there a happy combination? How do you shift between the two?
AC: I am pretty evenly balanced between sound and visuals… I listen to music when I create – I love to get lost in a good song and painting or think about a shoot I’m doing in the future. I watch a lot of talks whether it’s on Ted Talks or podcasts or audiobooks… .but I have to take a break and just sit in silence sometimes. I split time between Nashville and Tallinn, Estonia – where my wife and I have a place. It’s a Scandinavian country – and they are a quiet people. Most of the country was founded pre Medieval time – so it’s visually arresting and one of my favorite places in the world to shoot!
RSF: Your interview with Cig Harvey is fascinating. It seems as though you are in a room together with images on the walls. What is your process? How do the questions come to you?
AC: I actually spent most of the interview with my eyes closed – I thought of myself sitting in her place in Maine… quietly observing her process and it put me in a place of relating to her and her love of creating in that place of inspiration. If she talked about walking through the woods – I walked with her. I enjoyed being in her mindset – you can think of some amazing questions just putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. At times, this is my approach in photographing subjects as well.
RSF: If you can talk about the relationship with your podcast subjects, the give and take of a conversation, is it much like the give and take with a photographer and subject?
AC: Exactly – you want to represent them well – lift them up to be the best possible version of themselves and share them with others. Others may want to find fault or ask “the tough questions.” But that tends to be self-serving or serving some agenda – save that for the real news (or fake) …but not a podcast about photography or when shooting a client.
RSF: What inspires you to interview someone? Do you have a list of prospects?
AC: I do have that – a wish list of sorts. And besides interviewing important figures in photography – I want it to step outside our world to talk to other visual artists and explore the importance of storytelling. There are a few people coming up on future podcast episodes like Floyd Norman – Disney’s first African American Animator – Lead Story Animator on the original Jungle Book and Mulan. We talk about Disney’s MultiPlane Cameras used before switching to Digital. He also is one of only two people still alive who worked directly with Walt – and his stories about “The Old Man” as he called him are compelling. Such a fascinating conversation. Another guest coming soon is Gabriel Filippi – one of Canada’s most famous mountain climbers, the first to summit Everest three times. We have a conversation about the difference between passion and obsession – intriguing talk about work/life balance. This one is a real tear-jerker. Also, this weekend – Chris Gunn from NASA’s James Webb Telescope is our guest – incredible. I want to see if I can get any of the remaining Apollo Astronauts on to talk about using those Hasselblads on the moon. So my list is pretty high up there – and I intend on making this happen.
RSF: It seems that you are an educator by nature, was that what attracted you to in-depth discussions with these visionaries? How did the podcast come about?
AC: It’s funny, I have been creating content for years, huge shoots, directing music videos and as a creative director on music packaging on a few projects and I love the creative process. What I realized is that I love people’s methods and I want to talk about that because I fear we have lost our way of doing one thing well. Everyone we loved or were inspired by – DID ONE THING GREAT. Not two or three things – one. Many of us, in the process of picking up and trying different things, have forgotten to put down the things we were slightly good at. I believe we have forgotten, as a people, how to do just one thing great – so this podcast rose out of that desire to help others find their way.
RSF: What are some of the resonating moments from talking to Cig Harvey and other photographers and creatives that have impacted you most?
AC: On each podcast there are at least 3 huge takeaways; I’ll give you a few examples. Chris Buck talks about how you can be hitting your target but not hitting the bullseye. Michael Grecco talks about how if you want to keep things relevant you have to shake things up, but protect those things once you create them. At that point, we talk about ASMP and how important copyright protection is. Sam Abell tells us that in order for you to make great photos – you have to be willing to shoot good photos and that the path to great actually goes THROUGH good. He also breaks down his thoughts on what it takes to make great photos – this is so very valuable to so many photographers. And finally, Cig tells us the secret to having a great body of work comes from the process of “make, see & listen.” It’s insane how much great information is shared in these episodes. Wisdom rather than photo tips & tricks – helping everyone find their “why” and knowing who they are as a photographer or visual artist. Big Ideas – because of that, I am one of the podcast’s greatest fans as well as its host.