Jessica Clark, Photographer
It felt impossible to choose just a handful of pictures to go with the amazing responses in this post. Jessica is a one of a kind, and we are heartened and ridiculously inspired by her work and what she has shared with us here. Thanks J!
What do you do?
I am a professional photographer. My main money-making schtick is shooting lifestyle based imagery. Whether that be for commercial projects with creative agencies for big companies, shooting cute families, fancy weddings or editorial assignments for a few different publications/outlets.
Three years ago, I took that leap and quit my full-time job. I've been fully self-employed and self funded as a photographer for just over three years now.
Do you have a maxim that you live and work by?
"For those of us climbing to the top of the food chain there can be no mercy. There is but one rule: hunt or be hunted.” - Frank Underwood. Just kidding. I clearly watch too much television.
Really, my maxim? Not really being the type to go for anything 'inspirational', I think it boils down to this:
~ Be Kind ~
I think that the problem is that it’s actually really easy to be an asshole. It is much harder (albeit infinitely better) to be kind. However, I’d also add in the caveat that being kind doesn’t necessarily mean consenting to every one and every thing that wants. Being kind is something I also try to do for myself.
Be kind. To others. To myself. To my body. (it's a work in progress)
What are the three milestones that have led you to where you stand?
* In 2011 I moved to Adelaide, South Australia. 80% to be closer to my sister who has always lived here, and 20% to start a business with her (which kinda died in the ass before we could get it off the ground). I dragged my husband with me, and we started a life together here. And fuck! I really found my jam! Within about six months I felt more settled than ever, and found some really lovely people to do life with. Having strong security in a sense of place is something that is really essential to me being a high-functioning grown up. It’s a small city that really holds its own.
And I feel like after moving here, I really blossomed.
When my business venture failed, I really felt rather aimless. All my hopes and plans had been ruined! So, I spent my spare time taking photos, whilst trying to work out what direction my life should now go. I had no idea what I wanted to do. I mean, ideally that would have been just eating cheese and drinking champagne all day with my sister, but that isn't exactly healthy, nor conducive to actually having some kind of bank balance. So I took a job in sales, and in my spare time, I took pictures.
And then people kept asking me to take photos for them too - for money. I hated the proposition at first. I am not a photographer! Go away! It seemed quite incessant. I guess I had never really connected the two: that maybe I could do what I enjoyed and also make money from it at the same time.
So I begrudgingly conceded. I started taking photos for people - with my bad attitude and lack of self belief in tow. I even enrolled in uni, because I thought, shit, I can’t call myself a real photographer unless I have a degree to legitimise my title.
I loved art school. But I only lasted three semesters. I was getting too busy with photography work to keep it all going at once. Not to mention, holding down a day job. Now, looking back to then, I see how absurd it all seems. Becoming something almost against your will. An accidental photographer. And now, I have gratitude for all the people I had around me that pushed me towards it - despite my proverbial kicks and screams.
* In August 2015 I booked my first BIG commercial campaign. An interstate agency sent me on a road trip throughout South Australia to meet and document people just doing what they do. I had 21 days to find, travel to, interview and photograph 33 different people from across the state. The brief was specific, the driving and organising was gruelling, and I was acutely challenged by having to do it all alone. I packed the car and set off in the early afternoon. I only had one interview booked at a farm in the Adelaide Hills. Once I'd finished the interview and photoshoot, I got in my car and just started driving. With no idea where I was going, or where I would stay that very evening.
It was actually terrifying. And as I drove back towards the north with the sun setting, I was so tempted to just drive straight back home. Everything in my belly was willing me to go the fuck back home. But I didn't. I kept driving and ended up in a roadside Motel, a few hours north of Adelaide.
You know those cool girl / well adjusted types; the kind of woman who goes to see a film alone, or happily eats dinner at a restaurant by herself (without being glued to her iphone for comfort), or who takes herself on an overseas trip just for the experience? Totes not me hey. I WISH that were me.
Over those three weeks, I met so many kind and funny and generous people along my way, and each person I would meet in each town, would somehow lead onto the next.
Now I am writing this, I am finding it difficult to put into words... something about that trip was quite transformative. I fell in love with the South Australian Outback and the humans within it, and I realised how much I enjoyed connecting with people, and helping them tell their stories. And equally as important, I think I really learnt how to be alone, and like it.
* Also in August 2015 (yeh - it was a big month), I held my first ever solo photographic exhibition, during South Australia's Living Arts Festival (SALA). And I won the Young Artist Award for that year.
Before that time, I had not considered myself any sort of artist. I would never even use the word without inverted commas. Cue imposter syndrome.
It sounds really simple, sometimes I make art for myself, and other times, I take photographs to make money. But it doesn't always feel so simple. Sometimes the two sides seem irreconcilable.
It really showed me that although I constantly grapple with the divide of 'artist' vs 'business person' in my photographic practice, I can actually do both - duh.
What places are important to you?
My home. I live in an old converted factory come apartment in Port Adelaide. I enjoy the true sense of place I get when I am anywhere near it. Like my soul has started to grow roots into it, and when I am there I feel safe. Connected. I love the sticky old pubs, being so close to the river, and the sound of the old town bell ringing at night.
The same thing happens when I travel Outback. The colours. Red, blue, pink, orange. The long light, the tiny wildflowers, the dust. The farther I get from the CBD, the more I feel like I can breathe.
Do you have a supportive female network in your field? Was it always this way?
I LOVE WOMEN! Aaah! I am really lucky to have a whole lot of excellent and bloody smart ones in various creative fields around me. I have a few good female photographer friends too, but I will admit I would like more.
Who would you most like to answer these questions next?
My pal Madeline Reece - curator and artist. That woman is like a pressure cooker full of incredibly clever ideas, and has such a considerate way of unpacking the contrivances of art. I kind of just want to read a book of her thoughts.
What projects do you have in the pipeline?
Ooh! I am really excited about this question! In May 2018 I am hosting a 4-day photography workshop... In Outback SA ... on a camel trek. Camping under the stars, making delicious campfire veggie meals, taking pictures, and trekking on camel back, seeing sights and landscapes not accessible in any other way. It has been in the pipeline for almost a year now, and it is finally actually happening.
What is your dream project?
See previous question. Haha. But, also, I would love to do more work cross country. I would love to be sent around the country on a long-haul trip meeting and documenting all types of Australians and their stories. What a dream that would be.
What’s something surprising about you, that we might not know?
I am not a huge fan of Disney movies, but sometimes, when the mood so inspires me, I like to follow my husband/cat/family members/friends around the house and sing Disney tunes at them. Currently my repertoire includes 'A Whole New World', basically any song from 'Robin Hood', and 'Tale as Old as Time'.
I am a pest. But I am not sure how surprising that would be.
I can also cite all the books of the Bible in order, and can tie a maraschino cherry stem in a knot in my mouth.
What is the best advice you’ve been given, or wish you had been told sooner?
* Everyone is just making it all up as they go along. (except for maybe [hopefully] engineers and healthcare professionals)
* It can never hurt to ask - the worst that will happen is being told 'no'.
Can you share a creative experience that you have found defining?
There are so many in my life so far, but I will go with the most recent.
I visited Melbourne's NGV to see the William Eggleston exhibition. I had a real moment of 'yeah this is what I love about photography'. His colour portraits of strangers and loved ones alike have such a simple intimacy to them. Nothing overtly meaningful or contrived. Just natural people. In their natural lives. The connection of Eggleston's subjects to their photographer was quite palpable.
I adored it. And it resonated with me in such a strong way. That's exactly how I want people to feel when they look at my photos.
What are you listening to, reading, watching of late, that is inspiring or entertaining you?
~ Listening: Abba - it makes me happy. Kirin J Callinan - I am a little bit in lust with him. Savage Lovecast - my favourite podcast.
~ Reading: ugh so many! Roxanne Gay, Zadie Smith, Haruki Murakami, Stan Grant, The New Yorker, Alain de Botton.
~ Watching: I am catching up on all the Sophie Coppola films, basically any sci-fi I can get my hands on (but not Star Wars), and also way too much TV. House of Cards, Handmaid's Tale, The West Wing. Also The Good Wife is totally my guilty pleasure - pls. don't tell anyone.
What is one facet of your field that you want to see change?
I have found the photography industry is quite male dominated. Especially when it comes to the well paid commercial jobs and agency work. And a lot of misogyny comes into play with the way female photographers are treated. ie. you have to work really really hard, and you also have to have a great and enthused attitude, and not be too serious, but also not too entirely ingratiating, and you have to look a certain way (anecdotal yes, but I get treated better in meetings and on the job when I am wearing makeup).
This obviously is pervasive in our society proper, but there have been many occasions during photo shoots that I have been grabbed or touched or verbally harassed by men. And those are some of the extreme examples.
There are also some more insidious and subtle occasions of gross sexism, for example, I photographed for a larger company in the finance sector. After shooting the CEO, I shook his hand and thanked him for his time, he responded by saying, "thank you for coming today, you have such a lovely smile."
I was suddenly overwhelmed with the urge to fart on his head.
What do you want to be asked about that no one ever asks you?
"Why didn't you just fart on that guy's head?"
How can we find our more about your work?
Please come say hi! Let's be friends! I love you! (too soon?)