Published on February 17, 2014 | by David Drake0
Stuart Roy Clarke and the Homes Of Football
Stuart Roy Clarke has spent more than 20 years capturing the experience of British football in pictures. He talked to ALN’s David Drake about his passion for photography and his thoughts on the change of multimedia in modern technology as his exhibition of pictures marking 125 years of the Northern League opened.
Clarke’s pictures portray a sense of austerity creating a mood that is subdued and often overshadowed by the larger more appealing attraction happening on the field “the action is the denouement…the action is the icing on the cake”, he said.
For Clarke it is “mostly about keeping a perspective, hence me not just photographing the best or the biggest.”
The Watford fan from Hertfordshire began his fascination with photography with nature and the outdoors but he soon moved into football.
Having visited grounds around the UK throughout the 1990s, Clarke’s portfolio bolstered and he set about publishing and exhibiting these pieces in museums and shops.
Some may not see the correlation between nature and football, but for Clarke “football and the understudy pop music festival are great gatherings of wildebeest by the oasis in the desert.” He added: “I apply patience to football situations as the virtue you need most for watching wildlife. Animals don’t as such talk to you. Hyenas may sing. Football fans do both.”
Although Clarke learnt his trade photographing nature, for him football has taken precedence, saying: “I could happily return to photographing nature where I learnt my trade, but I won’t because football is my thing, and a great many other peoples fascination. Also I have a ready-made audience.”
In the 1970s and 1980s Clarke was wondering about the whole football idea, and it was the disasters at Heysel and Bradford in 1985 and Hillsborough in 1989 that “signposted me and fast-tracked me to starting the Homes of Football”.
To witness such horrific scenes is bad enough, but the thought of having to point a camera and document it is sickening. Clarke’s professional approach to such events is clear: “Just get on with all the living and a bit of dying that goes on everywhere on a daily basis.”
The disasters of the 1980s, together with the cultural shift football was finding itself in, meant football journalism evolved considerably. Fans started to voice their opinions in fanzines, writers began to write books citing their personal feelings, and Clarke started to represent personality and character in photos.
Clarke said: “I am thinking as I take the pictures: what is the personality of football and the people, the fans?” Clarke went onto say: “If football could photograph itself, and we all want to make ourselves look a little better than we are, how would it like itself to appear…make it appear as THE HOMES OF FOOTBALL by Stuart Roy Clarke.”
Clarke uses a Japanese Bronica camera, which uses medium format roll film, making it simple to use and gives the user a minimalistic feel: “It is slow and meaningful. It is authoritative. It looks like a box of magic. It is simple. I use no change of lenses, filters or light meter. I guess all the exposures,” Clarke added: “[It’s] just me and the black box. A simple love affair.”
It is clear to see Clarke’s appetite for photography not only lie in the images, but also in the devices.
“Modern technology is all very well, it brings more people to the photo table but it makes more of a mess. They take away the magic. You immediately look at what you have taken. You miss seeing the next moment of seeing,” said Clarke
Having taken an array of photographs, I was particularly keen to find out what his favourite photos were, but in his typically transcendent manner, Clarke said: “My best photograph will tick all or some of my magnificent 7 principles of authority, humour, self-interest, surprise, empathy, humility and loyalty.”
With numerous exhibitions, books and television appearances the next on the agenda for Clarke is simply: “More exhibitions, books and television appearances until it is all one big communal sing-song.” He is also looking to further expand in the hope of seeing his “brand alongside the most worthy of any brands” in the world of photography.
The Northern League (part of The Homes of Football series) is on display at the National Football Museum in Manchester until 30 June.