There’s Erotica, and then There’s Bob Carlos Clarke
Like Helmut Newton, a photographer frequently mentioned in the same breath, Bob Carlos Clarke dealt in the erotically charged currency of striking women in various states of undress. Also like Newton, Clarke took the famous and beautiful as his models. His subjects included Keith Richards, Jerry Hall, Rachel Weisz, and the first supermodels, as well as unknown beauties found in agencies or on the street. His black-and-white photographs have a certain melancholy about them, though, in spite of the ribald themes they explore.
Clarke’s fetishistic photographs of the female figure, whether fully exposed or clad in skin-tight latex, may indeed trade in the lascivious, but they don’t stoop to mere voyeurism. This aspect of the Irish-born artist’s work comes to the fore in “Made in Heaven,” a retrospective exhibition of his work at Little Black Gallery in London on the 10th anniversary of his death.
The women in Clarke’s photographs own and flaunt their prurience. Not surprisingly, Clarke’s photographs have displeased feminists and puritanical-minded alike: The former regards them as salacious exploitations of the female body; the latter condemns them as shameless provocation.
Yet the sexual innuendo in Clarke’s work is undermined or tempered by a nagging sensation that what is being viewed is somehow slyly mocking or subtly commenting upon the smutty content. The effect is clearly discernible in his “Love Dolls Never Die” series. In Total Control (2004), for instance, a naked woman crawls on all fours with an antenna sticking out of her back; like a toy, she is remote-controlled by a hefty device. And in Infanta Electronica (2004), a latex-garbed robotic beauty has a switch sticking out of her right arm. She’s waiting to be turned on.