It’s October, the month where leaves start to change and boots are being pulled out of the closet. October also brings a new CMpro of the Month, Jo Clark! Jo is a brilliant photographer who’s work oozes fun, just like her. Today we have her here on our photography blog being interviewed by her good friend and fellow CMpro, Corinne McCombs!
october cmpro of the month | jo clark
Hi Jo! Let’s get to know a bit about you and how you landed where you are today as a photographer…. can you give us a brief summary of your journey?
Oh gosh this could be loooonnngg but I’ll try to condense it as much as possible. I am an only child who used to be a criminal defense paralegal that never wanted kids and ended up as an elementary school teacher and photographer with two preschoolers. Run on sentence alert. I think it’s really amazing how you evolve and reevaluate life’s choices throughout the years. I know without a doubt that this is exactly where I want to be in life and I owe it all to my husband for being life’s most fantastic supporter, partner, and father. How I got started in photography was kind of a fluke actually. My camera broke on Christmas Eve and the following spring of 2011, my husband bought me a 4/3 camera. I knew right away I wanted to learn everything about photography immediately (I’m very impatient) so I immersed myself in learning and traded the 4/3 in for a Canon Rebel and nifty fifty. At the time, I had a challenging infant that I was up all night with so I used those sleepless hours to obsess over the exposure triangle, lighting, composition, and post processing. The days I spent practicing what I learned about the night before. In April of 2011 I joined CM and my skill level rocketed due to the mass amount of information and motivating photography on the forum. I truly felt like photography was “a calling” for me. Like it was this undiscovered talent lying in wait for me to discover it. I would definitely say that learning the zone system and shooting over 35 weddings in a year and a half cemented my ability to shoot in any lighting condition or situation. Because I have only been shooting for a little over 2 years, I still consider myself a novice in areas such as macro, landscape, creative processing, and street photography all of which I hope to learn more about in the next few years. In the future I see myself choosing edgy or controversial personal photography projects as I am a natural risk taker and very much crave new and adventurous experiences.
Can you give us some juicy details on your upcoming breakout!
Ooh! Well thank you for asking! Let’s just say it has a lot to do with getting out of the house with your big ole’ camera and shooting on location with little ones. It’s about being in the moment and engaging your subjects and simply having FUN!
Congratulations on being Pro of the Month! Any particular reason you use the term “Documentary” in your breakout title versus the ever popular “Lifestyle”?
Aw thank you! I am completely honored and a nervous wreck about being Pro of the Month. I’m here with some seriously talented company and never thought I could ever earn a spot next to these uber talented ladies. Lifestyle -vs- Documentary. What I am about to describe may not be correct in the mind of some but I do feel like lifestyle and documentary are different. To me, documentary storytelling is capturing memories exactly as they are happening. You do not have much control over where your subjects move around in a given location, little to no control over lighting or other people in the environment, and there are no chances for “do overs”. You shoot what is happening and adapt to the environment to accurately tell the story. Shooting weddings is a perfect example of documentary photography. Documentary is exactly that; “documenting” what is happening in front of you and what is naturally occurring. I personally feel that lifestyle contains more prepping and planning including clothing coordination, removing distractions, shooting in only the best light possible, etc. This breakout is about being in the moment and documenting things as they actually are happening with little to no intervention, redirection, posing, or “set ups”.
You have two websites, one for client images and one for your family. Why do you keep them separated?
My client site has a completely different look than our family site. It’s a lot more streamlined and professional, yet still showing my personality and documentary style of photography. I feel like I use our family site to be more carefree and “imperfect” and to document our memories in a way that won’t be judged like the images on my business site. It’s freedom for me to post images in bad light, color variations from different film stocks, out of focus shots, and to tell OUR story, no matter how “unprofessional” it may look to others. Keeping it separate just makes sense to me though I do link the two if people want to check out my work on the other side of the fence so to speak.
Your client images, as well as the images of your own children always come across so joyous and full of emotion. Do you find it easier to capture these moments with your own children, or do you just naturally bring out the fun in everyone??
Haha! Well, I am a bonafide dork if that helps answer your question at all. I have been known to break out clown wigs, sing loudly off key, and do cartwheels in my classroom or during a session with children to make them laugh and kick-start engagement. The thing about photographing your own kids is that you have this plethora of insider knowledge about what makes them happy. When you have so many tools in your toolbox to pull from, it’s easier to get honest, joyful expressions and reactions. Ask me this question again when they turn 13! Ha!
Speaking of fun, your images always scream FUN. Can you share your current most favorite image that will make us smile without fail?
You would do this to me. Make me pick a favorite out of ten gazillion files. I’m going to pick a film image that is extremely “imperfect”…harsh light, horizon through the head, not super sharp focus, etc. I don’t care about all those little things because I want to remember this exact moment. My son at the beach, pure joy, and his wet, matted hair flying in the breeze. This image is more than just a picture as there were a lot of personal memories attached to this weekend.
You capture so many fun family adventures, outings, and activities with your kids. What do you do with these “sessions” to preserve them? I know your little ones will absolutely love having these memories to look back on when they’re all grown up.
I am on the ever challenging journey of printing all our adventures. Because it is time consuming and can be expensive when printing larger or multiple albums, we are trying to do one a month to stay on top of it so it is not so overwhelming. Every Christmas I do make a huge book of bits and pieces of the entire year but I am working on printing a lot of our “on location” documentary adventures and especially our travels. I am also going to print our family blog at the end of the year which is really exciting to think about! To me, memories are best relived by flipping through the tangible pages of an album. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It just has to be printed!
You manage to shoot a good amount of weddings and client sessions on top of being a first grade teacher and mamarazzi of two preschoolers. What’s your secret to balancing it all?
What is this “balance” word you speak of? Ha! I feel like I am constantly drowning in laundry, my efforts to organize or clean anything are immediately destroyed, and I find myself wearing the same thing to bed and the following day because I can’t fathom changing clothes. All true stories. It is a bit chaotic considering we travel quite a bit too and are very socially active. I guess I just don’t get bogged down by the little issues that drive some people mad. I always like to ask myself, “Will this matter tomorrow, next week, or next year”? Luckily I have a killer spouse who shares my sentiments and never crucifies me for a dirty house, lack of a hot meal on the table, or not looking like a supermodel when he comes home from work (like that would even happen if I tried my hardest). We just live our lives with carefree abandon and try to have as much fun as possible while appreciating all the friends and family in our lives who make memories with us and help us raise our children. We work hard to play hard and never take one single day for granted. Some days are super, duper productive, and some are flat out embarrassingly lazy but it all seems to work out in the end somehow. Did I ramble?
I know you’re also a film junkie, especially for your personal work. What is it about film that makes you so happy? Have you ever shot a wedding or client session with film?
AH! Film. I just picked up my first film SLR last fall. Well, I picked it up from our basement as it was my hubby’s camera in middle school. I was hooked from the second I clicked the shutter of a Canon AE1. Physically loading the roll, advancing the film, rewinding, and sending to a lab was such a hands on experience that I just wasn’t getting from digital. I grew up with film (good ole’ point and shoot film cameras…not SLRs) and something about going back to it was like holding on to a little piece of my childhood that I so desperately longed for. With film, you have to know light. You have to wait until the moment strikes and be ready when it does or you’ll blow through a whole roll trying to capture one thing. Film has taught me patience and to be more discerning and particular. After watching the video of me for this breakout, I realize I am a gigantic chimper. Ugh. Not so with film as each shot is carefully planned out and there is no “LCD screen immediacy” to be constantly reviewing. I am much more present with my family when I am shooting film because of that which is why I try to shoot as much film as possible when we are out together. When I get my scans back, there is NO editing involved and that makes it so worth it as we all know how much of a time suck it can be to edit family pictures. They are done and ready to blog and put in an album! I have shot a few client sessions on film (a senior and a maternity session) but I prefer to shoot my family with it for the time being. It does take a hit on the pocketbook when I sent in 10 rolls at a time for development so I do have to budget in my film expenditures. My dream is to someday have my own darkroom and develop my own but this dream will have to wait until the kids are a little older and we have the space for it. Someday for sure though.
What does your ideal session look like? (time of day, subject, location, gear?)
Besides shooting my kids, I would say my ideal session would be a combination lifestyle/documentary of a family with multiple children at a range of ages. We would start out somewhere doing an activity (riding a boat, skiing/snowboarding, swimming, amusement park, etc.) and then retreat to their home to clean up. I would then shoot them hanging out as a family in their modern or hipster home with interesting decor and fantastic light capturing the real and raw essence of their family spending time together. They would embrace and love life and I would be there to document it. It would take place from afternoon into evening and of course I would rely mainly on my beloved 35mm 1.4 as this lens is the perfect lifestyle/documentary focal length. I would put their entire “day in the life” session in an amazing album for them to remember forever. Yep, that sounds about perfect. Any takers? Haha!
You are an Instagram goddess. What is your favorite part about shooting with your phone? I LOVED your article about iPhoneography tips.
Oh thank you so much but I’m not that amazing…I just love taking pics on my phone like the rest of us and for sure have a lot of just “mommy goggle” images on my feed. I climbed on the IG train late but am forever going to be a passenger. I love to challenge myself to find good light and interesting compositions with just a phone and never, ever, post DSLR shots or edit my phone shots on a computer. I guess that makes me an IG purist and proud of it! Disclaimer: I may post some screenshots of my breakout to get the word out but that’s it! Haha! Because I rarely take my big girl cameras out on daily adventures, my phone is my go to camera and capturing our experiences with it is a huge part of our memory making. It’s small and can fit in my pocket and I love laying on the couch, editing, and posting without having to get on a big computer. I do NOT like sitting at the computer. Our fridge is covered with IG magnets and I have a bunch of adorable little 5×5 and 8×8 IG books from Artifact Uprising. I am unabashedly in love with my phone camera.
Thank you Jo for the fantastic interview! Make sure you head over to Jo’s website, blog, facebook, and instagram to view the rest of her gorgeous work. If you have a question for Jo, you can ask in the comments below.