Photographer Nobby Clark has done commissions for the National Theatre, the RSC and the Royal Opera, among many others, while also working freelance for national newspapers, such as the Observer and the Sunday Times. Nobby tells us how he started out in the game and what being a production photographer involves…
It all happened out of my mum and dad’s pub in Pimlico.
People don’t drink at lunchtimes anymore but then everybody drank there. I was dabbling, trying to be a photographer. I’d been at photographic college but I’d lasted about a week because I was just photographing cornflake packets. It wasn’t my cup of tea.
Michael Croft from the National Youth Theatre used to come into the pub and one day I said, “Can I take some rehearsal piccies?” This was 1968. He said, “Peter [that's my real name] I’d love you to photograph Zigger Zagger” – a famous production they did of a Peter Terston play. I said, “That’s great Michael, is there any money involved?” And he said, “Oh no Peter, no money.” That was the start of it.
A friend of mine told me to get on the press lists for the big London theatres. I was the new kid on the block. There were only about four people doing it and newspapers had their own photographers. I started getting small pictures in Time Out. They used to pay me a fiver a picture. I got on the photo call list so that meant I was in and all the press people used to phone me up to get a picture. Then I got a book made up, the RSC saw my work and I started working for them doing productions.
Normally you do one rehearsal and then the dress rehearsal. You don’t have to read it all but you have to know what the play’s about. When you do rehearsals you have carte blanche to photograph what’s going on. It’s all about looking. They could be doing the scene over there and then somebody may be just sitting reading but that’s interesting. Don’t look at the back of the camera. Look through the camera and take photographs. Don’t look at the photo after because you miss the next shot. Everybody does it. I do it occasionally and it pisses me off.
I started off with Nikon and Leica cameras. I had my own darkroom – then it was all film processing, doing contacts, doing prints. You have to have two cameras because you have different lenses on them. Doing a normal theatre job I use a 70-200mm f2.8 lens, which is a zoom, and a wide angle that goes from 24-70mm f2.8. I prefer film to digital. I call it digital shit. With all this gear we’re all taking the same photograph. But it’s here to stay. I don’t do much retouching on my images, just a bit of brightness, contrasting, maybe a bit of sharpness. With my processing I over-develop and I’m not neat. Everything’s neat now.
Look back at the great photographers – Cartier-Bresson, Jane Bown, Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Don McCullin – and then find your style. Get in with a young theatre group, start photographing for them and building relationships. Get your best photographs together and go and show them to theatre companies, producers and directors, and pictures editors of magazines and newspapers. If you see the interviews with Bailey, he’s a tough cookie. You have to be if you’re working for yourself. I went into it thinking it was fun and games. I’m a terrible businessman – I just want to take photographs – but you still have to earn money out of taking photographs.
Nobby Clark was talking to Rachel Segal Hamilton.
Images: Peter Pan at Queen's Theatre in Hornchurch, director Terry Hands during rehearsals of As You Like at CIwyd Theatr Cymru, rehearsal of Bethany at HideTide Festival all © Nobby Clark. Image of Nobby Clark: © Lee Constable.
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