At the beginning of 2019, Sauvàge had the opportunity to talk about the creative process of no one else than Louisville, KY-based fashion photographer, Clay Cook. We went through several questions going from his unique vision of photography to some tips who anyone involved in this the business might find useful.
Clay, what does creativity mean to you?
Well, I’ve always been creative my entire life. I was just kinda born into a creative world. My mum was an interior designer, she made sure to implement art in our family at a very early age and my dad was a businessman at heart, so he owns (and is now retired) a corporation here in the States. I was very blessed to have a great family right from the get-go. Creativity has always been a part of my life, it has meaning beyond words to me, it’s everything to me, every day I look at things, I look at life, I look at photos, I look at films, I look at innovation, technology and all that is creative and interesting to me, so creativity is just larger than life, it’s just so engraved in my personal and obviously my professional life. It doesn’t really necessarily means one single thing as much as it’s so important to me. If I didn’t have the resources to create I wouldn’t have started playing music when I was 16 years old, I wouldn’t have enjoyed the creative process. It’s life man, creativity is life.
As a photographer, how do you challenge your creative vision?
Creating something unique, different and original… that’s always something I struggle with. We all have inspirations and we all have people we compare ourselves to, we do a lot of that stuff, and this can really take you down but I try to get in a studio as much as possible and just play. Play with light, play with expressions, with different things. When I first started, the biggest challenge was Photoshop for me. I was basically creating things with this software, I was sort of finding my style and my color choices. Because I used to do graphic design, I really found the love for my color palette before I even got into photography. Challenging my creative vision comes in a way of personal projects, studio tests, working with models that come in town, do impromptu stuff, going to the studio with no plan, nothing at all and I just figure something out.
According to your experience, how can studio photography lead to greater creativity?
You know, I have a studio and I shoot in it only a couple of times a month, most of my work happens outside of it. So when I do get in the studio I try to challenge myself and I try to think completely out of the box. Fortunately, I have all the equipment to experiment everything and anything I want to but sometimes stumbling upon even the smallest thing like putting something in front of your camera or trying a new system, shooting with a different light can often lead to greater creativity for sure. What the photo looks like is more a mental thing than a practical thing if that makes any sense. A lot of people argue around photography not being an art but a craft. To me, it’s an art if you look at the creative process involved but it’s a craft from its execution.
Would you recommend mixing studio and outdoor photography to avoid repetition and boredom?
It’s really rare to find a really well-rounded photographer who’s as comfortable with studio work as he is with outdoor work, that’s why I give a monthly challenge to my interns and my facebook community which is bringing studio lightning on outdoor shootings to give that specific polish related to studio photography. It can be a tough challenge for sure but it can also be super rewarding and it can help quite a bit. So yes, I definitely recommend getting outside, changing it up, do things differently. What changed me most is the first time I went to Africa because it was the first time I tried photojournalism and this helped me a lot, later on, bringing a new vision to my fashion work.
We would like to see the most challenging photo you’ve ever taken, could you show it and tell us more about it?
I don’t think I can tell you about the most challenging photo specifically but I can definitely talk about the most challenging experience I’ve ever had, mentally. It was when I went to Iraq, I was scared, I was terrified. I didn’t really have this deep desire to be a war photographer and I was in the middle of a conflict zone, in an atmosphere I am not familiar with as I usually shoot fashion stuff, with models (laughs).
Physically, the most challenging shoot was definitely with Jennifer Lawrence because I had never photographed a celebrity of this caliber before and I had 2 minutes to make something great. She was visiting a museum for just one day, and we had to set everything up inside the museum, the press relations guys were everywhere on set, everything was just overwhelming (laughs). I took like 8 frames of her and that was it.
All that happened in 2017, this is for sure a memorable year, it gave me that “stamp of legitimacy”.
Do you ever get bored and do you take time to look at other photographers’ work?
A lot of people think that I work a lot and that is true, I don’t have a lot of free time, my thing to decompress is to look at cinematography. I’m an artist, I love photography but I don’t necessarily like the kind of photography that I shoot. What inspires me is mostly storytelling: photojournalism, film making, cinematography, motion films, documentaries, etc. all that is a way for me to decompress and at the same time, it inspires me.
If you’re a photographer, rather than just looking at other photographers’ work and being like “okay I wanna do the same thing”, you better find things that passionate you. For example, if you wanna help children, homeless people or anything, try to bring photography into that and create great storytelling images.
Finally, any tips for any aspiring photographers to get more creative?
Go out of your comfort zone. Get the courage to do different things. As soon as you make a mistake on something, usually that’s the catalyst for change and change is what growths.