By Bob Baxter
Yes, I do spend a lot of time behind the computer, typing stories and sorting out images for the next edition of my Daily Blog or Tattoo Chronicles or whatever. This is the way it has been for the last thirteen years, interrupted only by trips to conventions and various tattoo shops around the country.
My traveling companion for most of these adventures has been Bernard Clark, a photographer who sent me a query letter back about twelve years ago, asking to have some of his photos published in my magazine. We have worked together, ever since. Back when we started, I was based in Southern California and then, about five years ago, I relocated to Oregon. Bernard has always been based in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. But the distance has never impaired our working relationship. The reason being, many of the conventions that we cover are relatively midway between his home and mine. Like Chicago or Dallas or Atlanta. Ontario is the easternmost province of Canada, so he usually hops a plane in Syracuse, New York, and meets me in the middle.
A couple of times, we got snowbound and stranded at an airport, and one or both of us straggled in at the last minute. But, for all intents and purposes, we have arrived unimpaired and on time. About the only show that Bernard missed was one in Texas, where he got tangled in a series of cancelled flights and I had to hold the fort (or, in this particular case, the Alamo), until he arrived. I had no camera with me (although I am an experienced lens jockey myself, I have turned over anything visual to Bernard), so, in that situation, I called one of my contributors at the time, Bobby Lynn Shehorn, who was a scant two or three hours away by car, in Austin. Thankfully, Shehorn arrived, set up a portable studio and began shooting. It was a stopgap measure, to be sure, but Bernard wasn’t going to arrive until Sunday, the third day of a three-day photo shoot, and I was stuck.
On the surface, it looked like we were pretty much screwed. The way conventions run, Friday is a slow day, providing a few relaxed hours for Bernard and me time to check out the site, see who’s there and set up the lights and backdrop in the photos studio provided by the promoter. Saturday is the big day, in which we spend ten or so hours gathering up a wide array of pretty tattooed girls and buff guys to fill the pages of the magazine. While some photographers shoot “everything that moves,” over the years, Bernard and I have come to an agreement: let’s shoot only the people we feel are worthy of making it to the printed page. Billy Tinney of Tattoo magazine, for example, will shoot thousands of photos and have a line a mile long in front of his photo studio, but Bernard and I work far more selectively. If he gets thirty-five or forty models the whole weekend, we have scored. This is not counting the candid shots he takes by wandering around the convention floor and shooting various banners, architectural structures and artists working in their booths.
In the case of San Antonio, Bernard arrived mid-morning on Sunday, a cool-down day with a greatly diminished number of attendees on the floor. In most cases, Sunday is a ghost town. Yes, Bobby Lynn was clicking away most of Saturday, but he was a wild card, and I had no idea what kind of photos he would get. It’s not just a matter of having people to shoot, it’s mostly about making choices—who to shoot and why. We would, for example, much prefer to shoot a not-so-gorgeous guy or gal with great tattoos over an extremely pretty young thing with so-so ink. It’s about balance. In fact, one of the main criteria was to capture the person behind the tattoo. In other words, melding the two entities together, in order to capture the blending of the personality and the tattoos they have chosen. The face and body of the model is the outside view of a person, the tattoo is a reflection of the inside. Nobody captures these combined elements better than Bernard Clark.
In San Antonio, on Sunday, there were only a sparse number of potential subjects to shoot, and we only had four hours, before the day was over and the doors were closed. So, on one hand, I had Bobby Lynn shooting for hours and hours on the busy Saturday and, on the other, Bernard arriving, exhausted, from staying in a hotel somewhere in Florida (I think it was), courtesy of the airline. But not to worry. Even with “no one” to shoot and a miniscule timeframe, Clark quietly set up his backdrop, went to work and proceeded, with no complaints. While I ran around and tried to find appropriate models (I pretty much threw standards out the window), Bernard remained cool as a cucumber, treated each model with courtesy and grace, and, ultimately, saved the day. Shehorn had done his best, but when all was said and done, Clark was clearly the master and his photos were the ones that primarily graced the pages of our San Antonio edition. I’m not putting down Bobby Lynn; he saved the day and worked hard. It’s just that he’s no Bernard Clark. And neither is anyone else I have ever worked with. Yes, there are some amazingly talented photographers out there (Diane Mansfield, Richard Todd, Jan Seeger, to name just a few), but, through the years, there has never been, for me, a more enjoyable partnership. Whether it was San Antonio or Samoa, Bernard Clark showed me not only his exterior (his work) but also what was on the inside (his friendship, his putting up with me and my quirks, the way he works with his models).
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s the importance of teamwork. As much as I take on responsibility and as many hours as I put into a job, I don’t do it alone. With the magazine, for example, I had over fifty contributors. With the website, I would be helpless without my two art directors, the rowboat full of contributors and, of course, my wife, Mary. But the shining star, the one who, even when the magazine days are behind us and budgets are hard to come by, is my good friend Bernard Clark—the best in the business.
As editor in chief of Skin&Ink magazine for over fourteen years, Bob Baxter guided the publication to a Folio Magazine Editorial Excellence Award, making it America’s most respected and educational body art publication. He currently edits and writes a Daily Blog at www.tattooroadtrip.com, the ultimate E-zine and resource site for international tattoo artists and collectors. He also has his Tattoo Chronicles series and the 101 Most Influential People in Tattooing right here @ Vanishing Tattoo. To ask questions, make comments or demand an apology, you can email Bob at email@example.com.
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