Photographer Interview: Clement Cooper

UK Photographer Clement Cooper
Sometimes life is strangely mystic. Amongst my stuff I have lots of handwritten notes of everything from quotes by photographers like Dorothea Lange to exposure settings for night photography shots.

I recently found photographer Clement Cooper's name scribbled in pencil on an old Post-it note tucked deep into my desk - but who knows how long ago I'd written it. I instantly googled his name, found his website and was happy to see he was still active. Then I emailed him for an interview and was then even happier to hear from him the next day!

Clement is one of those people that defy conventionality and excel beyond compare - and his photography has the same effect.

D&B: Where are you from?
CC: I was born and raised in Manchester, UK. In a working class district of the city called, wait for it, Longsight. I think my full name speaks volumes: Clemente Alphonso Myers Cooper. I don’t consider belonging to or coming from any one “race” except the “human race”.

D&B: What kind of photography do you shoot and how did you get started - any "formal" training?
CC: I consider myself as a documentary photographer first and foremost and I began taking and best of all, making my own photographs at the age of 17 mostly out of curiosity-the sheer pleasure to be had in exploring and discovering life around me with this incredible machine thing called a camera. I was given this camera for my 17th birthday by a school teacher. It was a second hand Pentax MG with a 50mm lens that I still have to this very day.

I’ve had no formal training in the photographic medium. None whatsoever. I don’t have any paper qualifications either. All’s I ever done with my photography is just do it which I think is the best way to approach any creative medium because you are then forced to rely on your own instincts and natural abilities.

D&B: What cameras or techniques do you use?
CC: My first book PRESENCE, was all done using a manual Pentax K1000 camera body coupled with a 50mm lens. I also employed a light meter for the first time that revolutionized my whole approach to visualizing the negative. Using that simple set up really instilled in me a sense of discipline; the need to keep everything basic.

After PRESENCE, I had the confidence to kick up to medium format on the DEEP book. Again, I employed a dead basic unit, a Bronica SQi body coupled with a 75mm lens but this time I had a spot meter to hand.

I‘m now onto my fifth title and am employing large format: 5" x 4" and 10" x 8" cameras. Again, dead simple set up where I have complete control over everything including the developing and printing. If you're going to do anything well in photography, you'll have to do it all yourself.

D&B: Who are your mentors (in photography)?
CC: First and foremost, the school teacher who gave me my first camera including the use of her lovely home to construct a darkroom in the basement. Regards early influences, Roy DeCarava of course but essentially all my influences come from literature and music. Ever heard of Keith Jarrett? Miles Davis?

D&B: Have you experienced any setbacks or different treatment along your photography career that you would attribute to being a photographer of color? (this question is optional)
CC: Of course I’ve had "setbacks" and "indifferent treatment" in the 20-odd years since I’ve attempted to establish myself but I try to view what has happened and is happening as positive rather than negative because I’ve learned from everyone of them no matter how painful the experiences have been.

Regarding experiencing "setbacks" due to my "color" or "heritage". Well, yes, of course but I’ve never let any of that foolishness stop me for one damn second. Never! In fact, I’ve been astute enough to recognize what was going on and use it to my advantage.

D&B: When did you realize you could have a career in photography? Describe your journey towards becoming a working photographer.
CC: As far back as I can recall, I’ve always been involved with photography. There was never a point or a moment when it "started". Photography has always been present in my life. If it wasn’t there, I’m quite sure I would have discovered a way to reach her. As far as I’m concerned, I was made for photography and she was made for me. Some things are just meant to be.

D&B: What do you hope to achieve with your photography?
CC: Just to get better and more complete as a person, as a human being and also as a committed practitioner. I understand that these words are very easy to think and say. As with everything, it’s the actual doing that really matters!

D&B: What's your dream photography project?
CC: I’m working on my dream project right at this moment in time which is BROTHERS.

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