Lifelong photographer shares skills and experience

Lifelong photographer shares skills and experience

Lifelong photographer shares skills and experience
April 02
20:07 2014

Kristen Watson // Contributing Writer 

A desperate journalist hired a stand-in photographer and waited patiently on a street corner in downtown Detroit in 1955. As the Veteran’s cab door swung open, Junebug Clark hopped out ready to begin the shoot. The look of shock on the journalist’s face was not due to Clark’s impressive equipment. The surprise was instead evoked from the age of this photographer—Clark was 6 years old.

Today, Junebug Clark has been a photographer for 62 years. Clark is the photography consultant for the University of North Texas’ Mayborn School of Journalism, mentoring students and lugging his camera around waiting for that perfect shot.

He has previously shot for Jack Daniels, Budweiser, Time, Life, Sports Illustrated, Newsweek, National Geographic and even appeared in a movie, “Principal Product,” when he was also six.

Photography prodigy

Clark was born to Joe and Bernice Clark in Detroit, Michigan. From birth, photography was in his blood. Both of his parents being professional photographers themselves, he learned to shoot a camera before he could walk.

He received his first camera, a Leica, at the age of three. Watching his father, Clark learned and mimicked until photography became second nature. He especially took to his father’s philosophy of using photography to find and capture the good in life.

“I think that’s what our profession is. It’s looking for the best in things,” Clark said. “We actually spend most of our time looking for the good in things as opposed to what you see on the 6 o’clock news all the time.”

With the help of Clark’s unusual talent and his father, Clark landed a staff photographer position at the Detroit Times Newspaper when he was only 5 years old.

“It kind of went around the Detroit Press Club that a five-year-old shot the latest Stroh Beer ad and the editor from the Detroit Times called me in and wanted to do a profile over me,” Clark said. “So I walked in with a box of 11 by 14 prints of everything I had been shooting and instead of doing the profile, he offered me a job.”

Clark went on to get most of the headlining stories, causing unrest among the other photographers on staff. The union eventually filed a complaint to get Clark fired for violation of child labor laws.

Needless to say, Clark was fired but still continued to get notable assignments on a freelance basis. He even received his first car, a Rambler Station Wagon, at the age of seven while on assignment for American Motors.

The Marines

When Clark turned 18, the Vietnam War was raging. Clark felt compelled to use his photography skills to help serve his country. So, before he could be drafted, he enlisted with the United States Marines.

He was stationed in Santa Ana, California, where he met fellow photographer and lifelong friend, Dan Moore.

“I remember when we were out on a beach taking a few pictures,” Moore said. “He picked up a beer can that was on the beach to throw it away and he got arrested for it. Then he had a lot of explaining to do to the people in the Marine Corps.”

Clark has had the opportunity to shoot many people, places and events, but his favorite project was raising a sunken Japanese WWII battleship while stationed with the Marines in Japan.

“The raising of the WWII battleship was another shoot that ended up being in eight different Japanese magazines and newspapers,” said Clark. “It was the second largest battleship in the Japanese fleet and it sunk in home port.”

Photo work

Throughout his career, Junebug Clark has worked for many large names and companies. The largest, longest-running project was for Jack Daniels Whiskey in Lynchburg, Tennessee. Together, Clark and his father shot 90 percent of their print ads for 38 years.

“With the legacy of his father and his mother, he just wanted to try to measure up to them ever since he was a little guy. And he’s still doing it today,” said Moore. “He’s probably the most complete photographer I’ve ever met in my life. I’ve never met someone that’s so versatile and talented.”

Clark also had the opportunity to work for Cessna Aircraft Company for eight years with Moore, his former Marine buddy. Together, the two shot everything from mechanical parts to the planes themselves.

Clark and his wife, Kay, have two children, Wade and Anna. Being a professional photographer has required lots of traveling and strain on his family. Clark said he travels to about 30 states annually, with his record being 38 in one year.

“Being a freelancer, you rarely got booked more than two weeks in advance,” Clark said.

When Clark’s father passed, he left his entire photography collection to his son. The collection is somewhere in the millions and consist of prints, film, and advertising. The photos document Detroit’s rise to fame in the auto industry, historical and famous portraits, and illustrate the colorful Jack Daniels history.

Clark was approached many times to sell a piece or two, but he believed the collection should stay complete.

When Brenda Fanara, the Mayborn School of Journalism’s development officer, approached Clark about donating his collection to the University of North Texas, he was more than hesitant.

Fanara took several trips to Kansas where Clark was residing to view the collection. She eventually offered a safe place for the entire collection as well as a four-year secured position with UNT.

“I met Junebug as a potential donor for the Mayborn,” said Fanara. “We wanted to add his family’s collection to our growing collection. The longer I’ve known him, the more I realize what a humble, talented artist he is.”

Clark said his favorite project so far is his position at UNT. He said he loves finding students who share his passion for photography and encouraging them to achieve their dreams.

Clark said he doesn’t know what lies ahead for him.

“I can’t see anything changing and yet that’s what my whole life has been about,” Clark said. “So, I think that it’s just going to be more sunrises and sunsets and taking pictures.”

Feature photo: Junebug Clark teaches UNT’s Hatch Visuals staff about Adobe Bridge on his laptop. Photo by Christina Ulsh / Design Editor

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