Chris Clark wants to open people’s eyes to a different side of photography. The 23-year-old Wichita native is off to a good start.
His photo of the high-beam vigas supporting the St. Francis de Asis Church in Rancho de Taos, N.M., not only captures an exceptional angle to the often-shot adobe structure. It also won him international attention as the winning photograph in last year’s Frontier Fragmented Cities Photo Contest.
Home for the summer, the Santa Fe University of Art and Design junior is taking a break from studying photography to exhibit his first show. “Adobe Equivalents,” which highlights his talent of capturing unique angles, opened at the Murillo Studios & Gallery in Old Town last month and will close Friday with an artist reception. Clark’s foray is a continuation of a family tradition: He is a third-generation Wichita artist.
“Chris Clark is a close friend from a very creative family,” gallery owner Steve Murillo said. “I’ve given shows to his grandfather, aunt and other family members. His work is unique.”
Wayne Clark, 85, raised seven children doing artwork. Painting is his primary medium, but he has a legacy as an art professional. He worked as an art director at ad agencies and later opened his own photo catalogue shop. His son Jonathan, 51, got his bachelor of fine arts at Wichita State University with a focus on painting and sculpture. He, too, is a working artist, doing freelance art projects, sign work and computer illustrations. He’s currently designing the bicycle-themed mural in the parking lot at the Donut Whole, 1720 E. Douglas.
“I told him not to be an artist and to do something he can make money at,” Wayne Clark said.
Jonathan didn’t heed his father’s words, but did echo that sentiment later as a parent.
“I told Chris the same thing … go do something other than artwork,” Jonathan Clark said.
Growing up with the influence of art both at home and at his grandparents’ house meant a family tradition would continue. Today, his father and grandfather radiate a beaming sense of pride as they show off his work at the gallery. Recalling the day Chris captured that award-winning shot, Jonathan Clark explained that his classmates had taken a trip to the church. While most were photographing the usual angles, Chris Clark was up to something else.
“He was seeing things differently,” Jonathan Clark said. “Everyone was waiting for the lights to shine on the church and make the photo happen. But he made it happen himself by finding something completely different.”
That different perspective is evident in all 18 of the black-and-white works on display. The grandeur of the adobe itself isn’t the central focus. It’s the intricacies, angles and details usually overlooked that come into focus. Peeling paint, crumbling walls, cracks in the clay and even a bar behind a dirty window become enthralling images that invite viewers to take a different look of one of the most-photographed churches in America.
“It’s true to my style,” Chris Clark said. “I find myself interested in the abstract expressionist aspect of photography as opposed to the traditional idea. I try to investigate history with my lens.”
Chris Clark explained that he wasn’t out to win a completion when he took the “Vertical Vigas” shot. He just was looking for a noticeable feature — and found that with the vigas. Looking straight up while close in to the wall allowed him to capture them in a sculpture-like state as clouds whirled in the background. After he won the Fragmented Cities contest, he decided to return with more of a focus.
Both his father and grandfather praised his keen sense of creativity. Jonathan Clark said he’s particularly proud of his son’s insistence on being an individual, a trait that shows in his art. This show, he contends, offers something beyond the typical experience.
“I hope audiences see it as sort of an investigation of the architectures and lifestyle of Santa Fe, and also I hope they get a sense of just being able to respect photography as a true fine art form,” Chris Clark said. “It’s opening people’s eyes to a different side of photography. They are supposed to evoke emotion. You can almost feel the texture, smell the mud and straw in the adobe and really understand the age of the place.”