Carl Clark, photographer artist and MICA graduate, dies

Carl Clark, "a visual historian" and "social documentarian," died.

Carlton L. "Carl" Clark, a photographer whose camera caught what a critic called "knowing recitals of the ordinary moments," died of cancer Thursday at his Pikesville home. He was 82.

A much-praised and widely exhibited photographer, Mr. Clark came to Baltimore in the early 1970s and established a Reservoir Hill studio. He photographed scenes of everyday life — women leaving church, men standing on a corner and people riding a subway.

A 2000 article in The Baltimore Sun said, "He is a visual historian, a social documentarian and a wry teller of tales that otherwise almost surely would go unrecorded."

Born in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood, he was the son of Edward Clark, who was the son of North Carolina slaves. His father served in the military and his mother, Leslie, was a homemaker. After attending schools in Massachusetts, Mr. Clark joined the Army and had three combat tours, the first in Korea and later in Vietnam. He left the Army as a major and earned a Bronze Star, among other decorations.

"He could never reconcile the death and destruction he witnessed," said his wife, Linda Day Clark. "He had serious post-traumatic stress. He became a Buddhist in Vietnam, and that allowed him to work through his issues. His art, in its pursuit of beauty, also helped him."

During his time in Southeast Asia, Mr. Clark became fluent in Thai and Vietnamese.

In the 1970s, he was stationed at Fort Meade. By that time, after nearly 20 years of military service, he had a bachelor's degree in sociology from the University of Nebraska. A crafts instructor at the military base entered some of Mr. Clark's pictures in a contest, and he won a prize. The teacher suggested he attend Maryland Institute College of Art.

"I recall that I was the first person he spoke with," said Jack Wilgus, the former MICA photography chair who now lives in Dallas. "We bonded right there. ... Carl impressed me right away. He turned out to be one of the best students I ever had. He was older than the other students. The younger students looked up to him."

Mr. Clark earned a bachelor's degree in fine arts at MICA.

He initially resided in Randallstown and later in Rosedale. In a 2001 Sun article, he said he wanted a livelier neighborhood.

"He stopped at Linden [Avenue] and Ducatel one day at the sound of children splashing in a public pool," The Sun's account said. "Then he turned around to find the house at the north end of the block for sale. He bought it." He had a studio there for decades and moved to Baltimore County this year.

Mr. Clark exhibited at the Baltimore Museum of Art, Maryland Art Place and School 33 Art Center. He also befriended local artists and arranged shows of the works of Tom Miller and Joseph Kohl after their deaths.

"Carl Clark's work was on view at the BMA soon after my arrival. ... I remember visiting the gallery where it hung and being struck by how profound his images were. They captured feelings and relationships, conflicts and affection — each black-and-white photograph telling a rich story about the Baltimore community that he loved and that clearly loved and admired him in return," said Doreen Bolger, the former BMA director. "Carl will be remembered by his contemporaries and by history."

"Clark's pictures are a celebration of the commonplace in a culture in which black skin is always fraught with the troublesome baggage of the past," said The Sun's 2000 article. "The power of Clark's photographs perhaps lies in the fact that they are peopled by men, women and children who seem so sublimely unaware their images could inspire such passions."

In the 2000 Sun profile, Mr. Clark said his work was "a personal journey toward self-understanding and self-acceptance, as well as the product of a sustained and well-honed critical vision."

"My photographs are me talking to me, me emoting," he said in the article. "I'm convinced that emotions inform the intellect, not the other way around. So I want my images to evoke emotions of some kind, to not just reflect the culture but to force the viewer to experience it in some new, intense way — to make you contemplate, to give you pause, to stimulate. And to the extent that they do that, I think they are art."

Mr. Clark's works were displayed at the Royal Photographic Society of England, Smithsonian Institution, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists in Boston, among other places.

Mr. Clark loved to cook and he enjoyed digital gadgets. He read widely and was a science-fiction fan. He also wrote poetry.

A memorial service will be held at 2:30 p.m. Thursday at the March Funeral Home, 4300 Wabash Ave.

Survivors include his wife of 21 years, a photographer who is a Coppin State University faculty member; five sons, Carlton L. Clark II of Atlanta; Kevin Clark, Kelton Clark of Annapolis, Russell Clark of Woodstock and Jameel Day of Baltimore; two daughters, Minola Clark Manson of San Diego, and Lara Clark of Owings Mills; a brother, Sidney Clark of Granby, Conn.; a sister, Barbara Elam of Boston; 12 grandchildren; and a great-grandson. Another son, Christopher Clark, died in 2012. His first wife, Minola Clark, died in the 1960s. His marriage to Joan Williams ended in divorce.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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