Very Heaven, Indeed

Bob Carlos Clarke-The Agony and the Ecstasy series 1994
Bob Carlos Clarke-The Agony & the Ecstasy series 1994

In my previous post on Irish photographer Bob Carlos Clarke (see Dreams of Desire 56 (Bob Carlos Clarke), I briefly mentioned his documentary series of photographs of drunken, loved up teenagers making out at debutantes balls in London in the mid-nineties. The photographs are now on exhibition in London’s The Little Black Gallery until May 26th, 2018, under the collective title The Agony & the Ecstasy, so now seemed like the right time to share these remarkable images which so vividly capture ‘the decisive moment‘, (in the terms of his hero Henri Cartier-Bresson) of these heedlessly hedonistic youths and, on occasion, their passed over friends.

As a photographer Clarke appears to be obsessed with the mediums ability to preserve a fleeting instance from the inexorable passage of time, which, as everyone knows (though we spend most of our time avoiding this unpleasant fact), destroys all things. Hence the undeniably voyeuristic obsession with the intensely transitory phenomena of beauty and youth, which decidedly adds to the poignancy and pathos of these images of ghosts from nightlife past.

 

47 thoughts on “Very Heaven, Indeed

      1. Lol! Coming out balls are a thing of the past here except for our Latino population and they are called Quince’s as you probably know. Prom night is not chaperoned and many youngsters take for granted ( especially the young men) that is when they will lose their virginity. I enjoyed this post Mr Cake.

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      2. Thank you… I think in England it is now also a Prom Night except for the aristocracy …in Ireland its called Debs…glad you enjoyed. I like this photographer very much although he is mainly known for his fetish and nude work.

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  1. The most compelling images are the ones with someone ‘left out’. The agony indeed. Oh if only you could tell the teenage version of you that none of it really matters. I’d skip prom given a do-over… But makes me a little nostalgic for the rest of my ‘misspent’ youth. Really fantastic photography. I have to go back and look at your previous post on Clarke for a reminder. Good stuff, Monsieur Gateau.

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    1. Thank you, it is fantastic photography, capturing both the abandon and the loneliness well, above all the intensity of it all. If your present day self went back and told your teenaged self that it didn’t matter, your younger self would look at you incredulously, because it matters at the time and with the keenest that only youth feels. Anyway that is the impression that I get from Clarke, he missed his own personal decisive moment and was attempting to experiencing it vicariously though others. Please do look at the previous post, he really was Britain’s answer to Newton (although Irish his career was in Britain).

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      1. Right! Wry and dry… I revisited the other post – the photos are striking. What a tragedy that he couldn’t see himself in a world of digital photography. Or really that film photography (especially in the world of art rather than, say journalism) would become irrelevant. Such a loss.

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  2. Mr. Cake, another brilliant post, “Very Heaven, Indeed”, oh, it so is! “The Agony & the Ecstasy”, fantastic photos. Bob Carlos Clarke would probably come back from the dead if he read that I thought there was a Warhol influence here, regardless the soft shock value is priceless. What impresses me is Bob would have been in his forties when he took these photos, and hanging around in a make-out room with teenagers is rather surreal in itself, apparently the camera didn’t mean stop, it meant go! Okay, I know everyone has a favorite photo, mine is lucky No. 6, best girl, lamest guy. Is she hot or what, and look at him, afraid to touch her! Let’s not forget No. 2, 5, 7, and 8, all receive honorable mention, for the agony! This is most certainly every teen girl’s dream, rolling around on the hardwood floor along with the cigarette butts. These are amazing photos for so many reasons, Cakeland is indeed a very large place, full of all sorts of good stuff. ~ Miss Cranes

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    1. Thank you very much Miss Cranes for your lovely detailed comment. Clarke was a friend of the Pop Artist Allen Jones so I don’t think he would mind at all. Very odd that Clarke was photographing Deb Balls, but the results are fantastic. What girl doesn’t dream of rolling around on the floor among the fag ends?

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      1. Thank you, I was taken with them when I finish saw them when I was researching my first Bob Carlos Clarke post last year and I filed them away in my mind…he certainly had an eye for that decisive moment.

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      2. Another tragic end…I think he found ageing very difficult, plus with the advent of digital photography he felt left behind. Let’s not forget that he was a louche Irish aristocrat as well and they have a tendency to be troubled with their ambiguous position in both Ireland and the U.K.

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      3. Well J.G’s favourite photography was Mr Newton, unsurprisingly, who died the ultimate Ballardian death, a car crash after leaving the Chateau Marmont, and Newton was obviously a big influence on Clarke. I will have to take a look again at Mapplethorpe, not at all familiar with his work. Thank you for the lead.

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    2. You are on the money regarding No. 6…I like No. 2 for the the agony, plus he somewhat resembles a young Mr Cake. The header image I like the girl with the eyes wide open, she is certainly coolly surveying the scene. Lots and lots of excellent touches in all of them.

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    1. Oh Miss Dawn, the agony at that age is exceptional, however a sense of humour and irony is a must in life. Glad you enjoyed, I do try to vary my production and keep people guessing.

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      1. Well I have a lot of enthusiasms, which I forget and rediscover and then forget again. But I thought it was within the remit of Cakeland and it allowed me to wax lyric on youth etc. To be young is indeed very Heaven but it contains a fair share of agony as well. Glad you like this side of me, my latest post is more my usual dark fare though.

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      1. yes. honestly, you can find something aesthetically effective and at the same time find it “morally” unsettling. Lots of films like that. I am not really that moralistic at all, trust me, if you knew the series I am working on. However, when women are making money off other women, I feel that’s a bit better than men always making money off us.

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      2. Agreed and I have always devoted a number of posts on women artists and writers. However it is almost impossible to ignore the male gaze in any history of art, which is problematic in itself. Often it is a case of do we want to throw the baby out with the bath water?

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