Through the Lens of Patricia Houghton Clarke
Story By Leslie Dinaberg
Photos by Patricia Houghton Clarke
Although she’s been a Santa Barbaran since she was a teenager, international award-winning photographer Patricia Houghton Clarke didn’t turn her intimate observation skills toward what was happening in her own hometown until relatively recently.
“I really did make a very firm kind of decision for myself about six years ago to see Santa Barbara the way I would see Shanghai or I would see Rome, because it helps me pay attention,” says Clarke, whose work, according to Wall Space Gallery owner Crista Dix, “transcends the boundaries often discussed between the traditional divisions of ‘documentary’ or ‘fine art’ photography. Her work grabs us, makes us think, using grace and beauty to make a point.”
“Actually, sometimes I go out with my camera specifically to kind of recreate that mindset I get in when I’m on the road, because when I travel, I’m almost always walking around with my camera. So I’ll leave the house and I’ll have the camera or if I see something in town, then I go back and I shoot it, but it just helps me stay present.
Then I think wow, if you were from Norway and if you saw the Fiesta Parade going down the street, it would blow your mind, it would be so much fun,” says Clarke.
She laughs, “We just go ‘oh whatever.’ But it’s pretty amazing. It’s all of these people just kind of loosening up and having fun and not taking everything so seriously.”
Clarke’s lifelong fascination with light, shapes and colors, as well as her love of everyday life, comes through loud and clear, whether she shoots digitally or with her favorite piece of equipment—a $15 toy Holga camera.
“Obviously, I’m not a techie at all and so the gear isn’t what matters to me,” she says. “With the Holga, it’s really intuitive and it’s all about finding light and it’s not at all about setting an F stop…there is nothing to do. And there’s also things that happen because of the nature of the camera.”
“It’s just so terrible and you have to tape it together…there’s stuff that happens on its own and so for me it’s kind of magical and it can create these magical images that I love.”
We also love these magical images and are pleased to share them with you exclusively on these pages. For a more in-depth interview with Clarke—and to see additional examples of her work—check out the Santa Barbara Spotlight.
Originally published in the Summer 2013 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.