I remember the moment I realized I wanted to be a fine art photographer, and the exact image that brought me there. I was studying for a Bachelor of Arts in Forensic Photography. My decision to study Forensic Photography was a perfect blending of my law enforcement background and my love for photography. I shot the image from my car while stopped at a red light, and I knew instantly it was something special. When the print emerged from the color processor — a storeowner in the Little Haiti neighborhood of Miami, Florida cleaning the sidewalk in front of her store, framed by the large steel door that protected her establishment, which is now gone — I realized my viewfinder was a window to a whole new world around me. My camera became a tool to explore the world, and an extension of who I am.
My first experience as a professional photographer was during 1997 when I was employed as an Executive Protection Agent and tasked with conducting surveillance of off-duty, uniformed police officers during several street festivals to verify they were providing the services the City required the organizer to pay for from the police department. During the next several years, I began to expand into other areas of photography, especially landscape and street photography. One evening, as I was relaxing in front of the T.V. listening to “Forensic Files” on A&E while cleaning various weapons and other gear for my next assignment, my interest was piqued by the show’s discussion of forensic photographers. After a quick internet search I determined there were two schools in the country offering degrees in forensic photography: The Rochester Institute of Photography and Barry University.
Barry University’s campus is located in Miami, Florida. As it happens, this was a few weeks before I was to fly into Miami to celebrate the thanksgiving holiday with my family in the Florida Keys. Since we were arriving the day before thanksgiving, I decided to take a quick detour to visit the campus before heading down to the Keys. Arriving at the campus around 2p.m., I was told that I could look around but that most of the professors had already left for the holiday. As luck would have it, when I arrived at the Fine Arts Department I found Steve Althouse as he was wrapping up his last class for the day. Leaving the campus more than an hour later, I had already decided I would attend Barry University if my application were accepted.
The following fall, when I next met Steve, I was not only his student but also working for him and professor Silvia Lizama as the new lab technician. It was these two relationships, especially the mentorship, friendship and guidance from Silvia that would change my direction and open my mind to more than I ever expected.
Barry University was the right place at the right time. Having transferred the maximum number of credits into the program from an Associates of Applied Science in criminal justice, all but a few of the credits for the forensic photography program outside of the photography department were already complete. This afforded me the opportunity to take almost every photography class offered, including two study abroad programs. The first program was to study underwater photography on the island of Bonaire and the second was with Steve Althouse in Paris, France. The first day of class in Paris, Steve gave the class advice which I still recall before every click of the shutter, “Don’t shoot what my mom would shoot.”
I left Miami during the summer of 2004 with a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts and six months later I found myself living and working in Anchorage, Alaska. As a field service technician for Noritsu America, I traveled throughout Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada repairing and installing photographic processing equipment in grocery stores, warehouse stores, and professional photo labs. During all of the miles over land, water and through the air, my camera was never far from my hand. In many ways, the job was an ideal way to transition from university to the field of photography. I was able to meet many people from different sides of the business, but more importantly to me at the time I was able to use the film I was shooting to test the machines I had just repaired; essentially processing my color negs for free. At the beginning of 2006, the founder of Noritsu passed away and the new management, led by the founder’s son, laid off more than 60% of the “non-essential” staff – including me. However, two days before my last day the district manager called me and offered me a transfer to San Francisco. Even though I was not ready to leave Alaska, I had not found a new job and the only vehicle I had was my company car, so I accepted the transfer and by the following Monday I was in San Francisco looking for a place to live.
After a year of working for Noritsu in California, I had driven more than 80,000 miles and was working for my third supervisor. The final straw came during a phone call with said supervisor while I was sitting in traffic to cross the Bay Bridge from Oakland back to San Francisco. Three hours later, I had finally made it across the bridge and was determined to find a new line of work. Within the next month, I had left Noritsu and was working two part-time jobs: Gallery framer for the Ansel Adams Gallery and lab tech at the Academy of Art University. The combination of both positions gave me everything I needed at the time: Access to the most amazing photography from my original photographic idol and access to lab facilities.
My experiences at the Ansel Adams Gallery are days that I will allows remember as my greatest connection to the history of photography. I was able to interact with Ansel’s family and hear stories that brought him and his art to life in a way few get to experience of such an important personal influence long after it is possible to interact with him personally. Every time I see an Ansel Adam’s image or hear his name mentioned, I smile, knowing I am, in a very small, personal way, a part of his legacy. One night, during a company gathering, Mathew Adams raised a glass and toasted, “Thank you, Virginia.” Later, he would explain to me that it was family tradition to toast the woman that gave him and his siblings birth while running the studio so well that Ansel could be the best at what he did. After that, in a corner of the backing board under the archival tissue between the mat and the board, I would write, “Thank you Virginia, framed by SClark, 200x.”
My job at the Academy of Art was constantly inspirational. Interacting with students and professors eventually led me start graduate classes during the fall of 2008. When I told my supervisor that I was applying to become a student, she informed me that I would have to resign my position as lab tech. Without hesitation I told her that, while I was not expecting that requirement, I felt I was in the right place to pursue my goal of earning an MFA and would acquiesce if need be. However, I would be happy to help maintain the lab and assist the staff whenever I was around. About a week later, she called me into her office and told me that she met with the Vice President of HR and successfully fought for me to keep my job, which I did until January 2010 when I returned to Miami to pursue my final course work with my mentor, Silvia Lizama. I graduated May 2011 with a Master’s of Fine Arts specializing in fine art photography. What really prompted the move back to Miami was my best friend, Jenifer.
On October 10, 2010, Jenifer, who is also a photographer agreed to be my wife, both times I proposed; but only for 50 years. After that, she says she can trade me in for a newer model. Jenifer and I met during our undergraduate studies at Barry University and share similar passions for photography, food and travel. Despite our contrasting styles, our shared interests produce complementary images. After a trip to Boston, during which we were both shooting personal work, she posted on her blog:
Having gone through [my images] and now looking through his, I have noticed that we'd shoot the exact same scene sometimes but focused on two totally different things. They're almost opposites, which is quite interesting to see; being able to see different views of the same image makes the scene become multi-dimensional, thus allowing the images to complement each other.
As a conclusion to the original version of my autobiography as published within the final academic copy of my MFA thesis, entitled, Uh-kyoo-myuh-ley-shuhn , I stated, “ Going forward, I know I will have something I have never had before: A critical eye to push me to move my work forward and the support of an unconditional partner.” I am now more than five years forward of that statement and it is more true today – and every day – then it was when I first wrote it. During 2014 we welcomed our son, Ethan Donavan Clark, to our family.
Two weeks after Ethan was born, I began studies within the University of Miami’s School of Business. After earning a graduate certificate in Business Management, I was accepted to the graduate School of Management. Three months before Ethan’s 2nd birthday, I graduated with a Master’s of Science in Business Management with an additional certificate in Leadership.
Currently, I am working in two areas of the photographic industry. First, I have been operating Versatile Light, LLC with Jenifer since 2010. We provide photographic services and fine art sales to a variety of clients. We have had an ongoing relationship with the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami since the beginning of Versatile Light and have had many incredible opportunities to create images of amazing people and performers. Additionally, since 2013, I have been working at UHealth, the medical school of the University of Miami. First, as an Ophthalmic photographer at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. Now, within the Enterprise Imaging group of the IT department where we are redefining visible light imaging and archiving for medical use. Our group of three has responsibilities that include development of applications and standards, camera testing and development, teaching photography and best practices to doctors and medical staff, and managing over 60 servers and 4 applications used by over 1,300 users.
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