Featured photographer Marna Clarke
Portraits that explore aging and acceptance
Time As We Know It, Marna Clarke’s 12-year long project visualizes aging bodies, intimacy, determination, and self-acceptance. Work from this project is being featured for Issue 115 – Partnership.
Clarke’s insightful photographs share aspects of her life, and her 20 year partnership with Igor Sazevich. Her images of daily rituals, and vignettes of their lives in and around their home, share a perspective which strives to explore and go beneath the surface of straightforward portraiture. Her images capture the transitory nature of their lives – as well as our lives. While change might be an underlying theme in Time As We Know It, Clarke’s larger body of work explores overarching themes of identity, family, mortality and ultimately acceptance of change. These humanizing themes come in the form of poignant scenes like a shirt on a kitchen chair, someone napping on a couch, an intimate embrace, or warm morning light on bare legs hanging over the edge of a bed. These unvarnished events reveal both a single day, and every day. This is life. Clarke’s images capture this and perhaps heighten the aspect of what the future will bring. Her images remind us of the beauty and grace of being alive, facing mortality and not being afraid to show it.
“When I turned 70, I felt as if I had rounded a corner and seen the end of my life, not close but visible in the distance,” Clarke told Humble Arts Foundation in May of 2022. “I didn’t feel old…did I look old? Not satisfied with just a glimpse in the mirror, I decided to photograph myself from head to foot. I set my camera on a tripod, bought a small device that when pushed would electronically trigger the camera shutter to open and close. Armed with this equipment, I began to record my face, hair, eyes, hands, shoulders, torso, feet, back, legs, my whole body basically, unclothed. I had spent most of my life thinking I was big when I wasn’t. These photos put that misconception to bed. The photographer in me sought out beautiful light for these images and composed them carefully to make them interesting.”
Clarke was a 2021 Critical Mass top 50 finalist. Her work has been featured by many publications, and her photography has been in shown numerous galleries in the San Fransisco area. Time As We Know It (the project and photo book), marks the passage of time as seen in her self-portraits and portraits of her partner. Her work conveys the intimacy of a long term partnership which began and developed well into middle age. When they met, Clarke was 63, Igor was 74. Sadly, he died in August of 2022 at the age of 93.
Clarke sagely writes that growing older has necessitated a gradual letting go of things she has taken for granted all her life. Her youth, figure, memory, mobility, hearing. Much of the aging process is out of anyone’s control; even though many people take countless steps to halt or reverse the effects of aging. But like it or not, aging demands an acknowledgement of the truth; a literal or metaphorical long hard look in the mirror. Change can become especially difficult as we age. The limits of what we or our loved ones can physically or mentally do, the adaptations needed in order to live with these changes – compels us to come to terms with not having complete control, and learning to live with what we can control. It makes us feel more detached, and reminds us of being old.
“I started this aging exploration with photographing my body,” Clarke writes in her project statement. “I have been obsessed since my teen years with staying thin, fueled by mild dysmorphia, which for me has been a preoccupation with the erroneous notion that I am fat. The original impulse for photographing my body came from this obsession. I’ve come to realize that this mistaken belief will always be with me; my task is to ignore the mind chatter it creates. I expanded this series of self-portraits to include pictures of my daily life, my partner Igor, my fears and fantasies. I looked for new meaning by combining these recent images with photographs from my past.”
“I have entered a taboo territory: aging and death,” Clarke writes. “The creation of these photos is part of my own way of dealing with the inevitability of dying by bringing attention to it and accepting it. I have come to embrace the photographs as a tribute not just to our lives but also to the demanding and courageous task of growing old gracefully, graciously, and aware. A certain wisdom is evolving from years of living and observing, eventually unveiling previously unseen associations, patterns and similarities. I am gaining a much-appreciated perspective that was not available to me previously.”
Marna Clarke is a photographer living in Inverness, California. She has studied photography at the Hartford Art School and the International Center for Photography. Her work is in the collections of the Sol LeWitt Collection, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris, France, and has been featured by publications such as SF Camerawork, PhotoAlliance, Fraction Magazine, Public Broadcasting Service, Huffington Post, Feature Shoot, and Humble Arts Foundation/NY, and was a 2021 Critical Mass Top 50 Finalist.
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