Pictures that tell a story
The theme of the Clark family exhibition — featuring the work of the late photographer Joe “The Hillbilly Snapshooter” Clark and his son Junebug — is “pictures that tell a story.”
“That’s been our tagline forever,” said Junebug Clark, above, a consultant for the Mayborn School of Journalism. “My dad believed photography was given a bad rap because some people pawned it off an imitation of art. He thought it was more a kin to literature. Pictures tell a story.”
The photographs have been published in Life and National Geographic magazines and Jack Daniel’s Distillery advertisements, and they certainly tell a story.
Take their black and white pictures that feature the people and landscapes of Cumberland Gap, part of the Appalachian Mountains. Joe Clark shot “Uncle Alex Cline, The Blacksmith,” making a wagon wheel, and townspeople attending a “Baptising in Olde Towne Creek” (right). Junebug Clark captured a “Mennonite mother and children looking out of their front door.”
Fifty pictures from the Clarks’ private collection — to be seen in public for the first time — will be on display June 1 to July 22 at UNT on the Square. A reception will take place from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. June 5.
The Clarks took 2 million pictures, and in 2011, Junebug Clark and his wife Kay and former Jack Daniel’s executive vice president Art Hancock and his wife Charlotte donated the collection to the UNT Libraries. UNT Libraries is curating, digitizing and archiving the photographs.
The Institute for the Advancement of the Arts, the arm of UNT that promotes artistic and creative expression and runs UNT on the Square, invited Junebug Clark to present the exhibition in cooperation with the Mayborn School of Journalism.
The exhibition also will include artifacts — such as the cameras they used and the straw hat Joe Clark (left) frequently wore.
“I have to bring that out,” Junebug Clark said.
Joe Clark grew up in Tennessee and never had more than a fourth grade education. He moved to Detroit to look for a job and ended up working as a night watchman in J.L. Hudson’s department store, where a colleague gave him a camera.
In 1940, a Life magazine editor dropped by and insisted on seeing his pictures from a mountain funeral — even writing to him four times. The magazine published 14 out of the 36 pictures Joe Clark took.
He soon decided to quit work and take up photography. He shot for Life, National Geographic and Joe and Junebug Clark photographed Jack Daniel’s ads for 38 years.
Junebug Clark, who got his first camera at age 3, also pursued photography as a career, even serving as a Marines Corps photographer. His photograph of his cousin’s first haircut appeared in Look magazine’s 20th anniversary issue.
“I felt that I finally trumped my dad on this one,” he said. “I was about 6 at the time.”
Since 1971, he has photographed for Cessna Aircraft Company, Jack Daniel’s Distillery, Federal Mogul Corporation, Eli Lilly and Company, Budweiser, Time, Life, Newsweek and National Geographic.
His photographs include a cattle drive in Wyoming in the snow — “We had to get there by horseback” — and a cropduster flying in the field — “They made me wear a parachute and here we were about a hundred feet above the ground.” (Left, "Mennonite mother and children looking out of their front door.”)
“Every picture tells a story and there’s a story behind every picture,” he said. “I always love the challenge of doing something a little bit better and a little bit different on each assignment. It’s so much fun.”
Now at the Mayborn, Junebug Clark takes pictures for the school, lectures to photojournalism and journalism classes and assists students. He hopes to pass on the same enthusiasm for his vocation.
“I hear students usually say they ‘have a passion for photography.’ It’s more than a passion. It’s an overwhelming urge to capture and communicate with pictures.”
- Jessica DeLeón, University Relations, Communications and Marketing
Above, Junebug Clark at his home. Photo by Ahna Hubnik/URCM. Below, “Uncle Alex Cline, The Blacksmith.” Photo by Joe Clark.