Sometimes, an idea can change your life. That’s what happened to Stuart Roy Clarke, in 1989. Back then, he was a football fan and a young photographer. British football was in a sorry state: racism and hooliganism were endemic, and many football grounds were old and decrepit. But all this was eclipsed in April 1989, by the Hillsborough stadium disaster, which cost 96 Liverpool fans their lives. It was a wake-up call for football, and the result was the Taylor report, which would transform the face of British football, such as, introducing all-seater stadiums.
Stuart seemed to be the only photographer to grasp that Taylor was seminal moment for British football; that the national game would never be the same again. But more importantly, that it was vital to capture this moment on film. “I woke up in a sweat and thought, ‘I know exactly what I should do – document it, and not just now, but for at least the next ten years.’”
Stuart’s foresight has paid huge dividends, because his project – Homes of Football (http://homesoffootball.co.uk/) is a unique photo documentary of British football, capturing images and events that have vanished over time. “If something like Hillsborough and Taylor happened for the first time today, there would be a thousand artists and photographers queuing up to give their version of it,” says Stuart, “but back then, no one seemed to be producing any art in football, even though it was the nation’s game and this was a major disaster.”
Stuart’s images capture events both on and off the pitch, and inside and outside the ground. Such is his dedication to finding the right image that, he often turns up at a ground six hours before kickoff and begins looking around for potential shots. His work has taken him to football grounds across Britain and abroad. A quick glance at the Homes of Football gallery reveals the breadth of Stuart’s work and his keen eye for capturing both the pain and the passion the game engenders; as well as the extraordinary, the quirky and the seemingly mundane. However, Homes of Football is not a football museum, but an organic, living project, that Stuart is constantly adding to – there are now more than 100,000 images in the archive.
Stuart Roy Clarke was born in Hertfordshire in 1961. As a boy, he liked drawing, but his father’s and grandfather’s old prints and slides drew him to photography. At secondary school, a teacher encouraged Stuart to take up photography, and he bought his first camera, a Zenit. Six months later, he purchased a 35mm Canon, which he still uses today. After leaving college, Stuart worked in a music store (music is another passion of his), but apart from a brief period working in a hotel, he has been a photographer for most of his life, mainly focusing on football and music events.
Stuart describes his approach to photography as ‘purist’ and it’s easy to see why. He only uses two cameras, a 25 year-old box Bronica and his 36 year-old Canon; eschews digital technology; doesn’t use filters or a light meter, and sets a limit of 100 shots per commission. He also doesn’t do any cropping or PhotoShopping. “I love a camera that works well, and the Canon and Bronica are tried and tested,” says Stuart, “I’m not Luddite when it comes to digital, but I don’t like the mindset that digital engenders: ‘I can take loads of shots and know that one or two will work out okay.’ It feels like there’s a lack of reverence towards photography.”
Nor is Stuart anti-PhotoShop, “I have no problems with people completely changing pictures with PhotoShop and I admire some artists that do this. But I don’t like it being used for improving things. My feeling is that I know the parameters of the camera and film I’m using, so I should get it right in the camera. I’m trying to tell the truth, as it appeared in front of the lens, not beautify the subject.”
Stuart is an admirer of Cartier-Bresson, who coined the phrase, ‘the decisive moment,’ but says, “It’s very easy for photographers to think that they have just missed the decisive moment and curse their luck. But quite often, the decisive moment returns, or an even better decisive moment comes along later.” An example of this can be seen in the Homes of Football gallery, with the quirky image of a dog perched on its hind legs at the front of the stand. Stuart had seen the fan and dog outside the ground, and looked out for them during the match. “The first time the dog stood up, I missed it. But he did it again, and I got the picture,” says Stuart.
Today Homes of Football is a national institution and on semi-permanent display at the National Football Museum in Manchester. Stuart has also had close to 100 solo shows at numerous galleries, written books and regularly receives commissions from football bodies. It has made Stuart a good living, but it wasn’t always the case, “In the first five years, I struggled to get galleries and museums interested in my pictures,” he recalls, “the attitude was that football photography was something that belonged on the back pages of the newspapers. Fortunately, that’s changed now.”
But in an age where football has gone corporate; club image rights are strongly protected, and where taking photographs in public (especially of children) can be challenging, how easy is it for him to continue documenting the beautiful game? “It is trickier, but I think I can still take the pictures I used to take.”
Although Stuart is now in his fifties, he has no plans to slow down, “I’m still excited about what I can do today and tomorrow,” he says, “I’ll carry on doing the football, but if I can find the time, I’d also like to explore other forms of photography, including portrait. I also like the idea of aerial photography and underwater photography. The energy and the enthusiasm to take pictures are still there.”www.homesoffootball.co.uk