On 25 March 2006, the photographer Bob Carlos Clarke checked himself out of the Priory Hospital in Barnes, southwest London, walked a short distance to a railway track, and jumped in front of a train. He was 55, and it was a terrible end to a complex life. But, as endings go, it was not an entirely surprising one. Carlos Clarke was best known as a photographer of women in a state of undress, a subject that obsessed him long before he took up a camera. But his reputation – as “Britain’s answer to Helmut Newton” – hints at only a fraction of his talent (or his potential talent), and suggests none of the turmoil that governed his career. How else to describe him? He was fastidious about control in his professional life but reckless in his private one. He wrestled continuously in the gulf between commerce and art. He was terrifically explosive company. He was his own worst enemy. Why did he kill himself? There are several answers. He was depressed to be growing old while all his models always seemed to stay 21, not least because he felt he no longer had a chance with them. He detested the emergence of digital photography, which gave everyone the impression they were the next Cartier-Bresson. And he doubted the power of his own talents: the National Portrait Gallery failed to recognise him, but would hang a portrait by his 14-year-old daughter Scarlett as soon as he was dead.
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