Florida-native Mark Clennon began taking photography more seriously in 2016, and credits moving to New York City as being one of the catalysts for the start of his career. Though he never studied photography formally, his passion for the medium was enriched by watching multiple YouTube tutorials and reaching out to budding photographers on Instagram. Now working across editorial, commercial and documentary, Clennon says his goal is to “capture the Black experience in its totality”, offering a picture that goes beyond just trauma and instead exploring the joys, fears and triumphs of his community.
His client list is impressive with the New Yorker, Time magazine, and Vogue sitting comfortably next to dozens of other publications, plus a whole host of big brands such as Nike and Spotify. In the summer of 2020, Clennon’s work went viral as his striking images of the Black Lives Matter protests across New York were widely celebrated. This wasn’t the first time he’d photographed peaceful marches, first capturing them on his iPhone in 2016, but having honed his skills since then, Clennon was able to capture the demonstrations from both the perspective of a photographer and a protester. Here he reflects on that time seven months later, the problems within the photography industry, and how he tries to make the most out of his commercial opportunities.
On getting into photography I first got into photography through the iPhone. I had just moved to New York and I was so excited to be living there that I kept pulling out my phone to take pictures of buildings and people watching. So I started to really develop my eye on iPhone and using Instagram. People would tell me, “Oh, you’re really good at this. Maybe you should try to pursue it.” I didn’t want to then, I was kind of scared of looking like a beginner. So I didn’t take it up for a couple of years. Then I got a camera and I tested it out for two days, and I gave up again, and put it down on my desk where it sat for a year. Then, the following year in 2016, I picked it back up again and it stuck for me.
On deciding to go full-time I just wanted to escape my job. I worked in tech with ad sales and I found it boring, I wasn’t fulfilled. So my new year’s resolution in 2017 was to quit my job. I thought I was going to quit my job in March, but I didn’t end up quitting my job until October, just because I needed to get things in order to make sure I was prepared. I decided to go when there was a round of layoffs – I didn’t get laid off, so I figured if I’m not going to get laid off now I have to just quit myself and give it a fair shot. If it didn’t work out, I’d just get a new job. But fortunately, so far, so good.