Meeting Donna Craddock of ClickClickBang Photography is to encounter a force of nature . She is infectiously enthusiastic about her work and sees herself as “capturing moments” often talking about collaborations, rather than taking full credit for her work, as she acknowledges the contributions of her wonderful array of models.
The 40-year-old was born in Manchester, but family relocation saw her grow up in the Burnley area. She now lives in the nearby, scenic village of Trawden, nestling at the foot of Boulsworth Hill.
Having worked in a bank, then as a mortgage adviser, her early artistic endeavours focussed on classical guitar and had seen her study for a BTEC in music. Donna became a mum aged 22 and that coincided with the pre-smart phone popularity of digital cameras – and as she can’t draw, she felt that this new medium was a way to “capture” her daughter – she got hooked and had found a new artistic outlet and says, “the immediacy of photography drew me in.”
Seven years later she shot her first wedding whilst six months pregnant expecting her son, then did a degree in photography at Blackburn University Centre. She’s reticent about claiming influences but admits that during this period she came under the spell of Sue Bryce – the New Zealander works in LA these days, but her approach to portraiture and a mastery of flash photography, creating naturalistic light, had an enduring impact on Donna’s work.
There is a great tendency towards innovation and experimentation in the work – for example Donna enthuses about various ways of using flash photography or creating new effects.
“I use expensive equipment, but I do things on the cheap to create interesting effects. I often use smoke bombs – but I’ve found I can do it on the cheap with plumbers’ pellets in a cup. I use old filters from the 80s – that you can buy for a quid on eBay. I use a bit of an old shower rail to create a ‘ring of fire’ effect around my subject – it’s effective and people think it looks amazing! I love it when people think I’ve photo-shopped something, when I haven’t! I’m very much a purist, I like creating things in the camera, rather than adding it in afterwards.”
With this tendency to improvise and to work in a state of flux, Donna expresses a preference to working on location – especially outdoors. She likes an unplanned approach to outdoor photography – operating in a state of flow and reacting creatively to challenges thrown up by the natural environment and light.
“Studio photography is so exact. Sometimes I find that in the studio my camera settings don’t change a lot. So, when I go back to shooting on location, I panic because everything changes. It can be sunny one minute and raining the next and that presents particular challenges.”
“Location photography isn’t just about what’s in front of the camera. It’s about the entire vibe of it from the lighting to the cloud cover and the trees casting shade,” added Donna.
“I almost always get the shot I’m looking for and when I don’t, I usually leave the images for a week. I can come back and see something in them – you often get happy accidents.
“I took some shots by a river in Trawden and we had some smokebombs, but the sun came through the trees and created an effect like Crepuscular rays – the rays that appear to radiate like columns of light from where the Sun is located. We created the most amazing beams and it was completely unintentional.”
Speaking to Donna, you are overwhelmed by her frankness and her honesty – there’s a willingness to share details – which is both brave and touching. She’s open about struggles with depression and anxiety; and how this is countered by the state of creative flow she often experiences from her work. She also suffers from acute migraine and fibromyalgia; the condition involves chronic widespread pain, heightened pain response and fatigue.
Despite this, she doesn’t feel sorry for herself – but seems deeply concerned with the circumstances of others. To this end she volunteers for Remember My Baby – the organisation that provides memorial photography for families for babies that died before, during or after birth.
“You don’t really understand how important photographs are until you’re in situation like that,” she says, adding that it’s emotionally taxing work, but very rewarding.
In addition, Donna has launched the Warrior Project – her own initiative, where she photographs mainly women and children that suffer from life limiting illnesses or disabilities.
This has extended into covering people with disorders such as Borderline Personality Disorder and now even people who she describes as having a “really interesting story”, such as a straight man who cosplays as Disney Princesses.
This may all seem quite disparate, but there are links that create a ‘Golden Thread’ through much of Donna’s activity – there’s a deep and diverse compassion and that extends from the bereaved to people from alternative and outsider cultures.
That compassion is laced with a tendency towards glamour. Not glamour in the slightly seedy 70s sense with Vaseline on the lens, or the cheesy shots typical of the 80s. She agrees with the observation.
“Yes! Glamour – that’s what it is. People looking their best self. But I don’t want these pictures to date like glamour shots from the past. I want them to always be relevant and achieve a timeless glamour.”
Looking at some of Donna’s work there seem to be allusions to the art history that she studied as part of her photography degree. One particular image of a mermaid partially submerged in the water at Lumb Spout, the East Lancashire beauty spot, looks like a tongue-in-cheek reference to John Everett Millais’ Ophelia. A number of other shots seem to have a similarly pre-Raphaelite influence, whilst others have the soft, fuzzy lighting of JM Turner. Donna acknowledges the similarities but suggests that the influences were probably subconscious.
The ‘outsider’ seems to be a recurring interest and Donna clearly identifies with people from alternative cultures – especially Drag Queens: “I love the aesthetic; I love the transformation.”
This is best expressed by a photoshoot that Donna did at Todmorden Unitarian Church. It’s quite traditional looking church, but it’s fair to say they must be fairly openminded and liberal – and not just because they’re enlightened enough to conduct gay weddings! Nevertheless, the juxtaposition Donna created was pretty breathtaking!
“So, the shot that I got there features a Drag Queen and a porn star – which I know sounds like the start of a joke. But there’s no punch line – it actually happened! And it’s one of the images I’m most proud of. I didn’t know the location; we just took a chance.”
We return to the subject of the aesthetic she deploys – she doesn’t consider what she does Burlesque, as it not exactly pin-up, but she does recognise a certain Gothic aesthetic.
“My portrait work is quite pure and about the person, but my collaborative side has a darker, edgy side to it.” She talks about admiring horror and you can see an element of that in some elements of her work and a Heavy Metal aesthetic too. But primarily, much of it is actually beautiful – studies of real people, made extraordinary.
“I’ll use the same methods from the studio or on location in a more toned-down fashion, when I’m doing “bread and butter” work like weddings. I still want to create that sense of drama in a photograph. So that when they see their pictures – there’s a massive wow factor!”
So, what next? There’s a significant and brilliant body of work. It needs exposure. We discuss the prospect of an exhibition of her work, but Donna has some reservations at this stage. Time and expense aside, she cites the fact that portraiture is incredibly personal. She feels that the people involved are really proud of their depictions and will often use them for their own promotional purposes. However, she doesn’t feel that people would buy prints of her work, claiming that “you don’t have other people’s pictures on your wall”.
I have to say, I disagree. And you can judge for yourself.