Meet the Clarks

by Lee Roy Chapman


In the late 1990s “progress” once again reared its ugly head in Tulsa, consuming a house which had been converted into the photography studio where America’s most notorious photographer, Larry Clark, learned his craft. The modest, unsuspecting brick home, once located at 1530 South Peoria, was demolished and replaced by a (another) parking lot.

Larry Clark spent his early teen years selling photography packages for the family business door to door, on foot throughout Midtown Tulsa. The Lew Clark Photography Studio specialized in pet and/or baby portraits. Larry’s mother, Frances Clark, practiced her craft for the next three decades producing hundreds of photos for Tulsans wishing to immortalize their love ones.

Larry was his mother’s assistant throughout his teenage years, carefully posing babies in prayer positions and standing costumed dogs in human poses. To drum up business, Clark would pound the Tulsa pavement for his mother. Strolling through neighborhoods and occasionally following local pastors’ suggestions for potential clients with newborns, the young Central High School student with a painful stutter and a head full of amphetamines made his living and began his own career as a photographer.

Throughout its life as a small business, the Lew Clark Photography Studio had two locations: 11 S. Quincy (now I-244) until the late 60’s; then it moved to 1530 S. Peoria.

The only known photograph of the Lew Clark Studio was shot by Gaylord Herron in 1981. Taken from the street looking west at the front of the house, Frances and Lew face the camera from the porch. Frances looks into Herron’s camera as her husband, Lew, adds a fresh coat of paint to the ornate iron security door. The front porch had been converted into a showroom display for the portrait work. Above the entrance a clock bearing the name Lew Clark Photography adorns the studio. A cement buck deer stands poised and alert in the front yard appearing to be caught in non-existant headlights.

A small collection of Frances G. Clark’s photos were displayed in 2010 at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. The dusty portraits were the first images seen in a retrospective of Larry Clark’s work, “Kiss The Past Hello,” thus fulfilling Frances’ lifelong dream.