In focus: Catching up with photo giant Clay Patrick McBride

Dec 08, 2014

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Thumbnail for In focus: Catching up with photo giant Clay Patrick McBride

by Rich Kiley 

Clay Patrick McBride, widely recognized in the photo industry for his striking portraits of top athletes and musicians, joined RIT this fall as a guest lecturer in the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences. The native of Sullivan County, N.Y., began his visual training in the south of France, where he spent his late teens and early 20s studying painting and art history. He later turned his focus to photography in the early 1990s, when he moved to New York City and attended the School of Visual Arts. While earning his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, McBride developed a style of portraiture that “celebrated and empowered his subjects with humor and honesty,” according to the Morrison Hotel Gallery website. His portraits of such celebrities as LeBron James, Kanye West, Norah Jones and Kid Rock have adorned the pages of Rolling Stone and Sports Illustrated, and leading record companies. In addition to his commercial work, he’s delved into motion pictures with a number of short film projects.

Welcome to RIT. Is this your first experience in the classroom?

Answer: Actually, I taught for nine years at the School of Visual Arts, in the same room where I was once a student. Here at RIT, I’ll be a guest lecturer teaching lighting—how to light better, how to understand light, how to understand its point of view. Next semester I’ll be teaching advertising photography, portfolio and portfolio development to help students who are taking the next step in their journey. I’ll also be teaching some video courses, which will have an emphasis on music and motion content. I’m looking to contribute to the focused, disciplined and specialized program here.

You’ve taken portraits of an amazing array of people, from LeBron James to Kanye West and Kid Rock. Does anyone stand out in particular?

A: I worked for Kid Rock for 18 years and did all his photography. He was a really fun guy to shoot and a really great client. I also really enjoyed working with Metallica because I grew up loving their work and it was a real moment for me.

Through your photography, it looks like you really enjoy showing people’s “texture” and there’s a certain grittiness to your work. How would you describe it??

A: I try to make my work authentic. I try to make it real and not some fantasy experience of people. So I like the authenticity, much like I do the authenticity of photojournalism. I try to draw from storytelling and that way of seeing the world.

RIT’s photojournalism program is widely recognized. Did that have an impact on you coming here?

A: I had a couple of great RIT assistants and having been part of The Eddie Adams Workshop, an intense four-day gathering of top photography professionals and selected students, I saw a lot of RIT work come through. From my experience, I always thought that it was a much more disciplined study than I had experienced.

What do you want students to take from your classes?

A: I want them to be authentic. When they’re taking pictures, I want them to see them not merely as assignments. It’s not a matter of punching the clock; I want them to put their thumbprint on everything they do. I encourage them to have a personal vision that’s unique, to be outrageous and have a loud voice with their photography.

What’s your goal in the classroom?

A: I did a lot of work with famous people and celebrities, but that pales in comparison to being an educator. It’s very real and different. My students are my clients now and I want to help make their work contemporary and edgy the best way possible.