Uncliqued Creatives: Kim Clune, Day-In-The-Life Photographer
You may have booked a photographer for your wedding, or a florist for an event, but the story behind the art is often more beautiful and inspiring than the art itself. Not all artists are the same, and their histories may surprise you. These are their stories - the Uncliqued Creatives.
“When I was 8 years old, I wanted to be a race car driver.”
Kim Clune loved roller coasters and yearned for a career that would give her that sensation of flying and falling all at once every day of her life. Little did she know life itself would become something of a roller coaster ride for her, filled with the highest of highs and astounding lows, but one which she would conquer, just like the theme park rides of her childhood.
All Clune wanted to do was write, and, at the encouragement of her English teacher, Joan McDonald, she began to dream of a life spent telling stories. She didn’t feel the need to go to college, but her father felt differently.
“'If you don’t go to college, I’m buying you waitress shoes,’ he told me. Funny how I actually still ended up waitressing.”
She studied English, and her dad wanted her to become a teacher, but she felt that she lacked the confidence necessary to teach others and didn't even feel that she had the capability to stand up before a group to share something they didn’t already know.
So, after two years of feeling out of place at college, Clune left. She became a waitress and a bartender, all the while feeling the lure of a creative life. She took classes in film photography, ceramics and drawing, trying out every artistic medium she could, searching for her mode of expression.
Using the examples of the labels on his beer bottles, Clune convinced her father that graphic design was a path worth pursuing, and, after taking courses at a community college, she got a job working a printing press. And she hated it.
“The creative side was gone. I was taking other people’s work and going through the motions of putting it on a printing press,” she said. “I wasn’t creating at all.”
Desperate for a way out of a life she hated, the nearby airport gave her just the out she needed. An open call for flight attendants and weeks of training later, she boarded her first Continental airplane as a flight attendant.
She had finally found work she loved, seeing the world and exploring new places, and a career path that made her parents proud. But one September morning in 2001 would change all that, as she watched in horror from across the river as the first of the World Trade Center towers fell.
“I had to fly the week after and showed up three hours early to beg them not to put me on the flight,” she said. “I couldn’t wear those stripes. It wasn’t about being afraid to fly. I was afraid someone was going to think I could save their life.”
But she still somehow managed to get on the plane, and as the passengers were boarding, she stood in the galley sobbing.
“I never profiled people who could be dangerous,” she said. “But I did stand there profiling people that day...profiling people who could help me if I needed it. ‘There’s a big guy four rows back,’ I thought. ‘He can help me if something happens.’ Tears were streaming down my face, but it was the same with the passengers, too.”
When the plane landed, she took a company-offered leave, and walked away forever from a job she had loved. She mourned the loss of work that had made her happy and her parents proud. She shut herself off from the world, and began the process of healing. She hid from the world for three years, but a decision to return to it and begin her life anew, brought her to the man who is now her husband. It was he who encouraged her to return to school and finish her English degree.
At 37 years old, and after seven scattered years of school, she graduated, and her gift from her husband was a month spent volunteering in Ghana. She had a passion for serving others, and wanted to make her positive mark on the world. His second gift to her was a camera.
When she returned from Africa, the job market was not exactly booming, so she took work where she could find it in marketing and web design, despising the monotonous hours spent designing and redesigning a single piece to fit a clients wishes.
Everything changed when her niece asked her to be her wedding photographer at her slightly unconventional desert wedding. At Burning Man. She had only ever taken photos as a hobby, but she wanted to help her niece out, so she took a local 5-hour crash course in photography.
“I walked out feeling like I had just drunk from a firehouse,” she said. “I still felt unprepared, and I read e-books on photography all the way there.”
But when she took those photos back to show the instructor of her crash course, her instructor asked her to second shoot a wedding for her, and then another, and another, until she was photographing weddings on her own. Just this year, however, she has decided to take her photography in a new and interesting direction called day-in-the-life photography. She spends an entire day, from morning to night, with a family, photographing them in the mundane moments of the day-to-day.
“It’s all about storytelling, Clune said. “I’d never known, for my entire life, what I wanted to be, what I wanted to do. And this was just last year. At 46 years old, I finally found out what I wanted to do with my life.”
Her first foray into this style of photography didn’t exactly go as planned. When she arrived, two of the family members were sick with what they thought was food poisoning. As the day progressed, it became clear that whatever sickness was going around was contagious, as more and more of them fell ill. But they asked her to stay and continue taking photos anyway.
“Anything I could’ve gotten hit with at that first shoot, I got hit with…and then I came home and started throwing up,” she said, laughing. “But as I was throwing up, I was still completely high on the experience. The little ones gave me hugs as I left and asked if I could come back to visit."
After another day-in-the-life shoot, when she returned to give the pictures to the family, her eyes were opened to the true beauty within her photos, and she was filled with a new sense of purpose.
"When I went back to deliver the pictures, I played the slideshow, and they were amazed at the photos of the little boy. ‘This was six weeks ago, and his face has completely changed,’ the mom told me. This is why I want to do this work. Life changes so fast. Sometimes we lose people, and sometimes it’s just a matter of growing up. This is real, raw life. It’s not made to be beautiful, it is beautiful.”
And in the ultimate bit of irony, Clune’s father, who always wanted her to teach, was on to something, even though she didn’t know it at the time.
“Last year I actually started to teach photography,” she said. “I got asked to substitute, and I was terrified, but I did it, and as terrified as I was, and as much as my voice shook, my students were awesome, and I loved it. My dad was right after all.”
Clune wishes she had had photos like the ones she takes of families now of her childhood with her father.
“During one of the shoots I did, the mother was amazing with her kids, but she’s not a warm fuzzy person,” Clune explained. “She’ll be the first to tell you that, and yet, what the photographs show is that, throughout the entire day, she is with those kids and loving those kids and painting their toenails and playing with them and loving them. Who we really are…that can’t hide from the camera. It exists even when the words aren’t there."
“I wish I could have seen what my father was like with me when I was a kid, because the words weren’t there, but if I had seen him, I may have had a different relationship with him.”
Kim Clune works as a day-in-the-life photographer in East Nassau, NY, where she lives with her husband. Clune’s photography can be found on her website at www.kimclune.com.