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Lancaster native Gary Clark is best known as an award-winning travel photographer from Southern Living Magazine, but before that, he was a burgeoning shutterbug for the 1980 Lancaster High School yearbook and a staff photographer for The Lancaster News.
“I picked up my first camera in 1979 and that was to get on the yearbook staff,” Clark said. “I realized I wanted to be a photographer the first day of ninth grade.”
Clark said he saw the yearbook photographer for the “Rambler” walking the halls all day at Barr Street (Jr. High School) and decided that was what he would love to do, too.
“Back then, you had to be a junior or senior to be a photographer on the school's yearbook staff,” Clark said. “So, once I got on the yearbook staff in the eleventh grade, it was all over. I did a couple of years at The Lancaster News in the dark room and shot photos for sports and features.”
Clark then moved to Atlanta where he graduated from The Art Institute in 1983, he said. In 1984, he was hired as the senior travel and features photographer for Southern Living Magazine where he spent 28 years. He now lives in Birmingham, Ala.
After a 34-year career in newspaper and magazine photojournalism, today, Clark has gained even more fame for the U.S. Postal Service Forever stamp, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The USPS issued a release Dec. 31, 2013, to explain why Clark's photograph was selected.
“This stamp commemorates the 200th anniversary of the Star-Spangled Banner with a photograph of the flag that flies over Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine in Baltimore,” the release said. “Gary Clark took the photograph of the flag against a backdrop of fireworks during the annual celebration of Defenders’ Day which according to the National Park Service is Baltimore’s oldest holiday commemorating the bombardment of Fort McHenry and the writing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Clark said he and a friend went to the reenactment at Fort McHenry and asked to get inside the fort to take photos. At first, the request was denied but a park ranger finally gave approval.
“I was using film, this was not digital so I couldn’t Photoshop anything,” Clark said. “I ended up with about two usable images because the wind was blowing hard and I thought the flag would be blurred.”
Clark said the USPS requested permission to use his photograph after it was published in Southern Living Magazine around 2004.
“One day I got a call from a gentleman who said he wanted permission to use the photo,” Clark said. “I passed him on to someone from the magazine who could give that permission.”
Clark said the process then went through several committees and by 2008 or 2009, there still was no word about when the stamp with his photograph would be issued.
“Around 2012, I thought my photo was going to be used on a stamp that was part of a series of the War of 1812 anniversary,” he said.
As it turned out, in late 2013 everything finally came together and the result was the Forever stamp that was released late last month.
“By January 2014, me and all of the people who worked with me at Southern Living Magazine were no longer employed there,” Clark said. “About two weeks ago, my mother called and said the stamp with my photograph on it was out.”
Recently, Clark reflected on bygone years and how what began as a mere interest ultimately culminated into a lifelong passion for photography.
“I went from Lancaster High School Rambler photographer to Lancaster News photographer to Southern Living photographer in 2 ½ years,” he said humbly.
Through his Southern Living Magazine career, Clark had the opportunity to travel extensively but with the recent issue of the Forever stamp, his work lives on indefinitely.
“I enjoy sharing my vision with others,” he said about his artistic talent. “About 95 percent of the population are armchair travelers and I get to take them where they want to go.”
To see more of Clark's work, follow him on instagram at thegaryclark.
Contact reporter Denyse Clark at (803) 283-1152