Loved by Timberland, Letchworth street photographer Clem Ono is in demand
- Credit: Clem Ono
There’s an intriguing disparity about Clem Onojeghuo. As a street photographer his contemporary approach - abstract and edgy - is enhanced by a creative compositional style. Yet by day the 48-year-old is somewhat less edgy - a finance business partner finalising his masters in business consultancy.
And that’s not all. Battersea-born and schooled in Nigeria where his father originated, Clem relocated his family to Hertfordshire 18 years ago. Home is Letchworth, where the garden city's calm contrasts with the frenzy of the capital, the favoured setting for his photography.
Our conversation quickly turns to this left brain/right brain split - the analytical and the creative. ‘Yeah, I do like numbers and analysis,' he laughs. 'For me it’s quite rigid. However, once I’ve done my job for the day I can switch off the left side and allow my creative brain to kick in.’
Despite the maturity of his images, Clem only took up photography four years ago. Previously, as a self-taught web designer, his work provided a modicum of self-satisfaction. The need for more creative freedom however prompted a transition to graphic design which involved elements of photography.
‘I enjoyed that and wanted to do more so I bought a camera and started taking my own images. That’s when I discovered photography. I’ve not looked back since.’
As a self-confessed people watcher his choice of subject came naturally. At the heart of Clem's images is humanity - the behaviour and habits of individuals, how they react with each other and with their surroundings.
Candid as each image is, I sense a desire to catalogue - in a non-intrusive way - everyday life.
‘I don’t want to disturb the scene,' he explains. 'I capture what’s in front of me, with windows, reflections and blurring creating some mystery so you don’t see the full form of a person. The viewer needs to dig deep to understand what is going on, what they are actually looking at.’
Clem’s use of strong light and deep shade is also apparent - sunny days being his preferred weather choice with ‘deep, dark’ shadows providing his perfect background. Another feature of his work is red, to which he is, ‘naturally drawn, like a moth to a flame’.
While late afternoons are his favoured time for its slanting light, a typical photographic day stretches over eight hours during which thousands of shots are taken.
‘Within those, there might be 10 to 20 that will be of any use,' he says. 'Then one or two that are any good.’
These high standards have quickly paid off, his work having attracted the attention of fashion label, Timberland.
‘They saw my street style and wanted something free-flowing, that didn’t look forced. I was chosen - one of eight photographers from around the world. My shoots took place at London landmarks. A few months later while holidaying in Dubai I was in a shopping mall, went into a Timberland store, and saw my pictures. I said, "I took those!"’
Increasingly drawn to abstraction, Clem’s work reflects the chaos and uncertainty prevalent during the pandemic. With his Fuji Xpro2 (a brand preferred because of its lightness) he uses 'shutter drags' - long exposure to capture moving objects. He says editing his images is his favourite creative element.
‘It's an opportunity to take a normal, basic image and explore possibilities without altering it too much, such as tidying up anything that distracts from the main subject’.
The editing process takes place ‘wherever I am in the house,’ or in coffee shops, the perfect venue, of course, to people watch.
A former member of Letchworth Camera Club, Clem won a number of its competitions as well as the group’s Photographer of the Year Award last year. And although he is enjoying his growing reputation in a medium which is as much an expression of himself as his subjects, he also harbours a long-term ambition.
‘My dream has always been to travel the world and take photos of major cities. I’ve already visited New York, Zurich, Los Angeles, Dubai to name a few. I hope one day to pull a book together, which will hopefully culminate in a solo exhibition.’
Pairing his methodical left and creative right brain, my money's on Clem Ono making this dream a reality.