In an era of selfies and snapshots, photography seems deceptively easy. What people often forget is that true photographers incorporate meaning in every little detail of their work. Good photos have a purpose that a hastily taken snapshot can’t replicate. This is a small part of what Nat Clymer, professor of photojournalism, tries to teach his student.
As a child, Clymer was the youngest of three. He picked up photography as a hobby when he was just 9-years old. By high school he knew he was smart, just not in the traditional subjects and his deviation from the family norm didn’t give him a negative perspective of the world. He was, he says jokingly, “the white sheep of a family of lawyers.” Clymer says he “flunked out” of Rutgers during his first for four years.
After his first year serving, he became designated as a Photographers Mate for the remainder of his four-year enlistment. During his time in the Navy, his job required him to take portraits, public relation’s photographs, photograph reenlistment ceremonies for hometown newspapers, as well as forensic photography at a naval base in Europe, and classified work for intelligence gathering and NCIS. These experiences that came with serving in the Navy became a part of who Clymer is today, by seeing and speaking with people from all over the world, as well as understanding where they came from, and who they were. He found the world to be a place filled with people who all have their own stories to tell.
After being discharged from the service, he went back to Rutgers and finished up his undergraduate work majoring in Human Communications and Shakespearean Literature. Upon graduating he had no idea what he was going to do so several friends told him about a job that had opened up for a photojournalist at a weekly paper in Somerville so he applied for that job until he could figure out what he was really going to do for the rest of his life. It was during this phase of his life that he first began to realize that he loved meeting all different types of people from all strata of society and he began to focus more and more on the portraiture that he had to take for the newspaper work
His work in portraiture has aided his main priority in life, “meeting and seeing all kinds of people.” But his view of the world clashed with his job in newspapers. Although this position allowed him to meet different kinds of people, the newspaper industry “saw the world in a cynical and negative light,” he said. Instead of embracing people, they aimed to expose them. “This wasn’t my style.” Clymer’s style, he says, comes from a mix of his experiences in the military, and his optimism and his interest in photography born during the Watergate era – when photography was seen as a powerful tool to promote change. He had a passion for photojournalism, but he wanted to promote positivity, not negativity, so he left the newspaper and started his own photography business doing it the way he believed photography should be used and seen.
Clymer has an underlying objective to connect with his subjects on a personal level. This helps people drop their “photo mask,” [what they think they should look like when they are being photographed] so their personality shines through. He tries to create portraits that show the subject as their true self, to provoke emotion from the audience. By intertwining his passion for photography, as well as his love of all different types of people, he creates an atmosphere that allows his subjects to feel comfortable, in order to capture the emotional elements that a photo should incorporate to tell a story.
Clymer also spends some of his time as a volunteer photographer with a national non-profit, Flashes of Hope, which provides families of pediatric cancer patients with free black & white portraits of their children. He opened the first Chapter in the New Brunswick area where he puts his passion and communication skills to the test. Similar to all of his shoots, he wants to get the children to open up so he can capture the moment. These are about kids being kids, not kids being cancer patients.
In one classroom exercise, Clymer challenges his students to close their eyes and imagine California’s Pacific Coast Highway. Students who have never been there are still able to build an image in their minds, based on all the things they’ve seen before. Every day, we see tens of thousands of images, whether it is in passing, while reading a magazine or newspaper, or while watching television. This short glimpse alters our thoughts without us even realizing it. He believes all images need to be examined with a keen eye, in order to understand the purpose and meaning behind the picture.
He emphasizes that our generation today is focused on things that do not matter, such as how many Facebook friends we have and how many ‘likes’ on a photo we get. He says, “these have no bearing on life.” He incorporates this lesson in his photojournalism class by making his student think about the world around us, which is how a photographer thinks when taking photographs, “you can’t just look at your phone and expect to be a human being—you have to talk and expose yourself to other people to create friendships and networks.”
Young adults these days are going towards a career that they ‘believe’ will bring success. Although he never expected to become a photographer, he notes that he had to be open to anything, and follow what he enjoyed. As a professor, his main goal is to help students find their passion, whether it is in photography, writing, etc. Clymer states, “It is really important to see passion. To find your passion, you need to know what passion looks like.” In taking Professor Clymer’s photojournalism class, I know what true passion looks like. You can see it in the way people speak, the way their eyes light up when they talk, their eagerness to share and educate, and how their personality reflects their passion.
To view Nat Clymer’s professional photographs or inquire more information on his work, please visit his commercial website at www.natclymer.com and his artwork website at www.clymereditions.com.