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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Chip Clark in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, shooting macro-photography (close-up details), 2010. Photo by Debbie Clark, courtesy of the photographer
Chip Clark in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, shooting macro-photography (close-up details), 2010.
Photo by Debbie Clark, courtesy of the photographer

Chip Clark came to the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in 1973, with a degree in biology and an interest in photography. He has been a photographer on staff ever since, documenting thousands of specimens and exhibits, and accompanying scientists on research trips around the world. He has photographed everything from dinosaurs and mummies to diamonds, butterflies, and, of course, his fellow staff members. In the field he has photographed in caves in Jamaica, the rainforest in Peru, the coral reefs in Belize, and on the ocean floor in a deep-sea submersible off the Bahamas. He thrives on the challenges of photographing the natural world in its environment, no matter what the conditions. (Use the player on the right to listen to Clark talk about working with scientists in the field.)

Over the course of his decades at the Smithsonian, the process of photography has changed a great deal. In 1973 he was working with an all-manual Canon camera, developing Kodachrome color slide film and Ilford black and white film that he processed and printed himself, in a dark room that was once part of the exhibits graphics shop, on the floor below the Mammal Hall; today it's all digital, using Canon cameras “with an amazing arsenal of spectacular lenses.” His work includes macro photography—the photographing of close-up details, such as this slice of a single crystal of liddicoatite; infra-red and ultra-violet imaging, such as this wild strawberry blossom, seen in visible and ultra-violet light (which shows how an insect would see it); high-speed and time-lapse cinematography, such as this high-speed sequence of a katydid in flight; and much more. (Use the player on the right to listen to Clark discuss how photography has changed over his career.)

Two photographs of a wild strawberry blossom, seen in  visible and in ultra-violet light: this image is of the flower in visible light. Photo by Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution
Two photographs of a wild strawberry blossom, seen in visible and in ultra-violet light. This image is of the flower seen in visible light. Photo by Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution
Two photographs of a wild strawberry blossom, seen in  visible and in ultra-violet light: this ultra-violet image shows how the flower would  appear to an insect. Photo by Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution
This ultra-violet image shows how the flower would appear to an insect. Photo by Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution

A high-speed sequence of photographs, showing a katydid (<i>Tettigoniidae</i>) in flight. Photo by Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution
A high-speed sequence of photographs, showing a katydid (Tettigoniidae) in flight. Photo by Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution

Charley Potter of the Smithsonian's Marine Mammals program stands in the foreground, as Bill McLelland, another cetacean expert, sits atop a stranded sperm whale off the coast of North Carolina during a storm in December 1986. Photo by Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution
Charley Potter of the Smithsonian's Marine Mammals program stands in the foreground, as Bill McLelland, another cetacean expert, sits atop a stranded sprem whale off the coast of North Carolina during a storm in December 1986.
Photo by Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution

In 1998, in celebration of Clark's quarter-century with the Museum, the Smithsonian organized an exhibit of his photographs. The show included this picture of Charley Potter, a scientist with the Museum, clinging to a stranded sperm whale during a violent storm. (Use the player on the right to listen to Clark talk about what it's like to work at the Smithsonian.)

Chip Clark died on June 12, 2010. We remember him fondly.


A panoramic view of Pod 4 at the Museum Support Center, with the Collections Support Staff and objects from the Anthropology Department of the National Museum of Natural History. In the foreground at right is one of the Smithsonian's two Easter Island stone figures. Photo by Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution
A panoramic view of Pod 4 at the Museum Support Center, with the Collections Support Staff and objects from the Anthropology Department of the National Museum of Natural History. In the foreground at right is one of the Smithsonian's two Easter Island stone figures. Photo by Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution

Images

These photographs are only a small sampling of Chip Clark’s work documenting the life of the National Museum of Natural History. Many more examples of his work can be found in the Centennial exhibit, and in these books.

Leroy Glenn, Jr., a craftsman in the National Museum of Natural History’s Vertebrate Preparation Laboratory, putting the finishing touches on <i>Eryops</i>, an early amphibian, for the “Conquest of the Land” exhibition, 1980. Photo by Chip Clark, image courtesy of Smithsonian Institution Archives Eric Gaardsmoe installing a model of a pterosaur, in the National Museum of Natural History’s Dinosaur Hall, 1981. Photo by Chip Clark, image courtesy of Smithsonian Institution Archives
Hydrolab, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s underwater laboratory research habitat, being moved into the Natural History Building, 1986. The tank-like habitat was to form part of the Life in the Sea exhibit. Photo by Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution A view of the Neanderthal family group, in the act of burying one of their members, part of the “Ice Age Mammals and the Emergence of Man” exhibit that opened in 1974. Chip Clark actually served as the model for the male standing at left! Photo by Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution
Crinoids (<i>Uintacrinus socialis</i>), also known as sea lilies or feather-stars, are marine animals from the Cretaceous age, 144 to 65 million years ago. These crinoid fossils are embedded in a limestone matrix. Photo by Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution A view of the Rotunda on the evening of the gala opening of the live butterfly pavilion, February 2008. Photo by Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution
This image, Chip Clark's most requested photo, shows Roxie Laybourne, Smithsonian research associate, in front, with Birds Division collections staff members Beth Ann Sabo, James Dean, Bonnie Farmer, and Dawn Arculus, in 1992. The Museum holds the largest collection of vertebrate specimens in the world, with over 5.8 million specimens representing fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Photo by Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution Paleogeologist Hans-Dieter Sues (foreground) and a volunteer dig for 230-million-year-old fossils near Richmond, Virginia, in the 1980s. Their findings included some early relatives of mammals and the oldest known reptile with venom-conducting teeth. Photo by Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution
Research entomologist Terry Erwin (left), entomology illustrator George Venable (right), and students collect insects in the Bolivian Amazon in 1988. To study new species, they fog the tree canopy and catch falling insects in bottles with funnels attached. Photo by Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution Chip Clark in his studio at the National Museum of Natural History, with a hominid head prepared by John Gurche for the new David Koch Hall of Human Origins exhibit, 2009. Photo by Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution

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