There’s no denying that Conrad Clifton is multi-faceted creative. His passion for the arts is audible and visible through his genre-defying music and his mix of candid and abstract photos. Having grown up in Omaha, Nebraska, USA, after high school Clifton spent several years moving around Arizona, Texas and Georgia before settling in Brooklyn, New York, where he is now based.
Act Like I’m Not Here is Clifton’s second photobook, following his debut, Silent City. The new book is a collection of street photography, candid portraits, abstract images and studio shots with creative in-camera effects.
"When choosing subjects, I really wanted to present people of color in a confident light, regardless of their circumstances," he explains. "I’ve always been inspired to capture subtleties and details that are constantly overlooked. I find it intriguing and I love to share that intrigue with others."
Before getting acquainted with a camera Conrad’s main outlet was music, and since the early 2000s he’s worked as a producer and composer. Although he’d dabbled with photography since 2014, it wasn’t until the pandemic that he really had time to sit down and learn how to shoot fully manually on a 35mm camera. Music is his first love, and he told us that it’s definitely influenced the way he shoots.
"I love nuance and detail, and I’ve also learned that a unique presentation can be memorable. My books have a similar flow to my albums, there are peaks and valleys – moments of high energy, and moments of calm – but always an overall beautifully cohesive product."
Despite only recently diving headfirst into the world of photography, Conrad already owns an impressive collection of cameras. For the most part he shoots with a Canon F-1 as “it’s a bit more compact than other SLRs (like the size of a rangefinder) but still has a lot of professional features”.
He also shoots with a Contax T3, a Canon EOS 3, a Mamiya 645 and a Canon EOS R5 when he is working on commissions. When experimenting he enjoys using a Nishika N8000, a Yashica Mat-124G and an Olympus PEN FT.
“All of these cameras have something different going on and that’s part of the fun of shooting film – trying out all these weird interesting gadgets that were built over the years.”
When it comes to film, Conrad’s favorite film for shooting black and white is Kodak T-Max 400 – a high-contrast stock with just enough grain to provide a texture he loves without it taking away from the quality of the image. For color film work, however, like a lot of portrait photographers he opts for Kodak Porta 400, but even he comments on how insanely expensive it’s getting.
This might not be the first exhibition Conrad has taken part in, but it’s certainly the largest. Work started on Act Like I’m Not Here shortly after releasing Silent City and in total, he's spent 14 months on the project.
“After about a year of shooting, I started to realize how the collection of images could work together – I was also considering different ideas from some of my favorite photography books. Once I felt like I had enough images for a substantial hardcover book, it took me about two months to complete the book design, and send it off to be printed.”
Conrad draws inspiration from the likes of Gordon Parks, a photographer, filmmaker, composer and author who worked tirelessly to break down racial barriers for black people. “Learning about his life and his work has been transformative for me. Gordon Parks gives quality imagery, composition, beauty, storytelling, and cultural context. “
Other influences come from legendary street photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bruce Davidson, Danny Clinch, Jonathan Mannion and Janette Beckman, just to name a few.
Conrad has an exciting month on the horizon as he’s featured in Kitsune Musique's Artworks of the Month, Act Like I'm Not Here launched with an opening reception at Galerie Kitsuné in Brooklyn, and at the end of the month he will be featured in another exhibition in collaboration with Austance Caroline, Lea Wülferth, Arthur Woo and ROARK Design Studio.
Scroll below to see a selection of images featured in the new book or follow Conrad Clifton on Instagram to keep up to date with his work