The snapper: the teenage Dublin photographer Rankin is raving about

Conor Clinch’s ‘Fresh’ showcases lad culture and young men’s pride in clothes on Dublin’s northside

Conor Clinch at his Amiens Street studio. Photograph: Dave Meehan

Conor Clinch at his Amiens Street studio. Photograph: Dave Meehan

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When 18-year-old Dubliner Conor Clinch sits his Leaving Cert on June 4th, he will do so with a newfound confidence and optimism. The up-and-coming photographer from Coolock in Dublin, one of the winners of Samsung’s UK project Launching People, has been hailed as an outstanding talent by Rankin, one of the world’s most celebrated photographers, the founder of 1990s style magazine Dazed & Confused and considered by many in fashion as more influential than Anna Wintour.

Clinch spent two weeks as Rankin’s protege in London, where he completed a photographic project for the new television series The Ones to Watch on Sky l, which followed his progress in forensic detail.

Rankin has been unstinting in his praise. “Rarely does a very talented young photographer stop me in my tracks. Conor Clinch is one of those rarities . . . Totally passionate about his art. He evokes a unique view of the world which is entirely his own.”

Clinch’s winning project idea was a photographic exhibition, Fresh, based on the idea of lad culture in Dublin. “I love what fashion means to them,” he says. “They create their own trends and they are very particular and proud about what they wear – their fresh white trainers and matching tracksuits. They want to look good for the birds,” he smiles.

A home on Amiens Street

His studio is in a converted tenement on Amiens Street, which he shares with other photographers and stylists and is his “little home” during the day. He relishes watching the street life below: the feuds, the noise, the human traffic. He is self-taught: he bought his first camera aged 14 and started taking portraits at home, then still lifes, learning from his mistakes as he went along. At 16 he decided he wanted to do fashion photography, inspired by a 16-year-old photographer from New York, David Urbanke, whom he found on Flickr.

“His stuff was raw and simple, and I thought: if he can do it, so can I. I chose fashion because people interest me, and I was always into clothes and how I dressed myself”.

Clinch grew up the son of a dock worker, who was a singer in 1960s showband the Debonaires. He has always looked to the northside of the city for inspiration. “I love all that working-class culture. I love the language of the northside, but it was tough growing up there, especially if you were gay. As a kid I was very expressive and creative, and because I was not interested in sport and because my friends were girls and I didn’t hang around with the lads, it was hard to be accepted,” he says.

“Before I was allowed out of the house to go into town on my own, I didn’t know anything about the southside of Dublin. Northsiders don’t leave the northside. Now that I am into the creative part of Dublin, I am inspired by that [northside] culture, so I think you have to escape it to appreciate it.”

An impressive portfolio

Clinch, who is friendly, open and eloquent, has been steadily building up an impressive portfolio. His work for Irish indie band Heathers ended up on their album cover and earned a lot of publicity in the US.

What did he learn from working with Rankin? “He pointed out my strengths and weaknesses. My strengths: working with natural light and showing personality through the photographs. My weaknesses: trying to work my style into a studio and replicating what I do with natural light on a more commercial level. He told me not to change my style to make money – to stay true to myself.”

His portraits in Fresh, of young men and their attitudes to clothes, reveal youthful male pride in self- presentation. “I am really obsessed with male beauty; with the folds in the skin; with natural things like freckles; with shaved head and hands,” he says. His art project for Leaving Cert is on the tattoos of working-class men – names of their girlfriends and mothers. “Lads really respect their families and where they come from.”

He is hoping to show Fresh in Dublin at the end of June.

Fired up by Rankin’s imprimatur, Clinch plans to move to London, where he has been commissioned to do a menswear shoot for Hunger, another of Rankin’s magazines. “I would love to have a studio in London and to continue on and document another part of lad culture. I like getting to know people, but I am never satisfied with anything I do. Before this happened I doubted myself, but now I have a lot more confidence.”

The Ones to Watch is on Sky 1 every Sunday at 7pm and is repeated on Wednesdays at 10pm

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