Obituary: Conceptual Photographer Michael Clinard, 38

July 11, 2017

© Michael Clinard

Self-portrait, "Third-Eye Blind" by Michael Clinard.


© Michael Clinard. From his personal series on fatherhood.

Michael Clinard, 38, the Seattle-based editorial and commercial photographer known for his high-concept, highly produced imagery, died on July 3, according to his rep, Michelle Bablitz of Saint Lucy Reps. His death has been ruled a suicide by the King County Medical Examiner’s office.

Clinard had been arrested on June 12 on charges of assault and violating a no-contact order, according to a Seattle newspaper. The Seattle Times reported that he was found in his cell at King County Detention Center on July 3, and died a short time later.

Clinard had shot for Marriott, Amazon, Microsoft, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Fortune, Esquire, Adweek, Popular Science and other clients, and his work was recognized by American Photography and the Addy Awards. He regularly sketched his concepts first, before bringing them to life with color and humor. He told PDN, “I’m a commercial photographer, an editorial photographer, but I feel like I’m making little master works.”

After receiving his MFA from the University of Iowa, Clinard moved to Seattle and assisted several commercial photographers, including Jeff Corwin and Alex Hayden, Misha Gravenor, Joao Canziani, Nigel Parry, Amanda Marsalis, Julian Dufort, Sian Kennedy and Corey Arnold. “In the four years I assisted, I got a mini-PhD in commercial photography,” he said. “I’m grateful, but moreover, I had a blast.”

In 2010, he worked with consultant Amanda Sosa Stone to make a business plan, and started pitching what he described as “well-lit, quirky portraits and reportage” at portfolio reviews and to clients he had met while assisting. By 2011, he had landed assignments with Seattle Met Magazine, Brooks Running and Mitsubishi, and gave up assisting to focus on his own professional career.

“He was such a ball of creativity energy and a good person,” says retoucher Zach Vitale, a frequent collaborator of Clinard’s. “I think his energy was very much like his sketches: wild and exciting and special.” Clinard enjoyed collaboration, Vitale adds. “He was really excited to work hard on stuff and surround himself with people who were as excited as he was. It was a contagious energy. He opened such possibility for creativity. He was interested and kind and attentive.”

“I’ve had the good fortune to work with and learn from so many talented practitioners of the craft,” he told PDN in 2015. In turn, he shared his experiences with other up-and-coming photographers. In 2011, he was accepted at Phoot Camp, which he described as “a creative retreat for photographers.” He spoke at a PDN’s 30 panel seminar, and mentored assistants as others mentored him.

Clinard, a father of three, often devoted his personal work to his kids and to the foibles of fatherhood. After the birth of his first child in 2011, he told PDN, “All of the old stories and titles I’d once used to describe myself fell away as I became present as a father and partner to my new family.” He photographed himself buried under a pile of toys, and performing in various costumes at his daughter’s second birthday.

Clinard is survived by his father, Michael R. Clinard; his mother, Maria L. Clinard; his brother, Benjamin Scott Clinard; three children and his estranged wife. Friends and colleagues are selecting a charity to which gifts can be made in his memory; details will be announced when available.

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