Clark Dugger: The Man Behind the Lens & So Much More

by Alexandra Rasic

For more than a decade, Clark Dugger has been making us look good…really good. He is the brains and artistic visionary behind the Homestead’s introductory video, and we’re thrilled to share that we’ve recently completed an updated version. Clark offered his services to make our first video back in 2007. After visiting the museum, he contacted me to ask if he could schedule a time to photograph parts of La Casa Nueva as he was looking for unique buildings that he could shoot to add to his portfolio. It just so happened that we were in need of some new photographs of our historic structures, so first things first…I Googled him. Sure enough, I found his website and a great number of gorgeous photographs of architecture and nature. I called Clark back and we made a deal: he could shoot for a day, and we’d select about a dozen images that he’d let us use for public relations purposes. That was the beginning of a wonderful relationship.

Rarely is Clark Dugger seen without a camera in his hands at the Homestead Museum.

We were so pleased with his work that we asked him back as a contractor to shoot more of the historic site. He shared that he had a history in film production and told us that if we ever considered creating an introductory video, he’d like to work on the project. And work he did! The first video came out in 2011 and it served us tremendously well. Originally we thought we’d share it online and show it before special tours, like our Behind-the-Scenes tours where visitors don’t get a lot of background on the families whose homes are on the property and how we came to exist as a museum, but soon our docents were asking to have it shown before tours and on demand to help orient visitors with the museum.

As the years passed, numerous improvements have taken place at the Homestead. The interior of the Workman House was renovated, we added new demonstration gardens, our collection has grown, and our mission has changed to focus more on the ways we strive to connect people with history as we explore the stories of greater Los Angeles. It was time to update the video, which also coincided with a new logo for the museum that Clark found a clever way to introduce at about the minute mark. As for Clark, time brought the benefit of new technology and tools that he was eager to employ in updating the video including a drone that he navigated to capture beautiful sweeping shots of the historic site. (It also got stuck in a tree and tremendously crashed to the ground, but let’s not talk about that!)

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Clark was excited by the nod to architectural details found in the Homestead’s new logo.

Something else we prioritized this time around was the addition of two new subtitled versions of the video: one in traditional Chinese and one in simplified Chinese. The original video had subtitles in English and Spanish, but we saw this as an opportunity to better serve people living in our surrounding communities. This was a huge undertaking! As anyone who speaks another language knows, it isn’t always easy to translate very specific words, such as those that refer to architectural details. That’s where the Homestead and Clark benefited from a dedicated group of volunteers and educators to make sure we got it right.

The Homestead is so fortunate to work with an individual as talented, detail-oriented, and passionate as Clark, and we’d like you to get to know him, too! He recently shared some thoughts about his work at the museum and much more. So enjoy the interview, and be sure to let us know what you think of the updated video!

How did you learn about the museum, and what were some of your first impressions?

I actually was looking for cemeteries to photograph (I find tombstones very photogenic!). During one of my online searches, up came El Campo Santo at the Homestead. Although I went there just to photograph the cemetery, I soon realized there was a lot more. When I got home, I looked at the Homestead website I knew I had to go back and photograph La Casa Neuva. My first impression was how amazing the La Casa Nueva interior has been recreated as it was in the 1920s. I felt like I had gone back in time. The attention to detail is amazing.

You started experimenting with cameras as a child. What inspired the interest?

I know that at an early age I wanted to be creative. I would ask my mother what could I invent. She gave me a brochure on how to make a pinhole camera (where a coffee can becomes a camera, and the “lens” is a hole made with a pin in a piece of aluminum foil). The whole process of making the camera, taking photos, developing and printing them, was fascinating to me, and it wasn’t long before I was hooked and started taking photos with a real camera and converted my parents’ bathroom into a darkroom.

After studying film and television at UCLA, you worked as a documentary cinematographer, even studying with famed designers Charles and Ray Eames at their office in Venice, CA. Did you like architecture and interior design before working with them, or did they help you realize another passion? 

Working at the Eames office further stimulated my desire to be creative. Another worker at the office once suggested that I think of something creative “outside of the box,” as that was what Charles and Ray were always looking for.

You spent many years working in corporate America as a Creative Director producing commercials and working on various marketing campaigns. What did you enjoy about that work? What did you learn most doing that work?

I worked for Mattel Toys, where I got to see the latest toys and meet the designers, which was always fascinating. I learned early on that making a film was just another way of telling a story. You need to learn as much as you can about the subject, think a lot about what you want to say, and develop a flow that has a beginning, middle, and end. I wrote and creatively directed hundreds of Barbie and Hot Wheels commercials (Barbie was very difficult on the set, as every hair had to be perfectly in place!). But surprisingly, one of my favorite projects was doing a documentary on the husband and wife founders of Mattel, Ruth and Elliot Handler.

We met you after you left the corporate world, as you were starting to work independently as a photographer and cinematographer. I think you might be busier now than ever before! What do you spend most of your time working on today?

My time is split between my architectural photography work and my position as managing director and president of Dezart Performs, a theater company in Palm Springs now in the midst of our 12th season.

Your life has been dedicated to the visual medium. Why is it so important?

I think most people, especially creative people, look for ways to express themselves. For me, it’s visual. Ever since I started taking photos, and later creating films, I found that I could express myself with a photo.

Have you thought about history in new or different ways since working with us?

Yes! I have always found history to be interesting, but often felt distant and detached. At the Homestead, history becomes more immersive. Walking through the rooms and around the grounds takes me back in time, and I try to imagine what it must have been like back in the 1870s or the 1920s.

Share your most memorable or frustrating moment working on these videos with us. We won’t take it personally…we promise!

Crashing my drone was certainly frustrating! I would also say it was very challenging to make sure that we were displaying the Chinese characters properly in each frame of the video.

What is the most challenging thing about putting together a documentary video?

The number one challenge is keeping it interesting. If the audience isn’t entertained, you’ve done something wrong. It’s also challenging to get as much good footage as you can. I’ve shot over 10 hours of footage at the Homestead, just to have enough for the 10-minute finished film.

Do you have a favorite picture that you’ve taken at the museum?

I have two; one is the foyer of La Casa Nueva. The other is the front exterior of La Casa that we shot using a cherry picker to see over the wall.

I wish I had taken a picture of Clark squeezed in the far left corner of La Casa Nueva’s Main Hall to capture this beautiful shot.
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A favorite shot of Clark’s and ours alike capturing the front of La Casa Nueva and the Tepee.

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