People With Passion: Clayton Hauck

People With Passion: Clayton Hauck
Clayton Hauck, self-portrait.

A People With Passion Series

Chicago Journalism

Clayton Hauck, August 17, 2011

In June 2006, photographer Clayton Hauck began snapping photos of drinkers in Chicago's nightlife scene, a project that became the widely-beloved In February 2011, after nearly five years of shooting, Hauck hung up his nightlife camera and began working in the news arena for the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Reader, and Hoy.

In the fifth installment of Jack M Silverstein's Chicago journalism People With Passion interview series, Hauck discusses his introduction to photography and the benefits of shooting the nightlife scene.




I went to film school at Columbia. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but I really liked creative video projects in high school. I went to Columbia figuring, “I’ll make movies or be a director,” (laughs) which is what everyone at Columbia thinks, and isn’t very realistic. I always liked photography also, but never owned a camera until I was in college. Crappy digital Canon. Started from scratch, learning it, wandering around and learning everything by hand. Manuel settings and all that.

Film is such a collaborative field. You need so many different people. Whereas photography was just me and the camera. “This is awesome. I can just go out on my own schedule, at my own pace, wherever I want to go, and just make photos.” I don’t need anyone. Just kind of capturing reality. Life.

I don’t know when I realized I was good, quote unquote. I think that’s something a lot of photographers struggle with. It’s not that I think I’m not good. I think I’m talented. But there’s so much talent out there. It’s always like trying to find the balance between, “I know what I’m doing. I’m solid,” and not feeling too down about yourself, because you look on the Internet and you stumble on so many amazing photo websites. It can be overwhelming. Like, “Man, am I doing the right thing with my life?” (Laughs.)

This is what you’re pursuing – I mean, this is what you do, right?

Yeah, at this point, this is it.

So do you feel like, “Yeah, I have the right and the responsibility and the talent enough and the drive enough to do this”?

Yeah, but more recently. Probably in the last year or so. Which is why I quit all the other stuff, throwing parties and doing nightlife photography, which was really great at the time. It led to where I am now. But I feel like I more recently got to the point where I have what it takes to dip into this full time and really go for it, and try to be the best I can at photography.

The first thing I shot[1] was the opening at Continental, which is down the street – late night bar – June ’06. That was around the time when I was working in film. I was an editor slash assistant at a production company, working full-time, crazy hours. I don’t want to say I hated my life, but it was a ton of work, and little money, so I would spend a lot of my free time drinking with friends. (Laughs.) I would always have a camera on me, and I would be in bars regularly. So it happened more or less naturally.

I was really awkward at first and bad at it, but you know, you get drunk and you don’t care as much. You just snap photos. That’s how I learned photography in a lot of ways, which is kind of strange, but I guess works. As long as you get to the end point.

The main challenge was just trying to get better and keep the photos interesting. You would slip into the problem of shooting the same events and the same people, but – and I’m not taking credit for this idea because it’s not my idea – but the whole thing was kind of a brilliant, self-perpetuating thing. Everyone likes photos of themselves. Everyone’s going to go look for themselves. They’re going to use them and other people are going to see them and say, “Who took that? I want that.” It’s this beast of its own, which is why everybody’s doing it.

So I don’t even think it was that tough to keep people interested, because they’re always going to want to see themselves. But from a personal point of view, it was just trying to be the best photographer I could be. Trying to stay one step ahead of everyone else that was starting to do it. I definitely keep up on other photographers. You look around and see stuff, and some of it you don’t like, and then you see a website and you’re like, “That guy is really good. What is he doing?” or “What is she doing? What kind of techniques are they using?” That’s all part of the learning process too. Figuring out lighting, that kind of stuff.

My biggest thing was always anticipating moments, which is a really big street photographer skill. Because stuff is happening and you don’t have control over it. The weird moments stand out – someone double fisting, or doing shots, or spilling, or making out awkwardly, or sleeping. When you spend enough time in a certain environment, you become a part of it, so it’s just paying attention and keeping your eyes open and seeing the future. Like, Oh, that’s going to go down, and then being there at the right time at the right angle without making them aware that you’re there with the camera.

That’s one of the things I love about photography – it’s just a little moment in time. A slight millisecond or a little bit of a different angle can totally change the photo. It’s really interesting. And strange.

Jack M Silverstein is an oral historian working in Chicago. His non-fiction novella Our President about Barack Obama's inauguration is available at Amazon. Say hey on Twitter @ReadJack.




Enjoy this interview? Click here to read more, as Clayton talks about Odd Future declaring war on the photographers at SXSW and the time Clayton (nearly) got Arab Spring photos in Morocco.

Check back every Wednesday at Eye on Chi for more of Jack M Silverstein’s People with Passion interviews with Chicago journalists. Coming up next week: Chuck Sudo of Chicagoist.


(NOTE: The dates below refer to the date of the interview. The order is the date they were run.)

August 18, 2011: Rick Telander, Chicago Sun-Times

August 15, 2011: Mick Dumke, Chicago Reader

December 12, 2008: Alex Kotlowitz (re-edited August 15, 2011)

August 10, 2011: Mary Schmich, Chicago Tribune

August 4, 2011: Rick Kogan, Chicago Tribune

[1] For

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