Greg Clark, an environmental and social documentary photographer, speaks about his journey from Wall Street to the Good Miami Project
To see Miami with Greg Clark's eyes means to visit Miami, which is known and loved, but not by everyone. This is not about glorious sunsets and all-day-all-night Miami Beach vibrations. This is about Miami-Dade locals, at times overlooked, living outside the tourist havens; with very kind faces, modest smiles and bright eyes that are sometimes contemplative and truly tired. Each of them has their own story in the shade of palm trees; some of them would be painful to tell in words.
“I decided just to let the images tell the story,” says Greg about the Good Miami Project. Greg founded it in October 2020 as his ‘reaction to the ugliness of pandemic time and media environment around.’ “It's pictures of good things, it's obviously subjective, but it's about good people, organizations, and places.”
“Some of the stories are pretty heavy but still hopeful and heartwarming. I photographed the Florida Immigration Coalition where I talked to families where the dad was deported, talked to his little kid or his wife. With YG Institute I worked with some ex-prisoners and discussed the issues around reintegrating back with society, talked to their families, and learned about all this stuff that they've been through. I wanted to focus more on this human side and make people laugh a little bit and not just have the ultra-serious images because I think that doesn't always tell the whole story.”
Greg’s passion for documenting the good work others do for their community started in early childhood. His community, growing up, was Shelter Island, NY. In the 1980s, algae bloom killed off most of the scallops and clams his father made a living off. That environmental disaster galvanized his lifelong effort to take care of how people interact with water.
Today, he is on the Board of Miami Waterkeeper, which he supports, as he says, “for my daughters!” For this nonprofit, Greg made dozens of images to illustrate the connection between humans and the waters around Miami with the goal to build community awareness and support fundraising campaigns.
Another turning point in his life happened on September 11, 2001. That day, Greg had been inside the World Trade Center (2 WTC 62nd floor) working for Morgan Stanley.
“This experience profoundly affected my life and world views,” he says. “It made me want to understand common humanity around the world more. It also crystalized that life is short, and I needed to move with haste on what I want to accomplish.”
After leaving New York for Miami, Greg found himself in a new reality, far away from Wall Street. He discovered a new beauty and meaning in life, full of social activism and a strong wish to help the community. After discovering Overtown, poetically named ‘the Harlem of the South,’ he began working with a small nonprofit named the Overtown Music Project, trying to bring music back to this Miami's neighborhood. In the 1960s, the newly-constructed I-95 highway loomed above Overtown, and a vibrant middle-class, African American neighborhood was destroyed.
Greg became friendly with many musicians during his work and came up with a photo project called “I Played Here.” The concept positioned musicians in front of places that had once been nightclubs. Most of these locations were parking lots or empty lots.
“This project changed how I thought about my photographic career and made me want to focus on helping non-profits by donating my time and work,” continues Greg.
Greg is yet optimistic about Miami’s path toward sustainability and resilience but he sees two conflicting forces that we still need to navigate in order to drive progress.
“The money and the will to do the right thing is challenging because sometimes you're highlighting flaws. And that doesn't always go with those glamorous messages that Miami tries to market itself. The reality is that the city is built on its pretty water. People sell the view for tourism and real estate, which are the main drivers of this economy. So a brown Biscayne Bay, which we saw last year, isn't good for business. So, it's like you want to hide it, but you also have to deal with it. It's a constant journey and battle and there's a lot of work to get this city to where it needs to be.”
Greg has been living in Miami for almost 20 years. He believes in this city it is a lot easier to build relationships and get something off the ground. "It's not a big city still, in some ways."
"At the same time, there are a lot of the separate ‘islands’ here," he says. "So figuring out how to build the bridges between them is really the challenge if we want to see a truly supportive and sustainable ecosystem here, inclusive for people who live here for years and who just moved.”