Ten Minutes with Harry Clark
By Carolyn Rundle Field
Cinematographer Harry Clark shoots commercials, music videos, documentaries, and movies—he sat behind Matt Damon, filming him driving a speeding car in Bourne Ultimatum—but during his spare time, he builds with stones. He talks about the stone walls, patios, and walkways he constructed on his property, originally a 600-square-foot cottage built in 1900, bordering the Norwalk River.
What inspired you?
As kids, my brother and I loved watching “This Old House.” I had an uncle who built stone walls. After the expense of renovating our house and adding a second story, I knew that any landscaping work I wanted to do, I’d have to do myself.
What was your first project?
The previous owners had installed a cedar fence along the road because when the town plows, they push salt and sand into the yard. The fence wasn’t very attractive and occasionally in the winter, a car would run into it. So I decided to replace it with a 120-foot-long stone wall.
How did you learn?
I bought several books, including Charles McRaven’s Building With Stone. We’re no different than the farmers of yore. Creating a rustic stone wall is within the skill set of any homeowner.
What was most challenging?
Choosing the stones. They come on palettes wrapped in chicken wire. I’d buy three different sizes and shapes of fieldstone. I’d open up one palette, find a great stone and start looking for similar ones. You can go crazy trying to find just the right stone.
Working with stone is hard physical labor. I’d get into a rhythm. I wouldn’t answer the phone or take a lunch or water break. Three hours would pass and I’d be sweating. I’d have to force myself to stop, step back and look at what I’d done. Sometimes I’d realize I’d used too many flat stones and needed to mix it up more.
Any tricks to building with stone?
Gravity is your friend. For a retaining wall, it’s important to dig a trench angled into the hill so gravity can work for you. Frost is your enemy. You need to use gravel to line the trench and back fill the wall to allow water to percolate through.
What surprised you most?
The amount of stones I needed. For two stone walls, two patios, and several walkways, I went through 50 palettes. At Devine Brothers, they know me as the kooky homeowner building stone walls. When I walked in there, I was like Norm in “Cheers.”
Any similarities between cinematography and building with stone?
Working in the visual arts, I have a strong visual aesthetic and sense of how things should look.
Unfortunately, I think physical labor and craftsmanship are undervalued in our culture. Physical labor keeps you young. When you build a stone wall, it becomes your mark on the landscape. Some future homeowner will assume some farmer built these walls, not realizing it was a cinematographer from the 21st century.