I'm not all that impressed with photographers. I think you can take your average rock star moron, give him a vintage Leica, drop him in the middle of the Joshua Tree park (or any similarly photographic locale), let him bang off a few rolls of B&W, get his efforts printed by the best printer in the business, and achieve photographs every bit as compelling or true as the shots that Anton Corbin did with Captain Beefheart (and subsequently with U2) around Joshua Tree. Photography is rarely an art form, often a lucrative hobby dressed up as something more significant. Just like DJing.
I wasn't all that impressed with Larry Clark either as I plowed - with no expectations - through moronic festive consumers. I enjoy juicy snaps of naked pretty adolescents but, like with the putative rock star and his Leica, I don't regard taking seductive shots of rude youth as being much of an achievement. Anyone with a half-decent camera and a winning manner can get beautiful people to take off their cloths. Clark's first movie, Kids, was just New York junkies fucking each other for the cameras, so what? I watched Another Day in Paradise - reluctantly - because it starred James Woods. I hated Kids so much that it took me a while to calm down and acknowledge to myself that this time Clark had done much better. I wasn't surprised by Woods' contention, in his interview on the DVD, that he had more or less directed the film.
Sprueth Magers Lee is a clever space and the photographs, printed small, were sometimes clustered around one another, sometimes arranged in a more linear style. I hadn't been examining them for two minutes when I realized that, to some extent, I'd gotten it wrong. The best of Clark's photographs have an entirely painterly aspect to them. The threesome featuring the two Latino boys with the girl in the middle perfectly illustrates this. That part of the composition which features the girl is salaciously distorted and abstracted so that it goes way beyond voyeurism. Photographs of late Sixties druggies and lowlives deliver a gritty punch, and attest to a proper social conscience or sense of compassion on Clark's part. The sexually explicit menages are truly sexy, as opposed to being mind-numbingly dirty.
The next day I arrived at the ICA with my expectations lowering again. The photographs were good but, no doubt, Larry Clark's movies are at best hit and miss affairs. I was also dreading sitting in a cinema surrounded by the type of people who attend the ICA, read The Wire, live (like me) in Islington, like Larry Clark, attend Farmer's Markets, etc.
The crowd was more or less what I expected. Japanese girls hunting in pairs. Lots of late twenties straight couples. One or two interesting looking middle aged German women. Lots of fags doing their Lonesome Cowboy Bill routines. To my surprise, the small ICA cinema was not entirely full. Crowds are down in London and maybe the event was happening too close to Christmas. I sat through Bully, Clark's teenage killer flick. Bully is OK, Kids with murder thrown in, plus lots of carefully cropped shots of kids screwing. Surprisingly, Larry Clark sat through it too because, it subsequently emerged, he'd not seen it for three years. .
He's a well dressed lanky chracter in his early sixties, bearded and handsome, liberal and opinionated, with the loud authoritative voice which is an essential tool for photographers and movie directors alike. The questions - from his ICA interrogator and from the floor - were pretty average but Clark was impressively direct, honest, and talkative. He has made a bunch of movies but still takes photographs, most people know him now for Kids or for making movies generally, he reckons that bored adolescent suburban Americans spend their time smoking dope and screwing around. He was in Vietnam but reckons that America's current international stance is downright crazy.
I got to like him much as I'd gotten to like his photographs in the gallery. I reckon he should stick to taking photographs but you've got to admire a man willing to gamble his reputation, in his fifties, by tackling a new and difficult medium. The gallery show runs until January 28th.
Larry Clark Brother and Sister, 1973
black and white photograph
35.56 x 27.94 cm, 14 x 11 in.
Edition 22 of 25
Reproduced courtesy Sprueth Magers Lee, London and Luhring Augustine, New York
Joe Ambrose has written 12 books, the most recent being Chelsea Hotel Manhattan and The Fenian Reader. He is currently writing a book about the Spanish Civil War.