By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
What is with this guy, Larry Clark, who at 58 is still obsessing on the teenage underworld? Why all the sex and guns and drugs and loser characters? Clark is certainly no teenager himself, even has kids of his own in their teens. But no matter how much he moves forward as a photographer and filmmaker, he is always drawn back to that shitty part of life that some of us would rather forget.
Maybe we should look at Clark’s past. He was a teenager in Tulsa, Oklahoma, when he started lugging around camera equipment for the family business, Don Clark Photography. Young Larry, pumped up on speed, would make house calls with his mother and shoot baby portraits. Just walk into the homes and lives of complete strangers, shooting whatever they found there. And after art school in Milwaukee, plus a tour in Vietnam, Clark went back to his hometown and started taking photos, this time for himself, shooting whatever he found there.
Instead of babies, he found guns, young prostitutes, drugs and the law, Oklahoma style. He documented it all, and in 1971, nine years after he started taking pictures of his friends -- and getting totally sucked into his addiction again -- he came out with Tulsa, one of the most influential art photography books ever produced. (Its photos are credited with inspiring the look of Martin Scorsese‘s Taxi Driver and Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumble Fish.) His brilliance, what I am most envious of, is his ability to capture a genuine moment, the kind of authentic experience that most people don‘t want to look at. I’m attracted to and have flirted with the same subculture depicted in Clark‘s photos, but he went all the way there. He presents it raw and real.
By the time I was trying to make art in Tulsa, in the early ’80s, Clark was a legend. I‘d begun hanging out with the city’s photography crowd and showing my work -- mostly of my friends and family getting drunk and fuckin‘ around -- and right away people started telling me about this guy, Larry Clark, and how I should check out his book called Tulsa. No one seemed to own a copy though, so my only source was the city library. Every time I’d look through its pages, I‘d want to steal the book (but I never brought myself to do it). I eventually settled for meeting Clark briefly and trading him my own painting of a Smirnoff Vodka bottle for a copy of the cover print of his next book -- Teenage Lust . . . of course. Ever since, that print has traveled with me; I’ve been gazing at it for the past 13 years.
When I find out that clark is temporarily living in Los Angeles doing post-production work on three different projects -- including next year‘s Ken Park, which promises to be his edgiest movie yet -- I know I have to take the opportunity to try to talk to him. Clark, more filmmaker than photographer these days, is famous enough to be hard to track down, but when he returns my call, his voice is low-key and unpretentious, sort of like a guy from Tulsa or something. Over the course of about four months, Clark and I talk several times about photography, movies, the art world and, of course, sex and drugs.
One day, though, we get together for breakfast and things don’t start well. ”L.A. is a cultural wasteland,“ he scoffs when I ask him how he‘s liking our fair city. ”New York is where it’s all happening.“ Then he reconsiders a bit. ”You got the Getty, have you seen the Walker Evans show? And there‘s MOCA. I think some photos of mine are on exhibit . . .“
All in all, Clark has grumpily come to appreciate California, and knows that he’ll probably end up being bicoastal, which he admits wouldn‘t really be that bad. And unlike me -- I’m eating cream cheese and lox; he‘s eating granola and berries -- Clark’s gotten into the healthy-juice-bar-lifestyle thing now that he‘s off drugs. Suddenly, I’m starting to feel old. Very old. And Larry Clark is starting to look young. Very young.
Of course, he was in Hollywood before -- two years ago when filming his second movie, Another Day in Paradise -- but that was a different experience for him. ”Let‘s just say I was more chemically involved then,“ he says, then pauses a beat. ”Yeah, let’s just say that.“ He starts talking about this year in L.A. ”It‘s been a good time. I was working 247 and, being so healthy now, I’m on fire.“
At this summer‘s Hollywood premiere of Bully, Clark even goes to the trouble of showing up in a suit and tie -- something is wrong with that picture. The suit hangs on him as if his body is nothing more than a wire hanger and his normally elongated face seems to just get longer. He looks profoundly uncomfortable in this crowd that has come to celebrate him. At the afterparty (baloney tea sandwiches, salsa and chips), I bump into him as he makes a quick getaway from the scene. I wonder if Hollywood will ever be ready for him -- and if he will ever be ready for Hollywood.