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“I just happened to have my camera and be photographing my friends. It was totally innocent; there was no purpose to the photographs. There was a purity to them that wasn’t planned; it was realism.” And explicit realism is what we experience if we take a closer look at Larry Clark’s photography, a world made of genuine storytelling, where his camera became narrator of the context in which him and his peers were raised. Take a few minutes to recollect and have a glance of one of the finest cameras of the 20th century.

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Besides his basic skill learning, which took place at the Layton School of Art in Milwaukee, Larry Clark’s photography and life experience were highly influenced by the violence and crudeness witnessed during his service in the Vietnam War, a place where he understood the importance of realism in storytelling. Although his knowledge of composition derived mainly from painting, he was able to create through his camera an extremely genuine image of what the American youth looked like in the ’60s, making Larry Clark’s photography one of the main evidence of how the younger generations were struggling and were subject to controversial growing environments. Don't miss our article Delving Into Fine Art Photography.

 

Larry Clark, Jack and Lynn Johnson, Vintage gelatin silver print, Oklahoma City, 1973. Courtesy the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

 

Larry Clark, Skip’s First Shot, Tulsa, Vintage gelatin silver print 1971. Courtesy of Artsmia Collections.

 

In times of dismay like those of the ’70s in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Larry Clark’s photography uses realism to produce shock and unveil the truth about America’s youth. His camera digs deep into those sceneries from which he grew out of, presenting a genuine image of how drug abuse, controversial sexuality and violence influence those who learn and grow in an environment of that sort. What is shown by Larry Clark’s camera is not subject to manipulation nor post-production. It is presented in all it’s honesty, careless about its explicitness and the effect that it will have on most of the eyes experiencing it. In Clark’s collection “Tulsa” (1971) we get access to the depiction of the photographer’s and his friends’ illicit activities and how these affected their personality during their growth process. As stated by Larry Clark himself “When I started shooting speed, amphetamine, when I was 15, almost 16, it actually calmed me down”. 

 

Larry Clark & Justin Pierce, frame from the movie "Kids", 1995.

 

Larry Clark & Justin Pierce, frame from the movie "Kids", 1995.

 

Throughout the years Larry Clark’s camera focused on other similar subjects, once again giving a speech to his reality and those arguments that had been taken in examination in his previous productions. Some examples are clearly visible in his production named “Teenage Lust” (1983), or in his world-famous movie “Kids” (1995) where a somber atmosphere gives space to the narration of adolescent sexuality through the eyes of a participant, a first-person impression that leaves nothing to one's imagination. 

Born and raised in an environment that created awareness and tolerance of the most suffering conditions, Larry Clark used his camera not to escape but to enter the void created by what society failed to accomplish and created a form of photography that reached out to the highest standards of realism. As Clark often said “At the end of the day, what I show is real life. I tell the truth. And the truth can be shocking”. 

Written by Mario Rodolfo Silva

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