Best known for his photographs of rich and glamorous people and their parties, Larry Fink is an American artist and one of the most respected photographers in the contemporary world. Famous for what seems as a uniform topic with not much to go around, he was also concerned with the other side of the coin, taking pictures of ordinary people living ordinary lives. Wealthy or poor, famous or unknown, they were all but people to him, seen within the primary moment, without previous assumptions of any kind. Realizing that each moment is the only moment we really have, Fink approached his work without prejudice and entered every moment with the thought that it may be the last one. His photographs are an attempt to give the perception of the moment some relationship to immortality.
Born in Brooklyn, Fink was a disaffected teenager in the 1950s America on the cusp of radical social change, completely disinterested in the consumer-driven culture. As such, his parents transferred him to art school, where his career as a photographer began to flourish. They were very supportive of his interest in arts. He later dropped out of college and joined a circle of artists living in Greenwich Village, spending the 1960s watching and learning from the prominent photographers of the time: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, W. Eugene Smith. In many ways, his photographic aesthetic and rebellious spirit encapsulate the dramatic loss of innocence that the US underwent after the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963. Also, his work draws heavily on the European tradition of photography of Brassaï and Kertesz and of the painters Georg Grosz and Otto Dix. Like these artists, Fink sought inspiration in what he considered a grotesque and sensuous theater of life.
Fink’s mother, Sylvia, was a leftist, so he was raised within a certain political viewpoint. Despite her ideological orientation, she was an elegant lady, who enjoyed wearing furs, loved beautiful things and going to see jazz with his father. As he says: “she was a Mink Marxist and I guess I was too. So I was raised to have ideological disdain towards the upper classes. And yet, at the same time, I was interested in luxury, in pleasure.” It was a strong contradiction, one of many that have marked both his life and his career. She supported her son’s art endeavors and felt that art should be in service of social change. With politically influenced thoughts, Fink ended up studying with the photographer Lisette Model, who is known for her uncompromising portraits of French bourgeoisie and for her gritty photographs of the streets and jazz music clubs of New York City.
Approach and Most Notable Series
He photographed all kinds of people, except the sociopaths. Always looking for the emphatic factor, he considers that phenomenon extremely interesting. With even the most powerful of us being dominated by small things, such as insecurity or greed, Finks finds that “we’re all human… We’re all infinitely vulnerable”. Often, the smallest of things make us the most human, and the most vulnerable. In some way or another, his work is a reflection of his life. Social Graces, his first series, was not meant as a Marxist statement, even though “I am a Marxist or, at least, I was a Marxist before the world became an impossible place to predict.” As a leftist that was interested in luxury, Fink found himself enveloped by a set of contradictions that embellished his politics and aesthetics. His work was not meant to be polemical, nor political. As it turned out, it became honest. Without the slightest notions of cruelty, the photographer embraced the souls of all people, regardless of their conditions. Boxing is a series, whose quality was caused by the feeling Fink had whenever he stepped into a ring – an oddly powerful feeling of total calm and peace, and a sense that he should be there. Interested in the relationship between the two fighters, he discovered a harmony contained out of unbelievable purity of intention and innocence, and unbelievable greed, evil, and belligerence. Understood as an extension of his interest in documenting the rich and their habits, Runway is a series that continued his streak of contradictions. As he admits, he was critical (not hypercritical), but critical with the system, while at the same time, he was becoming a part of that very system. Before he even noticed, a very productive decade in the world of fashion was behind him. In 2007, Fink made a conceptual move with Instantaneous, finally bringing together two eternally opposite sides – the viewers and the photographs. The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the exhibition that was held there represented the perfect opportunity to play with the notion of time. Photographs of the event were taken, then projected on the wall for the guests while they were still there. It was real life, in real time! Te guests watched each other. They say themselves. And suddenly, they were no longer merely visitors at an event – they became it.
In Instantaneous, the photographer turned the visitors at an event into an event itself
As stated above, Fink rose to prominence with his photographs of the rich people’s parties, but he also worked on the opposite side of the spectrum. What seemed as a uniform thematic dominated the public opinion about him for quite some time, but now, the history has finally given his images a completely new level of meaning. Acknowledged the layers that were actually always there. In the recent years, and always working on his own terms, Larry Fink has taken his rightful place as a titan in the world of photography.
Larry Fink lives and works in Pennsylvania.
- Dahlberg L. Larry Fink, Phaidon Press, New York and London, 2005
- Seymour T. Larry Fink’s best photograph: a drumbeat transcends a jazz gig, The Guardian [September 30,2016]
- Laurent O. Larry Fink: ‘Photography Is the Critical Instrument of the Curious’, Time [September 30,2016]
- Teresa A. A Moment with Larry Fink, The New York Times [September 30,2016]
Featured image: Larry Fink – portrait – image courtesy of the artist