Larry Clark (1943) was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. When he was 16 he started shooting amphetamines. With his friends, every day, for three years. He then left town but kept coming back through the years. As he says, “Once the needle goes in it never comes out.” Tulsa (1971) is Clark's early documentation of his circle of friends and their capricious drug taking, violence and sexual activities. He had always felt the urge to become a storyteller and this secret life at the edge of Route 66 that no one had photographed before would eventually define his career. Always being around with his cameras, and speeding along, it all came naturally.
By 1966, after his tour of duty in the army had ended, Clark touched down briefly in New York but ended up in Tulsa again, sucked back into a scene that had become considerably crazier and far more criminal. Shot over three protracted periods between 1963 and 1971, Tulsa is a mix of documentary style and narrative sequencing, reminiscent of a Life magazine photo essay. But its startling intimacy and emotional intensity was unheard of. The graphic and controversial subject matter, its gloomy tone, and the blunt determination with which he presented a 'hunger for life' would herald an extraordinary new style of subjective documentary; a next generation of edgy, hedonistic photographers that would eventually become popularised by youth fashion magazines. No Nan Goldin without Clark. Wolfgang Tillmans, Juergen Teller, Dash Snow, Ryan McGinley; all their work is somehow reminiscent of the characteristic photography first presented in Tulsa. It documents a youth culture progressively overwhelmed by self-destruction and the pictures included are as moving and disturbing today as when they first appeared.
At the time, in 1971, Clark's ground-breaking book sparked immediate discord across the nation. Ever since, he has been recognised as one of the most notorious figures in photography and film, spreading controversy wherever he goes. Even today, his graphic depictions of sex, violence and drug abuse are a matter of dispute: last November, during the Month of Photography, Clark faced pre-emptive legal issues when the City Hall in Paris decided to ban under 18s from the Museum of Modern Art (MAM). Paris, the city of love, art and liberal attitudes towards sex, oui? Non. According to Paris' mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, French law makes it a potential crime to show images of a violent or pornographic nature to minors.
Preventing young people from coming and recognising themselves? “Ridiculous,” says Clark. The ban has also been decried by various human rights and freedom organisations, while the French newspaper LibeÅLration decided to publish one of the “offending” images on its cover. The upshot of all this: long, snaking lines at the museum. And rightfully so. Clark’s work is contentious but it is also very coherent. It concerns itself with the coming of age and all that this entails: love, firearms, drugs, sex. A 50-year career built on the uncertainty of adolescence and the daily lives of punks, rebels, rockers, skaters and troublemakers, resulting in his work being included in the photography collections of nearly every major museum.
www.luhringaugustine.com and www.larryclarkofficialwebsite.com.
On Familiar Grounds:
Larry Clark and
his Tulsa (1971)
230 x 300 mm
Lustrum Press, 1971
Reprint - Grove Press, 2000
€19 / $25