Born in 1943, Larry Clark is a living legend when it comes to urban photography and edgy filmmaking… including the coming-of-age, award-winning film ‘Kids’. Directors Gus Van Sant, Francis Ford Coppolla & Martin Scorsese have cited Clark’s photography collection as a major influence in their films, including ‘Taxi Driver.’
As a teenager, Larry Clark suffered from ADD (Attention Defecit Disorder) and started shooting amphetamines at just 16 years old, “which at first calmed me” but led to long-term drug abuse. He hung out with a rowdy crowd but did study photography at Art college, which was “a goofy subject” at the time.
Marginalized people, on the edge of society, would become a lifelong subject for his photography and films. Moving to New York in the early 60s as a freelancer, he was enlisted in the army and drafted to Vietnam for a period. Throughout the 60s & 70s, The Big Apple was the backdrop for his “junkie” and artistic way of life. His hard-hitting photos of fearless hustlers & speed freaks and films about skaters & hedonistic teenagers have marked Larry Clark out as a true original. Clark’s view is that photography is about “light, shadow and feeling…that’s all you need to know as a photographer.”
Regarding the controversial aspect of his work his reply is that:“I’m just trying to make people feel something and sometimes that makes them feel uncomfortable…because it’s too real.” His legendary collection of early photos was on show at ‘Galeria Espaivisor’ in Valencia. By chance, we met Larry Clark at an ‘Espaivisor’ party with paella and beer and live music. Since the interview, Espivisor has now closed in Valencia. In 2021, Larry Clark is currently exhibiting in Madrid until April…
24/7 Valencia: Larry, can you tell us something about your early life?
Larry Clark: I was born and brought up in Tulsa, Oklahoma. My father was a travelling salesman who was away a lot. He finally came home when I was about twelve to sell furniture. I grew up with my mom and 2 sisters & my grandmother & grandpop. Around that time, my mom got a job as a photographer of babies. From about the age of twelve, I would accompany her as she would go knock on doors in small towns in places in Oklahoma and in Kansas. Back in the 50s, the fathers of the house would be away at work so it would be the housewives that would answer the door. You would talk your way into their houses. From about the age of fifteen, I would be going on my own to the houses as a baby photographer. I would go to the house, go put a blanket over the coffee table, set the kid on the coffee table and be making pictures of babies.
24/7 Valencia: What does rock’n’roll mean to you?
I was born at the luckiest time in the world because when I was 12 years old rock’n’roll hit (town). I remember Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Jackie Wilson, Jimmy Reed and everybody. I got to see them all.
24/7 Valencia: Did you see Elvis Presley?
Yeah, I saw Elvis on his first national tour after the Ed Sullivan show. I saw him at the Tulsa fairgrounds. Oh yeah, you could see he was very special. The screaming! No one had ever heard screaming like that (from the fans). I couldn’t hear for 2 or 3 days. Elvis only played for about half an hour. It was really dirty (the performance)…super dirty…he was great.
24/7 Valencia: Is there an interview that you have done that stands out?
I did a 2 hour interview to Australia on the telephone. It was a long, long one… the whole history. They called back an hour later to tell me that the recording hadn’t worked! So, I did it again, exactly the same. I was amazed at myself…
24/7 Valencia: Can you tell us about your filmwork?
I’ve painted, quite thickly and I’ve done a lot of photography. A lot of kids who I know that know my films don’t know that I was ever a photographer. My first film came out in 1994. No one was going to give a junkie money to make a movie. I cleaned up; I got married and had kids, the whole deal. I’ve always wanted to be a storyteller. Because of my ‘Tulsa’ book and other books, I was given the money to make the movie ‘Kids’.
24/7 Valencia: You directed the true story film ‘Bully’. It is about a High School bully who was killed by a group of misguided school friends. It is one of my favourite films. A Pulitzer prize critic called the film “a masterpiece.” Can you tell us more about it?
It’s a great film. We had as many people from real life in the film as possible. The actual judge who made the conviction was in the film as were the actual cops who busted the killers! It was out in the middle of nowhere so they didn’t mind about being judged for being in the film. I guess their attitude was that “it’s only Hollywood in Florida… so who the fuck knows!” (Laughs).
Where the killing happened was a brand new place with one storey buildings with nothing going on. Kids would hang out at ‘Hardee’s’ (fast-food chain) or somewhere like that, you know. We used the original ‘Pizza Hut’ where they plotted the murder too. Hollywood in Florida was a place that I just couldn’t imagine living there… because there was zero history. With the killing, there was peer pressure because some of the kids didn’t even know him (the bully Bobby Kent). It’s a great story. Some of those involved are still in prison, as far as I know.
Steve Gainer was the director of photography. He was great. He came from music videos…so he was really, really fast. He knew that you had to make the day. We made every day count…there were no make up days. We were just running like crazy from location to location. It was old school. You wouldn’t believe how fast we had to shoot the film. Where we filmed the killing of Bobby Kent was the exact same place it happened. It was an isolated place, outside of town, where kids would go to drink beer and stuff like that.
I was working my ass off, we were working hard. My girlfriend would come to the set but…was not so helpful because I had no time. I was sleeping 3 or 4 hours a night. It was a fun one to do but really, really hard. It was quite an experience.
24/7 Valencia: Can you tell us about your photography collection that was shown at ‘Espaivisor’ in Valencia in 2019?
It’s the early work from 1962- 1971. When I was about eighteen, I started photographing my friends for 10 years and that’s what ‘Tulsa’ was… plus about 3 other photos from outside that collection.
24/7 Valencia:Was the shooting up that is depicted in the pictures real?
Yes, it was real. We were like pioneers. I originally wanted to be a writer, it’s just that I happened to always have a camera with me. So, that was my way of telling a story.
24/7 Valencia: Was it an urban, punk way of life?
I came to New York in 1961 when I left school. It was earlier than the Warhol Factory days. I was never a hippy but we would grow our hair to be able to get drugs from the hippies when they came along.
24/7 Valencia: How do you find Valencia?
I’ve been to so many places that I don’t remember half of them. I’ve been to Spain about 5 or 6 times… for films and stuff. I feel connected to it. The light is beautiful here. I haven’t had the time to photograph much yet. We went to that place where the sea is all around you (Oceanogràfic)…with the ocean all around you and all those buildings (The City of Arts & Sciences)…that’s big!
Interview by 24/7 Valencia team
‘Larry Clark in Valencia’ photo by Will McCarthy
Copyright 24/7 Valencia
Larry Clark. Selected Works: 1963 – 1979
Exhibition in Madrid, Spain
When: 06 Feb 2021 – 03 Apr 2021
Opening hours: Tuesday to Friday 10h – 19h; Saturday 11h – 15h
Where: 1 Mira Madrid – 1MM / Argumosa, 16 bajo dcha. / Madrid, Spain
Organised by: 1 Mira Madrid – 1MM, Luhring Augustine
Participating artists: Larry Clark
All photos at exhibition © Larry Clark; Courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York, and 1 Mira Madrid.