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« The Polarities » & « The Beats » Larry Fink in conversation with Barbara Tannenbaum


Larry Fink is a legend on the American photography scene, a leading figure for more than fifty years who has always shown unflagging passion and commitment, with results that are always surprising.

The biography on his website starts with Born To Be Wild, Brooklyn, New York 1941. When asked what inspired him to turn to photography, he often responds that the alternative would have been crime and prison time.

A nonconformist who thinks outside the box in both attitude and his approach to photography, Fink has remained a rebel from the time he took pictures of his beatnik contemporaries.

As sensitive to the allure of Hollywood stars as he is to the charm of the “princesses” from the countryside around Hellertown, Fink – who defines himself an “ironic humanist” – untiringly takes pictures of worldly things, political showmanship, social events, rebellious civil society, work, the energy of the city, the abandonment and serenity of family, and intimacy.

Regardless of whether it’s high society, the rural world, the movie industry or the boxing ring, Fink keeps taking pictures with rare enthusiasm and energy, and a style marked by proximity, empathy, spontaneity, and sophistication. We find spontaneity in the way he approaches his subjects, whom he almost seems to touch with his lens, and sophistication in his careful compositions, the choice of personal viewpoints, his extreme contrasts of light.

Fink’s passion for jazz, for the music he heard at the famous Village Gate club near his house, seems to set the pace for his steps and it gives his pictures a dancing rhythm: incisive, dynamic, and fluid.

The title of one of his many books, On Composition and Improvisation, could actually apply to his entire oeuvre. And Fink keeps producing his extraordinary images at a fast pace for fashion magazines, daily newspapers, personal projects, pure pleasure, and a love for people and photography.

An eclectic figure, Fink moves from one aspect to another in his work as a photographer. He teaches at Yale, Cooper Union, and Bard College, and has worked for years as an official photographer for Vanity Fair, for which he covers the Academy Awards. Fink contributes to The New Yorker and the leading American periodicals, has published dozens of books, and exhibits his work at the top museums in the United States – notably, MoMA and the Whitney Museum in New York – and Europe. He has also received prestigious prizes and recognition, such as the International Center for Photography (ICP) Infinity Award for Lifetime Fine Art Photography 2015.

Our first encounter with Fink, already famous for Social Graces (1984), goes back to 1997, when in Paris we presented Boxing, his work on this sport, marked by powerful and simple beauty. Since then, he has published many other books, up to the most recent one on his interaction with Andy Warhol and the artists at The Factory, which made it possible to rediscover pictures that were left in his archives for years. And who knows how many other marvels Fink’s archives still hold?

This new book explores his recent works, with a selection of pictures taken over the past five years, examining the series of subjects – near and far – that he investigated. Divided into four sections – “In Politics,” “Countryside Stories,” “In Town,” “At Home” – The Polarities offers the chance to follow Fink from Washington, New York, and Panama City to rural Pennsylvania.

The portrait of American society that Fink sketches out starting in the 1950s continues. The Polarities narrates modern America, the radical changes between the Obama years and the arrival of Trump, the society of the spectacle – in which “the show must go on” – and the continuing divide between metropolitan and rural areas. Here, Fink’s images recall those of the Farm Security Administration, the great project designed to study American territory between 1935 and 1943.

These are the precious fragments of an immense retrospective and a book that is preparing to go to press.

Laura Serani

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