Remembering Larry Fink
We never met in person, but I appreciated how he saw the world and thought about photography. Rest in peace, Larry, and take care.
“Viscerality is my perceptual mode. Simply spoken, it means that I want to touch everything that I love. Hopefully, my pictures are a testimony to the love of the senses.” — Larry Fink
Another one of the greats, gone.
That’s the way it goes, right? We only get one shot, and before we know it, our time is up. I was home visiting my parents for Thanksgiving last weekend, and I’ve been in a reflective state since my father is dealing with his own old age issues. It happens to all of us if we’re lucky enough to live that long. On Saturday night, while scrolling through my social feeds, I read that photographer Larry Fink passed away at 82.
I’m sentimental and always appreciate reading obituaries because learning about people after they’ve gone adds some dimension to our experience while we’re still here. I haven’t seen too many official obits for Larry. Still, many in the photography community have shared their stories online these past few days on Facebook, Instagram, and elsewhere. I curated a mix when William Klein died last year and I want to pay my respects, so I thought it would be a nice homage to Larry’s memory to do something similar for him. Here’s the Klein piece if you missed it:
Larry and I never met in person, but we were Facebook friends, and he regularly chimed in on my posts with comments and reactions. That a giant like him was paying any attention to me was frankly remarkable. That’s one of the magical things about social media — despite its many drawbacks, it can connect us to people we admire, and we can learn from them. Larry’s comments were always sensitive and thoughtful and frequently poetic. He was obviously dialed into a wavelength of human kindness and creative genius. I wish I’d had the chance to meet him in person and shoot the breeze for even a few minutes.
He clearly made an enormous impression on the photographers he met along his journey, as evidenced by the outpouring of remembrances I’ve read these past few days. I suspect I’ll see more. For those of you who knew Larry, I would love to hear how his work impacted you. Please feel free to leave me a comment. For the rest of you, especially if you, like me, need to learn more about this man and his photography, I hope this is a starting point to his talent and vision.
Sara Rosen’s piece in Blind Magazine is the closest I’ve seen to an obituary. You probably recognize this picture. Talk about timing. What an eye!
Arthur Ollman always writes eloquently about the photographers he’s encountered in his travels, and I love his photographer portraits. I was ten years old when he made this picture, and Larry was forty-seven, two years older than I am now. That puts things in perspective. He posted this portrait of Larry and this lovely remembrance on Facebook and agreed to reprint it here. I think it sets the stage nicely. Arthur writes:
A photographer has to love a guy's shirt pocket so stuffed with pens, scraps of paper, and glasses. It tells us more than the color of his hair or the shape of his chin.
Larry Fink died yesterday. That is a great sadness to those who loved him and his art. I didn’t know Larry Fink very well. I know a lot of his work and have added some of it to the Museum of Photographic Arts’ permanent collection. We both studied with Lisette Model, though at different times and places. We share a very similar political outlook. We passed a lot of comments and compliments through social media. But I didn’t know him well. I feel like I did once. It lasted only a brief moment.
It was 1988 in Rockport, Maine, during the third annual Photo Congress sponsored by the Maine Photographic Workshop. Larry and I and a couple of others were standing at a wine and cheese reception. It was toward the end of a perfect summer afternoon, and as the shadows began to lengthen, the tones all around began to warm. The conversation was general, and if I said I recall the substance of it, I would be lying. One or two people drifted away toward other conversations, and I was left standing with Larry. I raised my camera, and he looked directly through my lens and into the back of my brain, and what I noticed were two things…one was that he was totally there in that instant and that he had a shirt pocket stuffed full of pens, scraps of paper and his glasses. I liked the proletarian work shirt alongside the symbols of the intelligencia, as well as the warm light on him. But what I liked most was his presence and that it seemed to me we were in it together. A photographer needn't require much more than that to make a picture.
Larry's pictures share that same interest. He uses the mid-size format of 2 1/4 x 2 1/4, which is portable and spontaneous, and the large negative or digital file gathers a huge amount of information and thus provides the taste of veracity, a sense of presence. He isn't, as Lee Friedlander self-describes, "just pecking at the world." He is inviting us to a scene. And it is usually a scene we would never have been invited to anyway. So, we enjoy a sort of privilege. That feast of information does not slide easily into our minds, and we have a lot of looking to do to digest it fully. He makes what I call "chewy" pictures.
It occurred to me later that Larry was in his element at that reception. So many of his images are made in such social situations. He loves the human display as a few people gather within a larger event. They act out semi-intimate but publicly acceptable behaviors, often flirting with impropriety. He gets in close. Very close. Probably reflecting the mood of his subjects to mask his intentions. And maybe that's what he was doing with me. Though I held the camera, he was perhaps making me take his self-portrait. If so, I'm happy to have been his mirror, at least for that moment.
Larry Fink was a wise man, a bit of a guru. One who would not expect anyone to follow or listen. His take on the world was both passionate and chagrined. You can see the affection he had for underprivileged people; you can see his respect, too. As for the overprivileged, well…he did not show much sympathy. And his images of those lookalikes of the Bush family and cabinet…straight out of Max Beckmann’s portfolio. I would like to have known him better. But in another sense, I knew him very well. His memory is a blessing.
“If You Don't Take A Chance, You Don't Get A Chance.” That about sums it up! TIME published this short piece in 2017. It’s not nearly enough, but Larry shares some big ideas in a short amount of time. Really insightful.
"My picture-making process is not so much about making a photograph as it is about paying extreme attention to what I’m most attracted to, what is drawing my interest. For the most part, I’m hyperstimulated at all times; my life is a massive run-on sentence of stimulation." Larry Fink
Greg Miller shared this video on Instagram and graciously agreed to show it here. Again, wisdom just poured out of this guy. What a mind. And I love that harmonica! (By the way, Greg is a supremely talented photographer. If you liked this video, you’ll appreciate this piece we published last summer.) Thanks, Greg.
This portrait has been making the rounds. It’s so good! Geoffrey Berliner wrote a lovely remembrance on Instagram. You’ll like this too — Roger Thompson interviewed Larry for Don’t Take Pictures in 2018. It’s a great conversation.
“Every time I look at a face, or a body, or hands, or even a landscape, I want to bring you into me so you become me, and I become you. Basically, I want to empathize with you.” Wow. Right? MediaStorm produced this short film about Larry for the ICP Infinity Awards in 2015. It’s an excellent entree to his way of seeing. Enjoy it.
Finally, if I’ve piqued your curiosity and you want to learn more about Larry and his photography, please visit his website. There is a lot to see there.
My thoughts go out to Larry’s family and the friends who knew him well. I was merely an online acquaintance, but I admired him and how he saw the world. I was looking back at our Facebook messages today and saw this note, written in his familiar style of unusual syntax and punctuation:
ill keep you posted through the collective channels,,,,, keep seeing brother.........
Keep seeing, indeed. Take care, Larry. Be well, and rest in peace.
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