17 February 2008

Larry Clark

In The Guardian today you can find this appreciative story by Sean O'Hagan on photographer and filmmaker Larry Clark (right) at 65. Clark is notorious for his preoccupation with the struggles of teenage boys to forge identities from the meager reourses afforded by cultures premeated with testosterone, drugs, sex, alcohol, and violence all situated inauspiciously in the context of family lives that are typically uncomprehending, often neglectful, and regularly abusive. Most of what little I know about Clark comes in response to what might fairly enough be called the obsession that one of my smart students has developed with his work.

The article in The Guardian is prompted by a new London exhibition of Clark's work. Entitled "Los Angeles 2003-2006" according to O'Hagan it consist of "new photographs, which are saturated in colour but oddly drained of meaning." As always, Clark seems actively to defy categorization; the images that make up this new work "are not reportage or photojournalism, but sit somewhere between a street fashion shoot and a series of well-taken snapshots." O'Hagan continues:
"There is something about Clarke (sic) that defies cynicism. He seems both street tough and oddly vulnerable, and seems obsessed for reasons he has no interest in exploring - except through photography - with the ever-shifting iconography of adolescence: the slang, the dress codes, the haircuts. It's anthropology of a kind, but it's all surface."
But perhaps the lack of depth, at least of the sort adult audiences want to see, is due not to Clark's images but to the lives of the kids he is revealing. That may seem like an invitation to despair. But O'Hagan warns against so bleak an assessment: "To Larry Clark's credit, there is always a glimmer of hope in his work, the fleeting chance of redemption." To locate - and, more importantly, to afford us old folks a glimpse of - such fugitive possibilities in the otherwise more or less undirected meanderings of teenage existence is an important legacy.

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