New York

View of “Larry Clark,” 2013–14.

View of “Larry Clark,” 2013–14.

Larry Clark

Home Alone 2

View of “Larry Clark,” 2013–14.

More than ten thousand of Larry Clark’s photographs were on view this winter in a small storefront on Forsyth Street in the Lower East Side. Clark—whose early work challenged fantasies of a wholesome postwar America with hard, often graphic images from his personal life—is represented by major galleries in New York, London, and Hong Kong. Yet, turning seventy-one and deciding he wanted to distribute a portion of his archive, he chose to do so not via private dealer-to-collector sale or auction, but on his own terms and in a way that would make it accessible to his friends—namely, those who have populated his images and films since the early 1990s. To carry out his plan, Clark gave nearly all of the 4 x 6“ and 5 x 7” color prints he made between 1992 and 2010 (images he had printed mostly at pharmacies and one-hour photo shops) to artist and actor Leo Fitzpatrick (who made his film debut in Clark’s 1995 Kids) to sell at Home Alone 2, an offshoot of the TriBeCa window space Fitzpatrick started with Nate Lowman and Hanna Liden in 2012.

Fitzpatrick placed Clark’s prints in a wood crate set on a stand in the middle of the small space and, without ceremony or a press release, opened the show this past December. News of the exhibition spread by word of mouth. When people stopped by, Fitzpatrick encouraged them to grab a stack of prints and just thumb through. No white gloves, no vellum sleeves, no checklist. No invoicing, holds, or JPEGS, either. A sign on the door read CASH ONLY. Prints were $100 apiece. Depending on your checking-account balance and self-control, this was either an incredibly generous gesture by Clark (his photos often command some fifty times that amount), or a deceptively expensive setup in which viewers—many of whom have special ties to the work, as it depicts their younger selves and the people they knew back when—were forced to feel the pains of the collector class. Buy now or forever live without. Once a print left the stack, it was likely to never be publicly shown again.

Images included photos Clark had taken on or around the locations of his films—including Kids, Bully (2001), Ken Park (2002), and Wassup Rockers (2005), among others—and a calendar shoot for the street brand Supreme, as well as candid close-ups and various snapshots (images of Colin de Land’s last birthday party gave chills). Though many of the prints looked very similar, closer scrutiny revealed that each was in fact unique. It was possible to hold ten, twenty, thirty of what appeared to be nearly the same photo, but taken moments apart and from slightly different angles and distances. Those lucky enough to have been on the other side of Clark’s lens might have expected his archive to look something like this: a zillion shots, more or less randomly snapped. But for everyone else, the show offered a special vantage onto his working method, his process of constantly shooting so that once the actual filming began, his subjects would already have become accustomed to the presence of his camera.

Of course, one could argue that so much of photography is about choosing the one single image out of a multitude of possibilities—Clark’s Tulsa, 1971, and Teenage Lust, 1983, being what they are because each image is so particular, anti-glamorously glamorous, and beautiful. So is one really getting a Larry Clark photograph if it’s not Clark who selected it? Perhaps. The experience of going through Clark’s work print by print in the gallery may be best likened to that of watching a cut-up film or perusing a nonlinear biography, one narrated by others in the room as they named those pictured—Harold Hunter, Justin Pierce, Chloë Sevigny, among many more—with Fitzpatrick filling in backstories that laid out the faded geography of a pre-Bloomberg downtown. If there was a generosity to this show, it was in Clark’s willingness to put out his archive unedited and allow viewers to flip through these materials at will, each print softening as it was handled, accumulating the fingerprints of everyone who came out to see the work. No one creates a sense of intimacy as immediate, lustful, disturbing, and undeniably beautiful as Clark, and it was this feeling that was overwhelmingly in effect here.

Caroline Busta