Foam presents two renowned and controversial projects by photographer and filmmaker Larry Clark. Tulsa (1971) and Teenage Lust (1983) are Clark’s earliest bodies of work and reveal a youth culture, which at the time was totally unknown to the greater public. Images of sex, violence and drug use permeate both series, which were also published as books. At the time of their release, both projects caused a great deal of commotion due to the rawness of the images, but the truth of what they revealed also gave way giving them an iconic status. Being shown alongside the photographs, Tulsa (64 min) is a 16 mm film that was shot by Clark in 1968; he made contact prints from a section of the film, but didn’t do anything with the rest of the footage and put it away. The film was rediscovered by the artist in 2010 and is a fascinating precursor for his later cinematic oeuvre.
Larry Clark established his reputation in 1971 with the Tulsa series and the eponymous book, which he worked on between 1963 and 1973. The book became an instant classic and launched a true revolution in documentary photography. In graphic black-and-white Clark showed confrontational, autobiographical images focusing on the violent underworld of Tulsa. The use of hard drugs, explicit violence and sex play a prominent role. Tulsa was shot in a new documentary style: subjective, alienated and completely free of any social agenda. It became the prelude to raw, unpolished photography that was not based on objective observation by an outsider but instead came from the experience of those directly involved. Based on Tulsa, Clark received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to realise his next project. This, however, took ten years, due to Clark’s heroin addiction and a prison sentence.
He finally finished his second extremely innovative project, Teenage Lust. In the book that appeared in 1983, his interest in the drug culture had been replaced by sexual obsession. Clark’s own troubled life and that of his friends form the background for the images in this series. Clark combined self-portraits and photos from his youth in Tulsa with images of young male prostitutes he met in Times Square in New York in the early 1980s. It is an incisive document spanning a period of thirty years about a group of youngsters who made a different choice than the typical American Dream.
Clark’s photographic and filmic oeuvre both deal with the challenges faced by young people in a culture that idealises its own youth as well as commercialises it violently. Clark is considered worldwide as one of the most important and influential American photographers of his generation.
The exhibition is comprised of vintage photos from the Olbricht Collection, Essen, Germany. Larry Clark is represented by Luhring Augustine Gallery, New York.
All images © Christian van der Kooy for Foam.