Giving Back to the KIDS: Larry Clark on Making His Prints Accessible

During the legendary photographer/director’s final exhibition in Tokyo.

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Back in the ’90s when the Internet was still relatively primitive and when social media was still a figment of our imagination, the diffusion of culture was, for the lack of a better word, more organic. Now with a simple tap, just about everyone can share and browse through a limitless catalog of images from across the globe, capturing the essence of fashion and lifestyle in one place or another. However before all this was possible, taking candid snapshots was much more of a process — one which required both patience and expertise, which is one of the reasons why visuals of youth culture prior to the digital age are much harder to come by, making them that much more intriguing.

Though oft considered somewhat controversial, there’s really no one else that captured the authenticity of ’90s youth culture in New York like Larry Clark was able to. His 1995 film Kids, still to this day, has a cult-like following, while many of his candid photographs have been used for collaborations with some of the industry’s biggest names. However, Clark’s recent exhibitions have generated some criticism for their casual and nonchalant way of doing business. Unlike traditional showings, a box of original 4 x 6 prints were placed in a wooden crate at the center of the space, from which visitors were able to pick and choose photos to purchase for a relatively affordable ¥15,000 JPY (approximately $147 USD). Following shows in New York, Los Angeles, Paris and London, Clark and Leo Fitzpatrick headed to Japan’s capital for “Tokyo 100” late last month. We caught up with them to talk about the concept behind this style of exhibition and New York City’s evolution amongst other things.

Larry Clark Tokyo 100 Gallery Target

How did the idea for selling your original prints come about?

Larry: We did the show first at Leo’s little gallery and we didn’t advertise it. It was only for the skate kids and only word of mouth because I didn’t want collectors to come and buy a thousand prints. The collectors didn’t hear about it till the last couple of days because we never advertised it, and we just told a couple of skate kids. No one knew about it except the kids, so they came and we had a tiny little room, and you could only get so many people in. I couldn’t make it to the show so Leo was the only one and I think he had another girl helping him collect money. He was also watching the kids so they wouldn’t lift all the pictures. During the last couple of days the word got out, so the collectors found out and tried to buy a hundreds prints. And Leo told them the limit is 10 so they would buy 10, then send their son or daughter in, and when they ran out of people to send in they would hire homeless people to stand in line to go buy prints.

Do you remember when this was?

Larry: Just a few years ago I was recovering from a very serious operation on my spine. Fourteen titanium screws in my spine, that was a seven-hour operation. Well I had arthritis and I was bending over so my spine was about to collapse, it was very serious.

Yeah last time you came over you had a cast and a cane.

Larry: I had a cane then and after that I had both knees replaced. I have no pain when I walk around now. So we wanted to do a show a year ago but I had an operation. The first operation was so serious I could’ve died. What’s gonna happen to all this work because I have never thrown anything away? That’s where the idea came from to give something back to the kids. So the funny thing was the show ended and there were newspaper articles written about it because no one had ever done anything like that. Then the collectors heard about it and they were all pissed off. It was seven days just like this one and this is the last show I’m doing because I have other things to do like movies, paintings and other photography works. So this is the last show period, so it’s now or never.

“Skateboarders are very suspicious of adults and it’s amazing. I don’t think Larry had to be accepted by the skateboarders to make the movie.” – Leo Fitzpatrick

So this is the last opportunity to get your original prints, right?

Larry: Pretty much, a lot of these prints I don’t remember at all. So when I look at them it’s like I’m seeing them for the first time. Because I would go to the corner and have the man print 36 color 4 x 6’s for $13 dollars or $12 USD, and I didn’t understand when people laughed that I charged $40 USD. Well, I printed them at the corner just like everyone else. There were these photo labs everywhere in New York, every corner had a photo lab. And now there’s none.

So anyways when Leo did the show no one had ever done anything like this, so Michelle Macarona ran into his gallery screaming at him. She pulls up in a chauffeured car and gets out and runs in screaming at Leo, “You can’t do this, stop this show” ’cause she’s selling work for $10, $20, $50, $100,000 USD, so the gallerist did not like this show. She literally was like “this is against the law.” So when I first got the offer for the show I went to my gallery, a great gallery, a world-class gallery who had Rachel Wydry, Christopher Woll and many great artist. I’ve been with them 27 years since 1989. So I had this idea I wanted to give back to the kids and I had thousands of 4 x 6 prints that were the original.

When we had the show I had more people than anybody, we had lines of people around the block for a mile everyday and more people than anybody’s show; I broke the record. More than Jeff Koons or any famous artist, because I get people who know me from my movies and who have never been in an art gallery or museum before. I brought the regular people. They can’t afford to pay $10,000 to $15,000 USD because I would take these prints and pick what I like and blow them up to 18 x 24, and the galleries would sell them for $15,000 dollars. So anyways I had this great idea to give back to the kids that went to my gallery first and said I wanted to have this show and they laughed at me. They said “we don’t want to do that, that’s crazy.” I said “okay” so I did it with Leo and we did it in Paris and there were lines around the block. After seven days there were still thousands of people; they couldn’t get in. And they got mad. So this is the last one.

Leo: No we did it in New York, London, Paris and Los Angeles, so this is the fifth time.

Why did you choose to exhibit in Tokyo?

Leo: This is the only time Larry has been to one outside the U.S. He loves Tokyo and I love Tokyo so it’s really important for him to be here to meet his fans face to face. It’s the fifth and last time and I think because it’s the last time, Larry wanted to be here. It takes a lot of work every time we do a show. I have to go to his house and find all new photographs. Different cities prefer different kinds of photographs.

Larry Clark Tokyo 100 Gallery Target

How did you choose which photographs to sell in Tokyo?

Leo: Well the interesting thing about this show is that it’s the whole archive for 30 years. Starting from I think 1992 to up until 2016 and there’s no editing. What’s interesting about the show is that you get a really personal look into Larry’s style of photography. It’s not like at a gallery where we’ve framed 10 pictures and said these are the 10 best. Here, you get to decide what are the 10 best for you. This show has always been about the kids and the fans. Some of these younger people may only be able to afford one photo; you know a $100 USD or $150 USD is a lot of money, it’s not nothing. You really want them to be happy even if they can only afford one, so it’s been great and it’s amazing to the think the amount of press these shows really keeps Larry relevant. There’s not many photographers in their 70’s that do something like this.

How do you curate the selection of photos with the city’s taste in mind?

Leo: Well obviously New York was like nostalgic for the New York photos. What the people should know is that everyone is looking for photos from the movie but there are no photos from the movie because he was making the movie, so all these photos were taken 2-3 years before the filming, when Larry was trying to develop the vision and to figure out how the movie would look. So these are the photos of when the movie wasn’t happening. So New York was nostalgic. Paris loved all the naked stuff and London, I don’t know what London liked but we try to bring everything so people have options. And Larry has worked in a lot of these places so he has photos that kind of represent the cities.

Oh yeah he also made a French movie.

Leo: Yeah, The Smell of Us. It’s everything. The other thing that’s nice about this show is it might make younger people take their own photographs and prints more seriously because now with digital photography, you’re always erasing photos and when you see these 30 years’ worth of photos, maybe you’ll think twice about erasing photos. I believe you don’t even know what a good photo is for like 10 years because people pass away, architecture changes, the scene changes and things like that. So I think it’s really important if you’re a photographer to back up your hard-drive ’cause you never know what you have till later.

I heard Larry started skating at 50, is that true?

Leo: Yeah like 47 or something and he broke his shoulder skating. I think how Larry infiltrated the skateboarding scene was because he knew a photographer named Tobin Yelland who shot for Thrasher Magazine and Tobin was really respected. The kids knew that Tobin was okay so Larry was okay. And nobody took the idea of making a movie very seriously. We were like “movie okay, right about us?” No adults ever respected what we did before until Larry. And you know it’s funny now I see some young kids come to New York and they say the reason I came to New York was that movie, and I said “it was a cautionary tale.” It wasn’t supposed to be a romantic movie. So yeah it’s cool history is all in that box.

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