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Focus on Larry Fink

'Icon of Photography' delights and surprises with ACP talk
Rod Machen, 2:30pm, Tue. Mar. 4
Courtesy of Larry Fink
Image with George Plimpton from Detour Magazine, 1999

Larry Fink's work speaks for itself, but last Friday night the famed photographer was more than happy to do the talking. As the latest Icon of Photography in the Austin Center for Photography ongoing lecture series, Fink delighted the crowd with stories that spanned a half century and ideas that show he is as scrappy as ever.

Most of the presentation, which took place during the second Texas Photo Roundup, centered on two of his books. The Beats, consisting of images from 1958, shows Fink and his friends living "beatifically" from New York to Mexico. These aren't the famous Beats – Kerouac, Ginsberg, et al. – these are the unknowns, the hippies before there were hippies, living life on the margins, full of drugs and hope and yearning to be free! The images are accompanied by text from poet Gerald Stern, scrawled in his hand on lined sheets of paper, but transcribed for the reading audience. Fink, naturally, is more concerned with pictures than words, and this group certainly does well enough on its own. From flophouses and mansions to cars and parks, the whole crew – Turk, Mary, Bobbie, Motha, Ambrose, Randy – evince a countercultural calm that finds its apex when the subjects are reclined, relaxed, or, often, asleep.

The second book discussed by Fink, Kindred Spirits: The Horvath Family of Martin's Creek, hasn't even come out yet. Minor Matter Books will publish the book as soon as a certain number of copies are pre-sold. (www.minormattersbooks.com/products/larry-fink-kindred-spirits) While recovering from surgery, Fink met Stacia Horvath, a night nurse at the hospital. Soon, he was out on her farm, documenting life with her entire family. Geese and dogs mix with children and chores as these modern-day naturalists live their lives. Square and monochrome is the order of the day, as it is with much of Fink's work.

While many photographers eschew discussion of equipment, Fink jumped right in. One of his images from The Beats featured a prone man heavily backlit by a bright light from a window. Fink said this image had languished in his catalog for years because he had never been able to get the tones from the subject's face light enough to be recognizable. He lauded digital imagery for its ability to pull information out of a negative that would have otherwise been lost.

For Kindred Spirits, Fink surprised everyone by pulling a tiny Sony camera out of his pocket and declaring this to be his current camera of choice. While he admitted the speed on this type of camera isn't up to snuff with bigger, more-professional gear, he loves the large depth of field and ability to fit into his surroundings without intimidating gear.

This led to Fink’s best advice of the night. In order to get close enough to your subject to take the most candid of shots, "The only way to be invisible is to be perfectly visible," Fink said. There is no hiding for the photographer, only complete exposure.

Fink ended the night with his greatest hits, a slideshow of images that paint of portrait of the American Century and beyond. Celebrities from Oscar parties. Jazz musicians. Everyday people living everyday lives. Fink has taken pictures of them all.

All this was precipitously close to never happening. During that journey with his Beat friends, Fink had a life-altering confrontation at the border near Laredo. After being found in possession of marijuana, he and his compatriots were surrounded by officers and fired upon with warning shots into the ground around his Olds 88. The car was confiscated, and Fink received five years probation. It was during this time that he slowed down enough to begin his photographic career in earnest. At 72 years of age, he doesn't appear to be slowing down anymore.

For more information about the Austin Center for Photography and its Icons of Photography series, visit www.visitacp.org.

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