Book Review: Off the Bookshelf
Reviewed by Marc Savlov, Fri., Jan. 12, 2001
Tulsaby Larry Clark
Grove Press, 64 pp., $24.95 (paper)
Diaryby Corinne Day
Kruse Verlag, 112 pp., $50
Twenty-nine years after it went out of print, Tulsa, recently reissued, still has the power to make you wince. Clark, who would later go on to direct the equally cringe-worthy film Kids, grew up in the dirty backstreets of Tulsa, Okla., and began shooting speed at the age of 16. The images collected here -- stark, black-and-white, visceral -- are taken from 1963, 1968, and 1971, when Clark was 20, 25, and 28 years old, respectively, and the resulting mass of often crystal-clear, sometimes grainy snapshots reek of a sullen kind of desperation. There's a quietly inviting sort of beauty in Tulsa, despite the occasional single-syllable text ("dead") that infrequently captions a picture. "Death is more perfect than life," reads the lengthiest passage in the book. You've got to hand it to Clark: While many of his subjects are, indeed, deceased, their crude, grinning, pre-death's heads remain forever captured, willingly or not, in these jarring photos of bleak Oklahoman castaways.
Day is the bastardette offspring of Larry Clark: Her grimy photographic diary takes you on a walking tour of hell, with rest stops at hospitals, New York City, and Brixton. Hollow-eyed junkie misfits seem to be the order of the day, though whether Day herself is simply chronicling the wasted or is wasted herself is unknown. Her compositions -- often ill-lit and weirdly skewed -- thrust you into the midst of one long, bad trip. Diary is never boring or sensationalistic, but on the other hand it never demands much of you either. Is this a signal that junkie chic is back in fashion, or just the stuttering shutter-snaps of a woman with nothing better to do? Hard to say. One thing's for sure, though: Diary makes you long for a hot bath and a good scrubbing. Its hopeless depictions of dead-end lives leave you coated with a scummy emotional patina you can't wait to get rid of.