Article by Alison Hugill in Berlin; Saturday, August 4, 2012
A note Larry Clark has written about his work, scrawled in childlike handwriting and mounted alongside his Teenage Lust photo series at C/O Berlin, describes with nostalgic longing the drugged out gang bangs and violent sex scenes of his rural American youth. He laments not having had a camera at the time, to capture the uninhibited sexual thrills of his boyhood.
In the early 70s, at the age of thirty, Clark decided to submerge himself in this scene, to relive this youthful past through the lens of his camera. His entire body of work – both photographic and cinematic – revolves around his idée fixe of adolescent sex and subculture. Clark’s series Tulsa, Teenage Lust and Los Angeles are all attempts to deal with this obsession through a remarkably intimate and penetrating documentation of teenage sexuality in America, its simultaneously dangerous and invigorating perversities.
C/O Berlin presents, for the first time in Germany, around 150 works by Larry Clark, including his series Teenage Lust and Los Angeles as well as several videos and unpublished collages by the controversial photographer. Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1943, Clark has become one of the most famous photographers of contemporary America.
The first room of the exhibition at C/O launches the viewer immediately into a depraved and startling world: photographs of a pregnant woman shooting up, a baby lying dead in an open casket, naked bodies and needles, American flags and guns. Each element composes the seedy underworld that Clark grew up in and that he documents so lovingly. Now, over forty years after the publication of his first book Tulsa, these photographs have become iconic images of American life.
Clark’s paragon of sexual virility is the teenage boy. Filled with sexual curiosity and the potency to enact his wildest dreams, the interchangeable pubescent boy Clark studies in his photographs exudes a terrifying masculinity that appears to know no bounds. His 2003-2006 series Los Angeles, for example, chronicles four years in the life of teenager Jonathan Velasquez, the inspiration for his film ‘WASSUP ROCKERS.’ The photographs of Velasquez seem at first to emulate popular, more innocent poses of young adolescent celebrities yet Velasquez possesses a violent, sexual edge that demands to be taken seriously.
Clark investigates this juxtaposition more directly in his collages, displayed in the upper galleries of C/O Berlin. In these works, he places cutouts of young male celebrities (Matt Dillon, Corey Hart) from decades-old teen magazines alongside his own photographs of young boys with erections and piercing glares. Clark sometimes includes clippings from newspapers with headlines about sexual harassment, pedophilia and rape. A particular interest of Clark’s seems to be the phenomenon – widely reported on in the 90s – of young boys being molested by adult women. The political or moral stance Clark is taking remains unclear, yet his fascination with cataloguing teenage sexuality in all its forms is apparent once more.
The current exhibition at C/O Berlin provides a thorough overview of Clark’s oeuvre. At once raw and self-reflexive, his photographs deal with the problematic of the mass media’s portrayal of teens, the manner in which it produces, demonizes, sexualizes and rejects teenagers. Clark quotes media theorist Marshall MacLuhan in the exhibit: “The criminal, like the artist, is a social explorer.” These words ring true in relation to Clark’s unparalleled photographic investigations.
Alison Hugill has a Masters degree in Art Theory from Goldsmiths College, University of London. Alison is the Arts & Culture Editor of Review 31 and is based in Berlin.