The Image’s Updates

Larry Clark's photographs: 'Once the needle goes in, it never comes out'

Image courtesy of Psychonaught / Wikimedia Commons | Article Link | by Sean O'Hagan

"I was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1943," says Larry Clark in the introduction to Tulsa, his now iconic photobook from 1971. "When I was 16, I started shooting amphetamine. I shot with my friends every day for three years and then left town, but I've gone back through the years. Once the needle goes in, it never comes out."

Tulsa remains Clark's most visceral book, an insider's view of a period in the mid-1960s when he was a teenager living what he calls, without irony, "the outlaw life" – shooting up speed, having sex with his strung-out girlfriends and hanging out with his gun-toting junkie friends. Sex, drugs and violence were captured in a raw, grainy monochrome that defined the raw confessional style adopted later by Nan Goldin, Corinne Day and Antoine D'Agata. But Clark went there first, and Tulsa remains a template for all that followed, a blurring of the lines between voyeurism and intimate reportage, between honesty and exploitation.

Writing about Tulsa in The Photobook Volume 1, authors Martin Parr and Gerry Badger say that the "incessant focus on the sleazy aspect of the lives portrayed, to the exclusion of almost anything else – whether photographed from the 'inside' or not – raises concerns about exploitation and drawing the viewer into a prurient, voyeuristic relationship with the work." Yet it is that very dynamic that imbues the images with such disturbing power. Read more...