Sunday, September 16, 2007

Los Angeles, 2003-2006, Vol. 1

Last week in my colleague Jeff Ladd's blog, which is exclusively about photo books, he wrote a comic passage about Larry Clark signing copies of his new book, Los Angeles, 2003-2006, Vol. 1, at Luhring Augustine, in tandem with Larry Clark's new show. Jeff's tale - of slow lines, dealers bringing in other Larry Clark items to be signed, the tensions of such a moment (I witnessed an especially egregious example of this earlier this spring at ICP when William Klein spoke with Max Kozloff - afterwards people were asking Klein to autograph everything from postcards from his shows, to even the program notes from the evening - one fellow on line with a stack of books finished, then got back on line again with another pile - when confronted w/ his "double dipping" he flatly denied he had been on line already). This is all part of the theater of passions that confronts book fetishists such as Jeff & myself & myriad & sundry others.

Yesterday with a brief window of time I got to Chelsea to see the Larry Clark show & to purchase the book myself. Clark's early books, Tulsa & Teenage Lust, are great examples of books-gone-rare & inflated prices being charged for the first editions. This was followed by 1992, which jumped the gun, as it were, of inflationary prices & sold initially, if I remember correctly, around $225 - I recall asking at the St. Marks Bookstore. & then a few years ago, Punk Picasso's initial retail was $500. All of Clark's books seem to enter a sphere of high cost for one reason or another - A Perfect Childhood was never released in the US, although copies can be found in used shops, or available from Europe. A brief excursion on Bookfinder leads to a phenomenal array of prices. I will not dispute the merits of Clark's work, especially Tulsa & Teenage Lust, but the Luhring Augustine show, the high art merchandising of Clark, brings up other social & cultural considerations.

The high priced fetishism of Tulsa reminds me of rare screenings of the Robert Frank film, Cocksucker Blues, which occurred a few times at Anthology Film Archives, using, I believe, a print owned by Robert Frank, although the ostensible owners of the film are the producers, the Rolling Stones, who evidently were dismayed by how stupid & seedy they seem in the film & subsequently "canned" it from any viewing. In lieu of Frank's work in general, & his films in particular, which are often quite brooding & despairing, & if anything, never flattering, I would say re the Stones: what where they expecting? At any rate, the few times Cocksucker Blues showed, hundreds of people came out of the woodwork to see it - fans of Frank, or of the Stones, or was it just that it had been "suppressed"? One sees Keith Richards nodding out, one hears an awakening groupie shrieking, "Is that cum on my leg?" The louche appeal of the Frank film does not seem all that different from that of Tulsa - however I do not mean to discredit either Frank or Clark - this is really addressing the issue of popularity both works have engendered. Tulsa is also one of the most important US photo books of the 1970s & in its straight-forward representations of a community united by drug usage, it's lack of moralizing, & also its reality-effect, its candor, have been extremely influential in documentary, art & fashion practices - everything from Nan Goldin's Ballad of Sexual Dependency, to Corinne Day's early photos of Kate Moss.

& judging by the success of Goldin & Clark in the art world, it leads me to suspect there's a wealthy bourgeois art-buying audience for such work. Cheap thrills for the well-heeled? More exotica for the rich? Although I believe it was meant to be somewhat (perhaps feebly) ironic, I remember one of Lydia Lunch's rants: My pain is your pleasure!

The photos in Larry Clark's Los Angeles 2003-2006 Vol. 1 are of a teenage Latino boy from the South Central area of Los Angeles, Jonathan Velasquez, who was "discovered" by Clark at a casting for a fashion shoot Clark was doing with his then girlfriend, the extremely beautiful Tiffany Limos. Clark photographed Velsaquez over a 3 year period - roughly the boy from ages 14-17 - in a manner that is reminiscent of Clark's early work - in fact many of Velasquez's poses are near-identical to the poses of the 8th Ave teenage hustlers in Teenage Lust. The difference being that Velasquez is portrayed simply for his own photogenic beauty & if anything comes off rather chaste & boyish, as opposed to the teen sex workers in the earlier book.

In this I sees parallels between Clark's photos of Velasquez & some of Bruce Weber's projects which highlight one model in particular, such as the boxer Andy Minsker in The Andy Book, or the model Peter Johnson in The Chop Suey Club. Also Weber published an extremely beautiful book of photos by Jim French, the founder of Colt Studios, of the physique model David Skrivanek, Like a Moth to a Flame. The fetishism of male beauty is common in gay erotica, but in the Chelsea art market world we are seeing instead a more innocent Huckleberry Finn type scenario - a rambunctious teenage boy - updated to a skateboarding South Central never-never land. I'm curious why the book is entitled Los Angeles as indeed exact locations are never specified in the images, nor in the captions. The work reminds me more of the lyrics of the Eddie Cochran song "Teenage Heaven": I want a house with a pool/Shorter hours in school/& a room with my own private phone . . . What we see is the sybaritic splendor of youth - pleasure without gravity. & for the fancy collectors out there, it is also a step into the danger zone of other classes, other cultures. Such an issue was a part of an independent film directed by Wash Westmoreland & Richard Glatzer, Quinceanera, in which a teenage boy, the brother of the principal character, finds himself a sex-object of his new white landlords: the desirous (& young) other.

The prints for the show are mural-sized pigment prints, some with multiple images sewn together. The use of multiple sequences has been used by Clark before & it is very attractive - but I find the beauty of it making me question the work. Why is it here? What is it supposed to be telling us? Is it simply a question of looking at a teenage boy (who is remarkably photogenic - a real beauty)? I prefer the book - I still think of Clark's work working best in book form & like his other books, there's attention to design, editing, layout - he seems truly gifted at this - which can amplify the work & make the sum more than a total of the parts.

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