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Larry Clark
Foam - Fotografie Museum
Keizersgracht 609, 1017 DS Amsterdam, Netherlands
June 13, 2014 - September 12, 2014

Shooting up on youth’s immortality
by Edo Dijksterhuis

When Kids came out in 1995 it kicked up quite a storm. Larry Clark’s debut feature film depicts a group of teenage skate punks smoking dope, drinking excessively, shoplifting, talking nonsense, basically wasting their lives away. The main character, a world class egomaniac named Telly, has unprotected sex with every eleven year old girl he can talk out of her pants, since according to him virginity is the best protection against venereal diseases. At the end of the movie it turns out he himself is infected with HIV.

Some critics considered Kids a masterpiece, relentless and honest. Clark even earned himself a Golden Palm nomination at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. Others thought the film was monstrous, myself included. Being in my early twenties at the time of release, I saw nothing but a nihilistic celebration of empty and joyless hedonism. Kids was, according to me, typical of the nineties, a time of boundless greed and moral bankruptcy, an era exemplified by 1991 novel American Psycho. But while Bret Easton Ellis—even without bringing his protagonist to justice—paints Patrick Bateman as the poster boy for pure evil and inherently condemns the world that spawned him, Clark revels in the debauchery. Kids looked like exploitation, a freak show, a dirty old man’s wet dream.

Larry Clark, Untitled, 1963; © Larry Clark / Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine New York


At the time I had no knowledge of Clark’s earlier photographic work. Twenty years later that gap has been filled with images off the internet and photobooks gleaned over in museums. And now I’ve had the opportunity to see Clark’s two earliest photo series up close and in full. FOAM is showing the vintage prints which resulted in his books Tulsa (1971) and Teenage Lust (1983). Together with The Perfect Childhood (1992) these works catapulted Clark to the status of one of the most influential photographers of his generation.

Clark, who was born in 1943 in Tulsa, Oklahoma with an iterant baby photographer for a mother, started photographing at the age of thirteen. Hanging out with his coterie he documented the Midwestern suburban life of teenagers in the late fifties. Snapshots of boredom, soon to be laced with daily shots of amphetamine. He escaped by means of the art academy after which he was drafted for Vietnam. His war experiences made him return to the images of his youth and publish his first book, Tulsa.

Tulsa is peopled by teenagers, mostly boys and an odd girl with big hair, who shoot up and shut up. Lots of muddled stares into the distance, mouths slightly agape, eyebrows raised. Occasionally there’s a gun or pistol to pose with. A lot of the action is in merciless close-up; sometimes the camera seems to have been moved deliberately in order to blur the picture and increase the sleaziness. Clark’s style of photography is the equivalent of Hunter S. Thompson’s gonzo journalism; it’s completely subjective, highly personal, alienating, without any social or political agenda and with a taste for the marginal. It’s a style later adopted by the likes of Nan Goldin and Antoine D’Agata. Film greats no less than Gus Van Sant and Martin Scorsese have confessed to having been influenced by Clark.

Larry Clark, New York City 1968 Speedy Barb, 1968; © Larry Clark / Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine New York


After Tulsa it took Clark twelve years to produce Teenage Lust—a heroin addiction and some jail time being the main reasons for the delay. In this follow-up publication the main focus shifted from drugs to sex. Clark still aimed his camera exclusively at young adults. He portrayed Speedy and Barb standing naked in a bath tub, girls and boys body painting themselves with mud, male hustlers turning tricks on Times Square and lots of skinny pale bodies in shabby rooms filled with beer bottles and syringes performing clumsy sex acts.

When looking at these photographs with today’s eyes, dulled by the flash flood of internet pornography, it all seems rather innocent. There are a couple of erections on show and lots of pubic hair, but also pictures of friends having fun and a chastely dressed girl aptly titled Girl Next Door. If anything, these photographs can be qualified as intimate, loving even. This impression is amplified by Clark’s insertion of some childhood pictures of himself, a seemingly care-free kid and a rather dorky looking sixteen year old. Teenage Lust is autobiographic in a sense—Clark identifies with his subjects.

But most of all he identifies with what they stand for: the living in the now without thinking about the consequences. He tries to capture the immortality of youth, which is being celebrated to the full and does not care about how self-destructive, amoral, or otherwise damaging the party gets. In essence, Clark’s work is deeply nostalgic, romantic even. But I guess you have to get to a certain age to fully appreciate that.


Edo Dijksterhuis 


(Image on top: Larry Clark, Untitled , 1970; © Larry Clark / Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine New York)

Posted by Edo Dijksterhuis on 6/19 | tags: photography

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Michiel Voet
Nieuw Dakota
Ms. van Riemsdijkweg 41 b, 1033 RC Amsterdam, Netherlands
June 15, 2014 - July 20, 2014

How to Depict the Invisible Man?
by Andrea Alessi

One of the most remarkable images in the Jeff Wall exhibition currently at the Stedelijk Museum is the constructed photograph After "Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison, The Prologue (1999-2000). Ellison’s nameless protagonist sits in his underground hideaway, surrounded by 1,369 light bulbs illuminated by currents rerouted from Monopolated Light & Power. To counter his invisibility he surrounds himself in light. And if the world doesn’t want to see him, he’ll exploit that, thumbing his nose at the authorities, stealing their “power” without them being any the wiser. The novel prefigures his return from this underground hole, but he is, for now, getting by unseen.

Not far away, in Amsterdam Noord, there are photographs of another Invisible Man, one whose geography and milieu differ, but whose visibility is also thrown into question, not—as Ellison writes—by any biochemical accident to the epidermis, but simply because others refuse to see him.

Mohammed—or Karim Ramtani, depending on circumstance—fled his native Algeria during the civil war and lived illegally in North Amsterdam on and off for the past twenty years. Throughout this time, he and artist Michiel Voet regularly crossed paths, including periods when Mohammed lived in Voet’s North Amsterdam studio and even collaborated on photographs with him.

Michiel Voet, The Invisible Man, Installation view at Nieuw Dakota, Amsterdam, June 2014; Photo: Andrea Alessi


The Invisible Man at Nieuw Dakota culminates a four-year collaboration probing the immigrant condition, including an intensive month of studio photography earlier this year. These are not documentary images; following his long relationship with Mohammed, who was at turns friendly and evasive, Voet knew he could neither understand nor fully capture his subject’s complexity. Instead, with Mohammed as model, Voet staged surreal photographs evoking the sense of rootlessness, disenfranchisement, uncertainty, and invisibility experienced by illegal immigrants in Europe today.

Ellison’s protagonist was invisible both because of his skin color—that particularly stubborn brand of invisibility—and his defenselessness at the hands of those fighting to maintain power. In the sixty years since the book was written many more have become invisible pawns in political structures equally invested in maintaining the status quo. The most recent EU elections saw a reactionary swing to right, characterized by nationalistic sentiments and widespread suspicion, while across the Atlantic immigration policy has already played a large role leading up to the midterm elections. Invisibility is not inherently linked to race or any other signifier of difference; it’s a manipulative strategy. It’s easy to close off minds and borders when you won’t see the humanity in what you’re afraid of—be it poverty, nationality, race, or religion.

Voet’s images, shot head-on with the staged precision and sensibilities of fashion photography, show a man hidden in plain sight. We never see Mohammed’s face. His limbs emerge from cabinets and upholstery; his face is obscured by masks, clothing, and blankets; his body is mummified in plastic wrap or swallowed by a couch; he disappears behind a curtain, inside a mattress cover. In one series of photographs, he hovers unnaturally in the air, hugging a suitcase as if he and all his possessions could simply float away unseen on a passing breeze.

As much as they consider invisibility, these images, constructed by a white, Dutch man, also document Voet confronting his—our—blindness. It would be paternalistic to say the photographs grant illegal immigrants visibility—it cannot be granted—and to some extent they gloss over the struggle for agency so important to Ellison’s work. Once his narrator identifies his invisibility, he tries to exploit it. “It is sometimes advantageous to be unseen,” he writes, “although it is most often rather wearing on the nerves.” Voet’s photographs rarely allude to this subversive side of invisibility. If it’s there, it’s overwhelmed by a sense of emptiness and dispossession.

Yet this is not entirely true of Mohammed’s experience. In a book published in conjunction with the exhibition, Voet offers a more nuanced picture of Mohammed’s story. Invisibility has advantages and complications: for example, the ability to assume someone else’s identity. Mohammed adopted the identity (and residency card) of Karim Ramtani (and was deported briefly to Morocco and later arrested for another Ramtani’s crimes). Ghanaian immigrants confided to Voet how they pretend to be Surinamese, ostentatiously disguised to avoid police attention. In one of many similarities, Ellison’s invisible man spends a night exploiting his likeness to a man called Rinehart, navigating the complexities of assuming another man’s deeds along with his face.

Michiel Voet, The Invisible Man, 2010-2014, Photograph; Courtesy of the artist and Nieuw Dakota, Amsterdam


Exercising heavy-handed metaphors, Voet’s photographs show these forced-chameleons at once hiding in and undergirding society. Immigrants are woven into the social fabric; they are hunted prey; they are building blocks and glue. The installation’s labyrinth of large prints suggests the bureaucracy endured by immigrants filtered in and out of an opaque system. Throughout, Voet’s compassion and sincerity balance the scales, keeping the project from leaning toward caricature.

In addition to the exhibition, a theatre project with Orkater commences this week as part of the Over Het IJ Festival, plus two large billboards featuring Voet’s photographs overlook the IJ river. I caught a glimpse of one as the ferry pulled away from Nieuw Dakota, taking me back to central Amsterdam. Despite its size—6 x 3 meters—it quickly faded away, consumed by the industrial surroundings until I couldn’t see it.


Andrea Alessi  


(Image on top: Michiel Voet, The Invisible Man, 2010-2014, Photograph; Courtesy of the artist and Nieuw Dakota, Amsterdam)

Posted by Andrea Alessi on 7/2 | tags: photography immigration the invisible man

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