Truth: Larry Clark – Tulsa

I bought this book in response to a post I have written about Nan Goldin and her work ‘The Ballad of Sexual dependency.’ While researching I found that Goldin’s biggest influence was the work ‘Tulsa’ by Larry clark, she stated in an interview, “Larry Clark’s book that was published in the 70’s called ‘Tulsa’ and, that had a huge influence on me because he was shooting and publishing work from his own life, And there weren’t people doing that at that time.”

Below book blurb taken from Amazon’s introduction to the book:

When it first appeared in 1971, Larry Clark’s groundbreaking book Tulsa sparked immediate controversy across the nation. Its graphic depictions of sex, violence, and drug abuse in the youth culture of Oklahoma were acclaimed by critics for stripping bare the myth that Middle America had been immune to the social convulsions that rocked America in the 1960s. The raw, haunting images taken in 1963, 1968, and 1971 document a youth culture progressively overwhelmed by self-destruction — and are as moving and disturbing today as when they first appeared. Originally published in a limited paperback version and republished in 1983 as a limited hardcover edition commissioned by the author, rare-book dealers sell copies of this book for more than a thousand dollars. Now in both hardcover and paperback editions from Grove Press, this seminal work of photographic art and social history is once again available to the general public.

‘Tulsa,’ Clark’s photography book, was published in 1971. Between 1963 to 1971, Clark photographed his own and his friends drug use creating harsh documentary images that showed their activities such as domestic violence, drug misuse, holding guns and even death of a baby.

These images were so controversial that Tulsa, where the images were taken, refused to hold an exhibition of them because they didn’t want to be associated with such negativity and drug use.

The book itself is intriguing and graphic, should I like these photographs? Should they make me go “Wow!” Does that mean there is something psychologically wrong with me if I think these high contrast, film like images are actually artworks created with true feeling and meaning?

The harsh darkness of the images have a film like quality, in fact on opening up the fist couple of pages I was reminded of James Dean, those iconic photographs of him and the amazing film, ‘Rebel Without A Cause.’

The Book – Tulsa

The cover was printed on some very soft black smooth like paper however this became easily marked with finger prints and scuffs. After bending back the spine a couple of times a page fell out, spine quite cheaply put together unlike some previous editions which were sewn together.

It has 64 pages in total with around 56 images depending how you would classify some of the pages with sequences.

Unfortunately there is a very strict copyright for this book so I cannot post images but I have found a YouTube video that shows the pages within the book which can be found below:

Tulsa by Larry Clark, uploaded by CAMERA

I have taken a few notes from the above video and added views and information of my own from reading about Larry Clark’s Tulsa and viewing my own copy of the book. My notes can be read below:

I would recommend this book the images as portraiture, as narrative, as sequences are an excellent source to learn from and they are just beautifully shot, the contrast and the grain is amazing.

The above YouTube video was inspirational because it shows you how, on the 40th anniversary of the book ‘Tulsa’ a group of artist showed the work in an abandoned ballroom in Tulsa. Tulsa would not hold an exhibition of the work because they felt the negativity would be bad for them, drugs and guns isn’t a good image for a town to have.

Those that put the exhibition on, blew the images to poster size and pasted them to the dilapidated walls. The outcome is truly amazing and suits the images well, you can see from the stills from the YouTube video below the expressive outcome.

I would love to have my street art exhibited this way in the town/ place the images were taken – brilliant concept!

The completed set up for the exhibition

I have found this book has moved me quite a lot. It is truth, life, living, death and victims of drugs. The images haunt you, entice you to want to know more and give a story of lost hope. As the youngsters life story unfolds, the images go from happy go lucky, strong friendship groups with love and laughter to a desolate, argument, drug filled isolation. The impact on the group and individuals is shocking to see especially with the death of one couples baby.

But it shocks me in another way. It shocks me because the images are beautifully shot. They are reminiscent of old black and white teen films with handsome men and beautiful women. The contrast in the shots add to the feeling of Hollywood film stills helped along by the grain present in some of the shots.

It is an honest life story not a coffee table chat book but a life lesson, raw, beautiful and moving.

My hand written nots above contain more information.

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