Last week we popped over to Amsterdam to attend the city’s electronic music festival, Dekmantel. However, we made sure to arrive a day early to devote some time to exploring the iconic canals and appreciate some of the city’s non-musical culture.
Our visit to the renowned photography gallery, FOAM, was an unequivocal highlight, owed to its exhibition of Larry Clark’s raw depiction of desolate youth in Tulsa and Teenage Lust. His photos are black and white but the subject matters he documents are not. Tulsa, shot over ten years during the ‘60s and ‘70s, capture him and his friends’ intravenous amphetamine-taking, portraying a hellish aspect of chaotic youth. Yet almost all save for two photographs induces a sense of blissfulness. Thus, his photos intimately capture the contradiction and tumultuousness of drug-addiction.
Tulsa takes its name from Clark’s hometown and this collection of photographs is very much a personal project, with the collection portraying an almost documentary-style insight into his own life and that of his friends. The fact that he was living the reality of drug-addiction no doubt results in the undeniable realism his photographs ensue, revealing a bleakness of drug use that stands in comparison to the optimistic sunshine-hippie image of the ‘60s.
Despite this, his photographs do not evoke pity or despair, but rather a calm acknowledgment of the way in which Clark and his subjects lived. When appearing so comfortable in their habits and naturally captured by Clark’s camera, one can’t help but simply accept such ways of life. In this way, Tulsa serves to tell us the honest story of middle American youth, a story which we follow in an almost mimic-like intoxicated state.
Sitting comfortably alongside Tulsa’s images of drug taking and occasional violence are the photographs of Clark’s slightly more recent project, Teenage Lust (1983). Sex is to Teenage Lust what drugs are to Tulsa. Sex is the throbbing subject matter that pulsates through Teenage Lust and unites the images of the project, be they of prostitutes, masturbation or teenage lust captured in the backseat of a car.
The provocative images of Teenage Lust are highly erotic in a confusing way. One’s whimsical blushing at a seemingly innocent love-scene is threatened by the surrounding images of the same young female fellating a different boy and strewn naked amongst an array of teenagers. Are these images sexy or depressing? Is their obsessive sex envious or the product of nothingness? Are the striking male prostitutes captured on the streets of New York victims or vixens? It’s impossible to tell the reality of these photographs or how we should feel about them, given they are of a life we have not lived. Instead Tulsa and Teenage Lust are photographs to arouse, be lost in and stimulate whatever feelings are evoked by Clark’s genuine portrayal of the life that he lived himself.