Larry Clark: Luhring Augustine
Velasco, David, Artforum International
In Larry Clark's moral universe, subtlety is generally confined to the outer reaches of a minor nebula. In the final pages of his photo book Tulsa (1971), for instance, an image of a young pregnant woman shooting amphetamine is notoriously succeeded by one of a dolled-up infant in a tiny casket; rarely does one see action and (dreadful) consequence presented in such audacious proximity. Given this lineage, it was a bit unnerving that Clark's latest exhibition of photographs, titled simply "Los Angeles 2003-2006," opened with a snapshot of a baby in a pink tub, naked, wet, and very much alive. The question bound to arise for anyone familiar with Clark's gritty, unflinching narratives was: "What's going to happen to it?"
The answer? Not much. The photograph--from 1990, and the only one in the show not taken by Clark himself--depicts a one-year-old Jonathan Velasquez, the insouciant, sweetly handsome subject of all but one of the show's twenty-nine images. Velasquez, a charismatic Guatemalan skater from South Central Los Angeles, is the latest addition to Clark's growing cast of young "discoveries." For reasons difficult to parse, Velasquez is treated with uncharacteristic reverence.
Consider Clark's account, in the introduction to the exhibition's catalogue, of his first meeting with Velasquez: "It was like he dropped out of heaven. I started photographing the kids skateboarding and Tiffany [Limos] with Jonathan. A few hours later the French ladies [employees of Rebel magazine, for which Clark was on assignment] had Tiffany and Jonathan in French underwear. He was a natural. I'm thinking, is this legal?" The most shocking facet of the narrative is not that Clark shot a fourteen-year-old posing in French underwear, but that the creator of such harrowing books as Teenage Lust (1983) or films like Ken Park (2002) could show even passing concern for the legality of what amounts to tame, softcore titillation. Somehow, Velasquez landed in Clark's frame as a cipher for the innocent other--a nonchalant Tadzio happy to play and pose for the obsessive, peripatetic shutterbug. …