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Larry Clark Tulsa photo, needle
Larry Clark, Jack & Lynn Johnson, Oklahoma City,

Larry Clark, Jack & Lynn Johnson, Oklahoma City, 1973


There is a lineage of photographers who shoot to shock, planting themselves in fringe-dwelling scenes with the eye of a lustful voyeur. Larry Clark was never one of them. His photographs of wayward teens bingeing on sex and drugs, and leaving 1960s America aghast, are moments that he lived. It’s in this brutal suburbia, in the faces of strung-out kids, that skateboarder Ed Templeton first realised that his own life could be a muse.

Hordes of photographers from my generation cite Larry Clark as an influence, and almost inescapably I am no different. The raw authenticity of his legendary books Tulsa (1971) and Teenage Lust (1983), once consumed by a young photographer, stays in the stomach undigested and serves as a clarion call to immerse yourself in a lawless druggie culture – even if, as in my case, you don’t do drugs and have no access to a drug scene.

Two images in particular encapsulate the ideas portrayed in LC’s work. In one, a man laying in bed with a shitty homemade heart tattoo is straddled by a topless woman who extends her fist towards his chest to stoke the veins in her arm.

The man is plunging a syringe filled with heroin into her skin as a beaded necklace rests in her cleavage. The scuffed wall in the background has words scrawled on it and an outlet has a cord plugged into it pointing right back at the man’s head. The content, composition and message it sends is perfectly executed. The photo explains itself without my help.

In the other, a man lays on a bed with his pants pulled down to his knees and a visible gunshot wound in his thigh. He’s grimacing with pain while a girl sitting on the edge of the bed puts a hand on her face, seemingly in despair. The caption in the book says, ‘Accidental gunshot wound.’ The presumed culprit, a tiny gun with a white handle, rests on a chair in the shot.

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