Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1943, Larry Clark was sixteen when he first injected amphetamines. The eponymous photo book of Clark’s childhood in OK, Tulsa, published in 1971, remains his most notorious, visceral and shocking work as a photographer, candidly documenting the sex, drugs and sadness around him.
Tulsa would go on to be cited as an influence on some of the most seminal films of the Seventies and Eighties, including Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, Coppola’s Rumblefish, and Gus Van Sant’s Drugstore Cowboy. Photographically, however, the ever-present allegations of exploitation, manipulation, voyeurism and even masochism have long plagued photographic bodies of work concerning timeless themes of alienation and sadness in teenage America. However, it was Clark, from an early age, – before the likes of Nan Goldin and Corinne Day popularised the nonchalant, strung-out ‘heroin chic’ apathy of American teens in their fashion portraits – who was there; an aesthetic and narrative bellwether for what was to come.
In 1995, the photographer/director released Kids, a brutal, raw and unfettered portrait of adolescent sex, drugs and loneliness in New York City. Twenty-two years later, the film retains the ability to provoke and engage, and its legacy spans the inspiration and fuel for skate brands such as Supreme, as well as the careers of Chloë Sevigny, Rosario Dawson and even Kids writer, now director and countercultural auteur, Harmony Korine.
Here, Clark speaks with friend, So It Goes alum and star of Marfa Girl, Drake Burnette, about family, being a “fashionista” and why their film wasn’t called Marfa Boy.
Larry Clark: Adam [Mediano] is here for another week because he’s doing the final edit for his movie. He made a movie in Japan as you know, with Mercedes [Maxwell]. So we’ll see that and then we’ll see Marfa Girl II.Then we’ll make Marfa Girl III because...
Drake Burnette: It’s a trilogy...? [laughs]
LC: It has to be a trilogy because the first one we left all the loose ends hanging, everything was hanging.You didn’t know what was going to happen to Marfa Girl, Adam or anyone and then Marfa Girl II we made that to see what happens, and now there’s more hanging loose threads than ever. Especially with your character, Marfa Girl – what happens to her now?
DB: She needs to be locked up.
LC: We don’t know, and no one knows because no one’s seen it yet, but I’m thinking about it now and I’m starting to write a littlebitandI’lltalktoyouaboutit.We’ll figure out what to do next.What happens do Adam, what happens to everyone.
DB: Have you been in touch with Adam? LC: No, not at all.
LC: Mercedes I talked to once I think but, uh, I haven’t. I’m kind of like that anyway. I’ll see them again.
DB: I’m the same, I’m terrible at keeping in touch but if I’m in front of someone it’s like, “Hey”. Everything is there.
DB: It’s hard to keep in touch.
LC: So, with Marfa Girl II we are going to release it as a double feature.Which is perfect because the second film is only seventy-four minutes, a perfect length for a feature, and together with the first one we’re still talking about under three hours, so it’s kind of a good length for two films. People can see both of them and we’re definitely doing a boxset with both DVDs in them, which will really be nice.You can buy both of them at the same time and we’ll have double features and bring that back.
DB: Do you have a favourite film trilogy from the past?
LC: Jesus Christ. Umm...
DB: What made you decide Marfa Girl would be a trilogy?
LC: It just kind of turned out that way. It just happened.After the first one – as you and I were talking about – what happens to all of the people? And then we came up with Marfa Girl II which was a made up film. I mean the first one was made up in that I made it up. But for the second, I didn’t even have my notebooks, so it was pretty much made up as we went along, on the spot, day to day, which was really fun to do.
I remember for certain scenes in Marfa Girl I would come to you and say,“Here’s your scene for the day”.The one where you talk about Miguel and give a long soliloquy, I gave you those lines in the morning, we shotintheafternoonanditwasalotto memorise and you were terrific, but it was really flying by the seat of my pants. I really enjoyed that and I’m best that way. I’ve always done my best work in the heat of the battle, you know, making film this way.
The last few films, Marfa Girl and then The Smell of Us, the French film, halfway through I had to rewrite the film completely. So, in the middle of shooting I had stop to but I filmed that right after Marfa Girl think and then Marfa Girl II, I forget the sequence.
DB:You shot Marfa Girl, then The Smell of Us, then Marfa Girl II.
LC:WellMarfaGirlsetmeupforTheSmell ofUsandTheSmellofUssetmeupfor Marfa Girl II.
DB: I have a question.Why did you choose the name Marfa Girl, why didn’t you choose Marfa Boy? Don’t you think the movie is more about Adam than it is about anyone else?
LC: Marfa Boy sounds terrible.
DB: (repeats) Marfa Boy.
LC: (repeats) Marfa Boy. No it’s gotta be Marfa Girl. It just made sense. Have you done more acting, have you been in other films?
DB: I’ve done some shorts. I did a short with Josh Mond [producer of Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene] who is a young filmmaker here in New York City. He’s had some incredible success over the past couple of years.
LC: Really, what’s his name again?
DB: Josh Mond, of Borderline Films.Yeah, he’s a rascal.Then I did a short with Greta Gerwig. Like a fashion short. She was amazing to work with. But, actually, next week will be my first day of orientation because I got into graduate school at NYU for filmmaking
LC: Oh really? Oh fantastic. That’s a good school.
DB: So I’m gonna go get my MFA in filmmaking and learn how to do all of it.
LC: Fantastic. DB:Yeah, I’m really excited.
LC: Julianna my daughter went to NYU for two years, to graduate school there.
DB: Oh really?
LC: It’s not an easy school to get into so congratulations. It’s really wonderful that you did that because I think it’s a good school.
DB: It gets your seal of approval? [laughs]
DB: I was thinking about going out to LA and going to AFI [American Film Institute] but I didn’t apply there, I only applied to NYU and I got in.
LC: It’s better to go in New York.
DB: I think it’s better to be in New York. How long have you lived in this apartment?
LC: Since 1980.
LC: Thirty-seven years.
LC: Matthew just turned thirty-four. He was born when we were here and lived the first couple of years of his life, and then when Amy got pregnant with Julianna we moved to the country because it was just too difficult to raise young kids here, you know. But they always came to NewYork and then when Amy and I separated they would come every weekend when they lived in Princeton, so they were country kids. Princeton is like the country, so they grew up so much more sophisticated than their friends because they spent the weekends in New York which is not in the country as you know.There’s nothing like it. Absolutely nothing like it. But I’ve been here for all this time. I’m an original.
DB: Did you have your own kids when you shot Kids?
DB: I actually just listened to an interview you gave with Marc Maron. It was a great interview.Your story is... I mean... the full life and times of Larry Clark.
LC: I didn’t ever let him talk.
DB: I felt like I was sitting by the camp fire and you were telling me the story of your interview. It was a great interview.
LC: That was fun. Matt my son was with me and knew the show and I didn’t know it, so Matt told me all about it and was a fan. I listen to a lot of episodes of now too. It’s really good.Yeah that was probably the best interview ever.
DB:You had always wanted to be a filmmaker.
LC: I was just too fucked up.When I finally decided to make a film, most of my work had been autobiographical. So I wanted to make a film that wasn’t about me. Matt was twelve when it came out and Julianna was about eight and a half. So they were a little younger when I made it. But I wanted to make it about something I knew nothing about, which was that generation, the generation of kids then. It wasn’t about me. I picked skateboarders because they were the most exciting. It turned out that they were really the most interesting too. They’re like punk rock kids. Punk rock is all about, if you listen to the lyrics, dysfunctional families.
Skateboarding was the same way. It saved a lot of lives, punk rock and skateboarding saved a lot of lives. These people would have committed suicide or been in the penitentiary.
DB:Your son is in a punk rock band right?
DB: Actually before I ever met you... I have mutual friends with him in Portland and I had had a weird brunch with him, randomly.
LC: You screwed my son didn’t you?
DB: NO! There are these punk girls that I grew up with in Austin who moved to Portland like ten years ago and so they all know each other, all the punks.
LC: Yes, they all know each other, around the world.
DB: So do you think that he got into punk rock because you were into punk rock?
LC: No. He discovered it on his own and once he discovered it and became a fan I played some early punk for him that he hadn’t found yet. But no, he did it all himself and he’s had a band for years now. He’s a singer with the band and writes tunes. They’re gonna tour in Europe for a couple of months this year.They may come to the east coast some time, I’m not sure.
DB: And your daughter Julianna...
LC: Julianna, she has... I’m a grandfather andshe’spregnantagainwithalittlechild.So I’m very happy and thrilled. My kids turned out good.
DB: Congratulations! Was she into punk rock?
LC: Not so much. She just likes all kinds of music but not so much punk rock, not at all. My kids turned out great. Amy’s a great mother, my ex is a great mother. You had never acted before when you made Marfa Girl?
DB: Not really.The asterisk on that statement is that I grew up in Austin going to the Austin Waldorf School. It’s like a Steiner school. When I was a little kid I would participate
one way or another in the yearly plays. I had horrible stage fright, I still do. Whenever I walked in fashion shows I would get so nervous even though it’s the simplest thing, just walking.You’re not even saying anything or doing anything. It was almost painful for me to be on stage.When I worked with you for the first time, shooting Marfa Girl, that was definitely the first acting I had ever done. Being on set and being in front of a camera is totally different than being on stage. It’s like you’re performing, yes, but it’s not... I don’t know, for some reason it feels really liberating to me instead of terrifying.
LC: Because it’s not easy. I mean even if you’re comfortable acting and you don’t have those kinds of problems of being self- conscious, it’s not easy at all. It’s difficult. But the secret, one of the many secrets – there are so many secrets – when I’m casting, is to find people who aren’t self-conscious and can talk about themselves.
DB: I think you’re very good at talking about yourself, by the way. Over the past couple of weeks as we’ve gone back and forth talking about whether or not we would do this interview, I thought I should probably read some of the interviews he’s given or listen to some, so I don’t ask the same fucking questions that he’s answered a million times.
LC: But you listened to one where I talked about everything.
DB: But I had also listened to another one with Brett Easton Ellis, that was a good one too.
LC: Did you listen to the one with ‘Jonesy’ from the Sex Pistols, Steve Jones?
DB: No I didn’t listen to that one.
LC:That’s a good one.
DB: But one thing that I noticed, and I guess I had already experienced this with you and our relationship: I just feel like you’re a very candid person.You just say what’s on your mind, you say what you’re thinking, you say what you want.You don’t beat around the bush at all. I’ve always admired you for a variety of reasons but I was very impressed by how candid you were in your interviews. I think it’s really brave to be, as you just said, yourself.
LC: I guess it’s just that I’ve done so much press. My first book Tulsa came out in 1971, so I was doing press early on, and then the films.The first film, so much press on the first film and all my films.
DB: And you still have to talk about it? [laughs]
LC: I still have to talk about it, yeah.
DB: One thing I noticed is that you talk so openly about everything.
LC: I think that’s my work too.
DB: Absolutely, your work is super open. I think sometimes you get criticism for that. People say dumb things about you that I don’t think to actually be true.Were you this confident as a child? I just feel like you have so much confidence to be able to make the work you make and say the things you want to say. I don’t ever see you apologising for people misinterpreting it one way or another.
LC: As a child not so much, no.
DB: Were you kind of shy?
LC: Yeah you know. I studied badly. Robert Frank, I read a quote once where, whether it was true or not, he said he became a photographer so he wouldn’t have to talk to people. I wonder if that could have been in my motivation too. But my mother had a baby photography business, so I was exposed to the business when I was a kid. So I had a camera in my hand photographing babies when I was a young teenager. I hated it but it gave me a tool. It put a camera in my hand so at least I had a tool. I wanted to be a writer or a painter or anything but photography was what I had. But it worked out, it just kind of worked out.As you know with your life, things just kind of happen and work out.
DB: I think it’s a mixture of being open and really making an effort towards the opportunities that present themselves. Engaging in any way that you can, I think.
DB:Were you close with your mum?
LC: I wasn’t that close because she worked all the time. My family was kind of strange that way. I didn’t know my mother and father’s friends so much.We never had anyone over for dinner.We never ate a meal together.
DB: Did you have brothers or sisters?
LC: Two sisters: one younger, one older. Just by a couple of years. My oldest sister is three years older. My younger sister is two years younger. I was the middle kid.
DB: Do you think that your body of work as a whole is the thing that you’ve been closest to in your life? It’s almost like your partner.
LC: I guess you could say that. For me it’s always like a comeback, to do new work. I make the work and then I’ve said what I had to say, then it’s what I do next. It always kind of feels like I’m coming back from a loss or something. I lost a crown and I gotta come back. It’s pretty strange that way. I’m kind of going through that now. Asking myself what to do next, and I have plenty of stuff to do. I’ll always work.
DB: I have a question. I guess it’s a question in two parts. Superficially, one part of the question is, do you consider your work to be political? Because in my experience of it and me thinking about Marfa Girl, being
part of the process of making Marfa Girl and really digesting it and thinking about, I find it to be... I don’t know if political is the right word. It’s just incredible because to me Marfa Girl is about racism, policing, immigration, white privilege. To me those are the main themes of that film.Whether or not you had this master plan, I don’t know if you were like “these are the things” but obviously those were your points of interest and you were like “hey this is a good story, look at this kid, look at this town, look at this weird place and the art world and the border” and that was in 2012 and it still amazes me to think that those were the main points the film hit on and today, five years later, those are the major issues of our time. I think similar things happened with Kids.You always have this sage ability, whether or not you even have that intention, of being a few steps ahead. I think it’s incredible.You know, five years ago you were still sort of homing in on these things that people weren’t even really paying attention to. Five years ago, people were like “Oh Marfa, wow” because Marfa is an amazing place, but it’s also a very complicated place. Do you think about these things in your work?
LC: I did when I was making Marfa Girl, especially those points. When I went down south and I saw what was happening in the town. I was coming in as a complete outsider, but I saw all of this stuff happening because it’s 1,800 people in this little town and then there’s this tremendous amount of influx, art world characters coming in.All that was part of the film and somehow, as you just said, I always seem to be a couple of years early. Especially with Kids and Marfa Girl. In a lot of my work people have said this is not happening, this is just some fantasy, and then it turns out to be totally correct, totally the truth and totally what’s happening. I think that comes from always wanting to get the
truth, whatever that is and who knows what the truth is.What is the truth? But that’s always in my head when I’m working. I find out. It’s very natural. It’s not forced at all. Is there a second part or did you do the second part? [laughs]
DB: I don’t know, maybe that was it. I’m excited because as I was thinking about all of this and thinking about how you nailed it, the issues if that’s what you want to call them. I’m wondering what Marfa Girl II is going to be about. I guess you have to wait to see it.
LC: You’ve never seen anything like it. It’s like all my work I think, or most of my work. I’ve never seen anything like it.The French film The Smell of Us, the French could not handle it. So I did a cut for them, where I just took out one character which was me being me, being Larry Clark. (I inserted myself into the film.) I just cut out me, that character, and gave them the film, which did well in Europe and maybe in South America a little bit. From doing that, giving them that cut that they could sell, I have the full cut, the director’s cut, the real film. I own it for America, Japan, Great Britain, Canada. So I’m going to release it myself in a couple of months, which is really great.
DB: And you’re going to release your cut?
LC: I think I’m going to premiere it in Japan because I have some business there and I’m big in Japan.There first and then here. Maybe the same time, I’m not sure.
DB: What about Jonathan [Velasquez], is he still in Paris?
LC: He’s in Paris, he’s doing well. He’s going to come to the States soon and help me as my assistant for a bit then go back to Paris. But he’s great. Really good girlfriend. A French girl, for a few years now and they’re really in love and it’s quite wonderful.
DB: Is he still taking photos?
LC: Taking photos like crazy, he’s so good. He photographs all the time, he’s a real photographer.
DB:Would you call him your prodigy?
LC: He’s just Jonathan Velasquez, a great photographer. I think that he paid attention
to me because I photographed him so much that he was always studying me and what I did. I didn’t really formally teach him at all. Except just to show him how to focus a Leica – simple, basic stuff. He’s run with the ball and he’s really good. He’s been doing a project photographing women. It kind of started out like Playboy shots of the Fifties.
LC:Yeah, pinup girls. He started doing that and now has a book he’s going to print himself in the next couple of months. He meets girls all the time and just asks them. He tells them what he’s doing and he asks them if he can photograph them. He does it, straight ahead you know. He’s going to have a terrific book.
DB:You’ve known him over ten years? LC: Fourteen years.
LC: I’d known him for fourteen years on July 4th of this year. He’s twenty-eight so I’ve known him for half his life.We met him on the 3rd or 4th of July fourteen years ago. It’s amazing how time flies, wow.
DB:That’s so crazy.
LC: He was in a film when he was fourteen, then when he was about twenty-five.
DB: About three years ago.
LC: It’s taken a long time to get this film out but it’s OK. It’s kind of nice that it’s taken so long.There’s a nice distance between the first and the second.
DB:You’ve also been really busy.You’ve been painting, you’ve been going to Paris, you’ve been going to Japan.You’re now a fashionista.
LC: I’m a fashionista. I just did Helmut Lang. It’s crazy.These people call me.They give you money to do this and I just say,“This is so crazy.Yes.” It’s funny.
DB: It is really funny.You didn’t ever really engage, although I think you had a profound effect on fashion and certainly fashion photography.You didn’t really engage with fashion at all until the last year.
LC: I’ve inspired so many photographers and filmmakers and artists and actors. I mean it’s crazy because people look at the work, they don’t know me but they see the work and it inspires them. It’s funny for me if I think about it. I’m sure well over a hundred people throughout my life have come to me and told me, 200 maybe more, that they started because of me. They saw my work and were inspired to become a photographer, filmmaker, artist whatever. So it’s quite a good thing.
DB: I believe that.
LC:To be some one who has had that much influence. But I had nothing to do with fashion, they just came in and started to copy my photographs and the same with fashion photographers. When that happened there was an article somewhere blaming me for it.
DB: Blaming you for what?
LC: Blaming me for all the skinny junkie models back then, you know, all that fucking kind of stuff. I had nothing to do with it at all except I made my work and then they copied my work and then I got blamed for it. What was it called?
DB: Heroin chic.
LC: Heroin chic. I got blamed for heroin chic. I had nothing to do with it at all.They were just copying me.
DB: Yeah, like don’t shoot the messenger. Pretty much any time I’ve been on set doing the fashion model thing for the past five years now, almost every time I’m on set, if the people know who I am – because a lot of times a lot of jobs are like you’re the model, let’s go and I’m like great, I actually like that because you just get the job done – but about half the time they’re like,“Oh you’re Drake Burnette la-dee-da” and then they pretend to be interested in me for about a minute to two minutes and then they go, “So tell me, what was it like to work with Larry Clark?”
DB: So I have a whole spiel that I do. Of course, I say that you’re wonderful, that we’re both Capricorns and we get on quite easily, that Marfa Girl was amazing, Marfa Girl II was very hard but that I can’t wait to see it because apparently I did a great job.
LC:You did a great, great, great job.You’ll be amazed at your acting.You’ll be totally amazed, it’s really good.
DB: But what’s up with the distribution.You guys are unhappy with the...
LC: Adam found a distributor, it’s just a matter of contracts now. He didn’t like the first contract and we’re going through the second contract now. He’s been quite busy but it’s going to happen very quickly now. It’ll be out in the Fall I’m sure.
DB: Do you like doing premieres or are you just going to let it release into theatres?
LC: I don’t mind doing a premiere. I’m proud of the film. I think it’ll be fun. But just back to fashion for a second. Meeting people in the fashion world. I’ve met some really good people. I actually like the people, and the photographers I’ve met I liked.
Fashion editors and the designers and the dressers and all the people. Really some really, really good people. So in the last few years I’ve made good friends with people, but even before that I met BruceWeber way back when. He used to come to my shows. Steven Klein way back when, he used to come to my shows. Recently the people from Dior have been wonderful but it’s funny when it’s something I haven’t really been paying attention to. It’s turned out at this late date that I have a lot of friends now.
DB: It’s always good to make new friends, right?
LC: Yeah. But the things from The Smell of Us director’s cut.Will you see it? Because I did some things in this film that no one’s ever done in a film. I mean no director has ever done this. I really put myself on the line, and it’s quite embarrassing. But I did it and I’m glad I did it.I think I’m glad I did it,I don’t know. I’m glad I did it and I’m not so happy I did it.
DB: I cannot believe that you would have a regret.
LC: I guess I kind of do but I did it so I’m going to put it out.
DB: See, again. I think that is another perfect example of how I actually think you’re a very brave person. Most directors, certainly most photographers I know, if you tried to take a photo of them, they would start squealing like a little girl. So to take it ten steps further and actually put yourself on camera, rolling, and do whatever. I don’t know. I haven’t seen the movie but to do whatever you’re saying you did that’s so embarrassing is very brave. Now you know what it feels like to be on the other side of the camera, which many directors never experience.
LC:Yeah, that’s true.
DB: You should be proud of yourself.
LC: I’ll say this.The first time, acting is an act of bravery – what I did for this film! But it’s a good film. Anything else? I think we got a lot of stuff here.You talked a lot and they should do it as both of us now. It should be a conversation.
Interviewed by Drake Burnette