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Portraying the ‘vastness and complexity of people’: Larry Fink speaks on power on photography

Originally published on March 6, 2020

Photographer Larry Fink presented his audience at the start of his talk with one simple question: “What are human beings, truly?”

This simple questions initiated Fink’s discussion this past Wednesday with the campus community about some of his most famous photographs.

Fink has been working as a photographer for 65 years. In 2017, he won the Lucie Award for documentary photography. His one-man shows have been on display in the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and several other notable museums around the country.

In his talk, Fink said that his photos have a common message of empathy which he defined as as “being on the same level as another person” and seeing “inside the shoes of” someone else.

The portfolio he presented depicted people of all different races, ages, social backgrounds and economic statuses. While his photos are sometimes politically motivated, he said he is more concerned with simply “capturing people in social situations” and telling a story with each moment.

“My job is not to pass judgement but to present and feel,” Fink said.

Many of his photos focus on one person’s face and draw the viewer’s attention to the subtleties of facial expressions, eyes, skin blemishes, facial hair, wrinkles and other distinctive features. Fink explained how he abstains from using on camera flash, which flattens the image, and instead prefers off camera flash, which creates depth and heightened perspective, drawing focus to certain areas of each photo.

In one of Fink’s photos, a server in white clothing is captured amongst party guests in extravagant black clothing.

Fink highlighted the importance of not overlooking people with blue collar jobs, noting that “without the server, the party would not be possible.”

Other photos he showed demonstrate relationships between people. One depicted a man being held in the arms of a woman who was holding a crane in the center of the frame. Fink described that the husband has Alzheimer’s disease, and the moment he captured conveys her sadness and her love for him.

While many of the photos told tragic stories, others were encouraging or humorous. One such photo depicts a white man in a white suit is shown against a white background.

“This guy probably eats too much white bread,” Fink remarked about the photo.

While Fink mentioned that he “grew up left-wing,” his photos captured notable figures that span across political parties such as Jeb Bush, George Bush, Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama.

In addition, some of the photographs feature Fink himself. In one shot, Fink took a picture of a man holding a mirror, and his smiling face is reflected back at the camera.

In many ways, Fink’s photos are a homage to the vastness and complexity of people. His photos depict moments from up to 65 years ago, and while he noted how much has changed in that time, the beauty of individuals and the interactions between them remains a treasure of life that continues to make it special.

“No one person is more important than any other,” Fink said towards the end of his talk.


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