Earlier this week I was lucky enough to see and hear photographer Larry Fink show and discuss his work in a lecture sponsored by the Photographic Resource Center. The event was beset by awful weather and several technical difficulties but Fink’s genius and geniality shone through it all.
The man is a legend and deservedly so. I remember meeting him in a similar setting in Woodstock many years ago. He advised students about how to get close to subjects who seemed intimidating, for example, to photograph a member of the Hells Angels, one might open with “hey that’s a nice bike…”
Fink showed a body of work called The Democrats, shot on the campaign trail with Obama and Clinton. Not quite a part of the regular press corps – he was working for Vanity Fair – Fink was seldom able to get as close to the subject as he likes, so he developed new ways of working and created some impressive pictures of the relatively ordinary people on the margins of the candidates’ lives. He held forth on the various types of security guards and their characteristic postures and hand positions. He found a sign attached to an Obama podium with the words “white balance” on it. (It’s a photographic thing) He found new ways to make Hillary Clinton look scary.
He shoots only film, only black and white, and he uses a short lens and an off-camera flash. Like many great photographers of the decisive moment, Fink has incredible timing, both photographic and comic. Contrasting himself with digital colleagues shooting hundreds of frames, he said, “I shoot like a frog” then very slowly scanned the crowd and then just as we were getting nervous and wondering what he was up to, he flicked out his tongue, capturing an imaginary fly. They don’t make guys like this anymore.