I was a little surprised to learn that Paris City Hall has censored a Larry Clark’s retrospective work exhibition currently held in Paris. My very first surprise was that that show was organized in France where Clark is not very known (in France most large audience photographic shows are dedicated to the usual suspects of “humanist” photographers such as Ronis or Doisneau) and is a good thing. I like Clark’s work myself and would like to attend the show.
The censorship is a surprise too because it is something very unusual in France.
More often than not such debates in France are inevitably displaced on the political left-right battlefield, which has the very effect of concealing the very heart of the matter. But the irony here is that censorship came from the left-wing (Paris City Hall is left-wing) which is good in a sense because I would bet that the screams from opponents would be easily heard from here, on the other side of Atlantic, if it were otherwise…
I myself have a rather vague opinion on the censorship, though I am “naturally” more inclined to a liberal approach and think it is generally a good thing to go to the museum. Also it is clear that the censorship will do more to promote Clark’s work in France than the show itself. So let’s say that I find the censorship stupid… but I can see some valid points raised by the censors in this specific case, or better said some wrong points raised by Larry Clark and his defenders.
Call a spade a spade…
As much as I dig Larry Clark’s work I don’t get the argument from his defenders that it has nothing to do with pornography. There could be endless debate about what pornography is and is not. But wait… here we are talking about this sort of image:
Call a spade a spade… just like film “In the Realm of the Sense” from Japanese director Nagisha Oshima, Clark’s work (photographs as well as films) is sexually explicit enough to be considered pornographic, at least from a sheer visual perspective. Sure it is “smart-pornography” that involves an artistic vision (IMHO) – for lack of better word. But you have yourself to be able to figure that out, based on your sensibility, your experience etc… because otherwise what is left from the “This is no pornography” argument ?
Another point I strongly disagree is that the work is supposed to document teens reality. Well… it may document some teens reality, but surely not the majority of them (even if we are talking only about American teens in the 70’s). And by saying that I don’t mean that the majority of kids have no relationship with sexuality but that there are other valid angles than the specific one “documented” in Clark’s work. These may be documents, but in the very restricted sense of document an image can be (as it was often pointed out by e.g. Walker Evans). Instead I find it fair to insist that what we see at work here is basically the vision from the author, and the very interesting thing about it (at least IMHO) is that this vision is ambiguous enough to feed the viewer with questions rather than answers.
My (brief) take on Clarks’s work is that it reverses the common consideration one have on teen sexuality, often seen as a passage phenomenon to the adult world. Instead I see Clark’s vision of teen’s sexuality as an innocent and healthy substitution to drugs (to the point that I wonder if it is not an allegory of drug to some extent, not unlike psychedelic LPs cover-art of the 60’s), something like a shelter that protects from the outside world. There is probably a fair amount of idealization of teen’s sexuality with Clark, together with a repulsive view of adults’ sexuality which is seen as perverse. I think it is obvious in his film “Ken Park” where every adults (parents) described are seized with incestuous tendencies.
This censorship affair will probably have the effect to boost the interest on Larry Clark’s work, at least in France. Those who won’t be able to attend the show for various reasons – including that of censorship – will be free to Google him.