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The Beats and The Vanities, Larry Fink at Armani/Silos


The sixties and the nineties, face to face, unveil their atmospheres thanks to the unconventional images of Larry Fink displayed at Armani / Silos, in Milan (first time for a one-man photography exhibition at the venue). The Beats and The Vanities is  quite an exciting opportunity to get a special insight into this photographer’s idiosyncratic vision and to appreciate his sense of “sensual empathy”.

“Viscerality is my perceptual mode. (…) It means I want to touch everything that I love”, Fink says, and you can feel his mood both in his earlier photos from his book The Beats (54 images) and in those from his volume The Vanities (71 images). You can take a view of two extremely different decades from last century through 125 original black and white photos. Although both sets of pictures have appeared in international exhibitions and photography festivals, they have never before been shown together. “I am really pleased to be able to bring Larry Fink’s work to Milan. I find his ability to capture lights and shadows, form and line in such a fluid way, something I can really relate to as a designer”, Giorgio Armani says.

The exhibition gives a chance to see Fink’s unique offbeat style of empathetic reportage, both in The Beat and in The Vanities pictures. At the end of the fifties, Fink,  aged 17, was living in Greenwich Village and was immediately drawn to New York’s counterculture. He met a group of musicians and artists connected with the Beat Movement. Part of the movement himself, attending protests against the Vietnam War and marching on student campuses, Larry was an observer keen on documenting the times through his medium-format camera. His pictures of that period are a wonderful time capsule. In following his friends’ unconventional lifestyle, he recorded their way of living and he managed to capture the sense of romance and rebellion that characterized the underground jazz-fuelled youth movement of the time.

His beat photography displays an empathy which would later make him, perhaps counter-intuitively, the perfect photographer to capture the nuanced circus of the Hollywood parties. A regular editorial contributor to The New Yorker and Vanity Fair, it was the latter publication that recognized that Larry would bring them something different if let loose among the guests of its glitzy social gatherings. Fink’s visual record of the famous is not concerned with who’s who, just what’s happening. “I really do embrace – or try to embrace – the souls of all people, regardless of their conditions” Fink says. He has been the official interpretive Vanity Fair photographer of Oscar parties for a decade. As he feels special connections among people, he uses the flash light in an expressive way (the New Objectivity painters, Otto Dix, and George Grosz were part of his education), underlining emotional knowledge. He visually dissects the events , revealing group dynamics with a theatrical effect. In Fink’s vision, people are more entities made of bodies communicating thru  gestures , than individual characters, like in a Mannerist painting

Larry Fink says: “I am really pleased Giorgio Armani has decided to exhibit The Beats and The Vanities together. It is great he has recognised the pictures have more in common than might at first be obvious: from two different very, very opposing levels of egotism, The Beats and The Vanities live within the same valley. Each set of participants fashions themselves to be on the top of the mountain of contribution. Of course, the images were made forty-five years from each other. The Beats were photographed when I was a young romantic, The Vanities when I was  not a hardened  but a humanist ironist. Therein, the bodies of work have different aesthetics and moral calculations for all that come to see”.

“Fink is a jazz fan, and you can almost view these images in terms of musical composition – people in flow, surprising us, possessing an unselfconscious sensuality. There is much that a fashion designer recognises here”, Giorgio Armani adds. Indeed, these photographs seem to rest on a musical sensitivity, as Larry Fink says: “The folks swung and danced through three or four major decades of the music. Music feeds me on the deepest level. I wish to share with all, the majesty of being witness to sound”.

Larry Fink was born in Brooklyn and grew up in a progressive and politically active family. He cut his teeth as a photographer as part of the late beat generation. Living next door to the famous Village Gate jazz club, the soundtrack to his life was provided by live sessions by the likes of John Coltrane, Art Blakey and Charles Mingus. At 76, Larry Fink has been teaching for over fifty years with professorial positions at Yale University, Cooper Union and Bard College. The solo show at the Armani/Silos follows many others he has had at places like New York’s Museum of Modern Art and Whitney Museum of Modern Art, at the Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne (CH) and the Musée de la Photographie in Charleroi (B). But it’s a must see in Italy at the moment.

Paola Sammartano 

Paola Sammartano is a journalist specialized in arts and photography based in Milan, Italy.


Larry Fink, The Beats and The Vanities
March 29 to the end of July 2017
Via Bergognone 40
Milano 20144

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