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By Suzanne Révy
Everything that is visible hides something that is invisible. ~René Magritte
During his lengthy career, photographer Larry Fink has mined the rich territory of social interactions in visceral, compelling imagery. In one way or another, he always seems to capture emotions that invite our empathy, whether he is photographing debutantes, farmers, boxers or political demonstrators. “Primal Empathy” presents a selection of these photographs across the decades, on view at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum through March 10, 2019. The public is invited to join Larry Fink for an Artist Talk at the DeCordova in Lincoln, Massachusetts next week, on Wednesday, December 12th, 2018 at 6:30pm.
The exhibition features forty-four prints, mostly square format, divided into themed sections presented in salon style groupings. Fink’s enchantment with stratified societies is evident in the way he gravitates to exchanges between people. In “Debutante Ball- Hotel Pierre, NYC, 1978” we see two young women reveling, both glancing beyond the frame as an elderly male figure enters from the left… who is he? An escort? A chauffeur? During the same period, Fink photographed the Sabatine family in rural Pennsylvania near his home and studio. His book, “Social Graces” juxtaposed this rural family’s rituals around the kitchen table with those glitzy urban parties, underlining their common humanity even as he illuminated their differences. Fink describes empathy as being, “primal: it’s an animality informed by a complex consciousness. It could involve any emotion.”
A young girl wearing a white dress with a lacy collar and Cinderella sleeves leans slightly to the side so that her mother can braid her hair as a younger sibling looks on excitedly. The slight smile on the girl’s face as she holds a small book imbues the image with a gentle calm; it is a moment of apprehension, and indeed, the title, “First Communion, Bronx, NY, 1961” reveals an important milestone. Such rituals are inevitably stoked with anticipation and expectation. Fink emphasizes the fervor inherent in these rituals by revealing the unguarded expressions and body language of his subjects.
Gestures speak volumes in his pictures, particularly in the section of the exhibit entitled “Sideways Glances.” Fink focuses on the elegant hands of two women holding drinks in “NYC Club Cornich, 1977”, a slow-dancing couple in “NYC English Speaking Union, 1975”, and two men communicating wordlessly in “NYC Stephanottie, 1975.” His approach, particularly with a flash on camera, can feel confrontational, but in the aggregate the photographs create a rhythm of tones and light along the gallery wall. They are jazzy improvisations of flesh and bone… a concert of humanity.
We are treated to loving desire between couples, the sometimes tender touches of boxers and the exuberance of dancers, among the prints on display. We also witness the sheer exhaustion of “after the party” or a long journey, as well as erupting tensions over the Vietnam War in the 1960s and more recently at the Women’s March. Fink divulges an abiding and deep curiosity about the human condition and revels in a range of human emotion from joy to despair. His images have an immediacy that invites viewers into the frame and into the fray, complicit in his primal empathy.
For more information about this exhibit and Larry Fink’s artist talk next week, go to: https://decordova.org/art/exhibition/larry-fink-primal-empathy
L’Artiere Editions recently published “The Polarities” by Larry Fink. Our review is here: