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Remembering Larry Fink Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

1 December 2023

Larry Fink, who photographed American royality and rural life alike, died on Saturday at his home in Martins Creek, Pa., of complications from kidney disease and Alzheimer's. He was 82.

Fink was born into a Jewish family in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1941. His father was an attorney for an insurance company and his mother was a former Marxist and an activist demonstrating against nuclear weapons. The family moved to West Hempstead, N.Y., when Fink was 13. He and his younger sister, who became a civil rights lawyer, grew up in a politically conscious household, Fink described himself as "a Marxist from Long Island."

In West Hampstead, Find on a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye camera in a contest. He attended Stockbridge School, a progressive boarding school in Massachusetts, before a brief stint at Coe College, a small liberal arts institution in Iowa.

He left college to go to Greenwich Village where he documented a second generation of Beats. He photographed their trip to Mexico but on his return was arrested at the border for smuggling a quarter ounce of marijuana. That garnered him five years of probation. But he later thanked his parole officer and the Department of Justice for stopping "my forward trajectory to be an airheaded wanderer without boundaries."

'I like to say that if I was not a photographer, I would be in jail.'

The parole officer encouraged his photography while he studied at the New School for Social Research in New York City, where photographer Lisette Model was one of his teachers and encouraged his work.

Fink's best-known work is Social Graces, a series of photographs he produced in the 1970s contrasting wealthy Manhattanites at fashionable clubs and social events alongside scenes from the lives of working-class people from rural Pennsylvania. Social Graces was a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1979 and was published in book form in 1984.

"I like to say that if I was not a photographer, I would be in jail," he once explained. "I want to touch everything. My life is profoundly physical. Photography for me is the transformation of desire."

He taught photography at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. for three decades, holding court as a Beat and treating the classroom "like it was the Village Vanguard," according to a former student.

"It was completely improvisatory," Tim Davis recalled. "A critique would involve mouth trumpet sounds, his own poetic raps and scat singing; maybe at some point he'd pull out his harmonica. On the one hand, it kneecapped the whole idea of art education and on the other, if you were listening, it was completely profound."

Fink also taught at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, New York University and Yale before retiring in 2017.

In 1976 and again in 1979, he received a Guggenheim fellowship. His work is in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, among other institutions. He worked on assignment for numerous publications, including Manhattan, Inc., Vanity Fair and The New York Times. He was also the author of 12 books.

"The crescendo of my life is over," Fink told the New York Times, "and the crashing waves are soon to come." But, he added, "Basically, I'm still jumping around. Whatever that's worth, it's fun to be alive. I'll tell you what: I really love my wife."

He is survived by his wife, the artist Martha Posner, and a daughter, Molly, from his marriage to Joan Snyder, which ended in divorce, as did his marriage to Pia Staniek.

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