Larry Fink’s up close and personal celebrity photographs

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As one of Vanity Fair’s official Oscar party photographers, it’s hard to believe Larry Fink is not familiar with most of the celebrities he is shooting.

‘It’s absolutely true,’ said Fink by phone on his drive home from Bard College in upstate New York, where he has been a professor of photography for 19 years. ‘I don’t watch TV or go to movies,’ he confessed, which may help him go undetected as he meanders along in the back rooms away from the red carpet paparazzi.

More than 90 of his candid photographs have been published in a coffee table-size collection, ‘The Vanities: Hollywood Parties, 2000-2009,’ (Schirmer/Mosel, $68).

The black-and-white documentary-style photos catch celebrities mingling at leisure with their guard down, acting rather, well, human. His pictures are the antithesis of the glamorous, artificial images the public is accustomed to seeing.


‘In the early days it became apparent that whatever I did was OK. What they [Vanity Fair] were used to seeing was not what they were seeing in my work, so I was given carte blanche with my interpretation,’ Fink said. ‘I was their official eccentric photographer.’

A shadow across the face, animated in mid conversation without pretense, his images are often unintentionally unbecoming. ‘I have no vendetta, no rage, no reason to make a picture that is unflattering,’ Fink noted.

‘He makes himself invisible in plain sight, he’s a fly on the wall,’ said Luc Sante, photography critic and contributor to the New York Review of Books, who wrote the text along with Ash Carter, son of Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, who is seen in several shots. ‘Many of his pictures remind me of 19th century painters who seem to be giving you a news report with different events happening all at once,’ Sante said. He cites ‘Gustave Courbet’s painting of a funeral, ‘A Burial at Ornans’: ‘This scene never happened at the same time. Different events were montaged into one panoramic painting.’

One example, a photo of Warren Beatty looking disgruntled while a woman in the background seems to be having a good time watching another man spouting off. ‘There are so many details, whole layers of society. They are like miniature novels,’ said Sante, who met Fink at Bard, where he also teaches photography.

Fink has had one-man shows at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum and the Musée de l’Élysée in Switzerland. In 2008 he was commissioned by Vanity Fair to cover Barack Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton and John McCain during the presidential campaign.

Referring to his 2009 photograph of Meryl Streep whispering to Natalie Portman, who has with her eyes closed: ‘There was something so human in the way they were speaking and being secretive, the physicality of their faces. There was nothing manufactured for beauty in the way that was photographed.’


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-- Liesl Bradner

Photos, from top: Meryl Streep and Natalie Portman, 2009.

Warren Beatty, 2001. Credit: © 2011 Larry Fink Schirmer/Mosel.