First Book: Larry Fink

With all of these amazing photo books being created, I like to try and think about the first book that really grabbed me and affected me. I try and think about the earliest memory I have of a picking up a book and being deeply inspired. I have been going around to photographers asking them one question:

What was the first photo book that you can remember buying or seeing that really had a strong affect on you?

Here is Larry Fink’s Answer:

Henri Cartier-Bresson, “The Decisive Moment” which was given to me by my very visually hip parents was the knock your socks off experience of my young life… by the way, Bresson’s  work continues to be an elixir for my classicist heart.

The work inspired me in so far as its direct calibration within the clock of chance…  it also held fire in so far that he was interested in every aspect of life and that his ability to intellectually organize and emotionally penetrate all within the same instant was a divine inspiration what more can be said he opened my eyes to being alive and my mind to the obsession of being a subjective/objective chronicler of all things which mattered.” -Larry Fink

19 Replies to “First Book: Larry Fink”

  1. Without a doubt the first book that impressed me was Callahan, an Aperture book, edited by John Szarkoswski in association of MOMA’s major exhibition of Harry Callahan’s work in 1976. Aside of always loving Callahan’s work the book in itself is beautifully designed by Peter Bradford. Out of all the 1,000s of books in my library, to this day, this is the one book that survives time when it comes to showing my students the life time vision of an artist. The book as design, flows incredibly well and is not afraid to use white on a page to allow an image to breathe.

    1. Well, thanks Stephen. Callahan tops my list too. Did you know that they (John Szarkowski at MOMA, Michael Hoffman at Aperture) wanted to title the book “Harry Callahan?” Can you imagine that cover with a “Harry?” Me neither. Nice words. Peter B

  2. Great answer Stephen. Thanks.

    I’m curious to see how various photographers respond to Charlie’s question. Of course there are the generational differences. It seems like every photographer of a certain age would say The Decisive Moment. (I would have guessed that Fink would have been too young for this). While plenty of people my age have of course been influenced by Cartier-Bresson, The Decisive Moment simply isn’t accessible.

    I hope readers contribute their own answers. I hope they also state their age/location and give some clues as to how these books came into their lives.

  3. it is a bit common, but… “The Americans” killed me when my mom first showed it to me, she is graphic designer and a bit of a photo enthusiast. I never really realized until then how you could make a strong statement about something through photographs and no words. Frank, as we all know, really nailed it here and the influence on me, and many others around my age, I am 33, it undebatable.
    2 other standouts that I remember would be, “Concaine True, Cocaine Blue” by Eugene Richards, that came later when I was interning during college and had an idea of what could be done but the access and visual language really hit home, and “Tulsa” by Larry Clark, 1st printing, my aunt has it in the original edit, made we want to make photos of dark things.

  4. Alec, for the record I bought the book, Callahan back in the fall of 1979 in Cambridge, MA Harvard COOP. It was an impulse purchase. Already knowing HC was not the deciding factor for buying it. The design and quality of the reproductions were very impressive. I think out of all the photographers back at that time who inspired me, HC was my favorite. In part because over 30 years he kept exploring different concepts about the medium. Just when you thought he was about this, he was really about that.

    And for the record I’m 52 years old. Bresson had a huge influence on my teachers in art school (1977 – 1981) you can add; Arbus, Winogrand, Friedlander, Atget, Abbott, White, Weston, Sander, Evans, J.M. Cameron, Avedon, Krims, Michals, Eggleston, Shore and Siskind, and FINK! (I own his 1st edition of Social Graces) …There are others of course.

  5. in the american west by Richard Avedon
    i´m 40 years old.
    other book , for the book itself the quality and the design was cyclop by Albert Watson

  6. growing up in a small northwestern town with few horizons beyond working the shipyard or joining the navy, those early black and white photography classes suggested a way out, if not physically, then at least mentally, psychologically. the first place i turned to learn more about the medium was the fifth row, bottom shelf of the public library; and the book that held more wonders than any other was “Imogen Cunningham: Photographs”. her unpretentious, warm and open compositions and seemingly guileless use of natural light continue to astonish me, but at that time in my life what meant even more were her photographs of people, friends: Morris Graves, Ruth Asawa, Frida Kahlo, Minor White, Alfred Stieglitz, Gertrude Stein, James Broughton, Theodore Roethke, Man Ray — these weren’t only beautiful and sensitive portraits, but a doorway into a world of arts and letters: northwest mystic painters, black mountain college, san francisco poetry, california photography, equivalents. they were my guides and they saved me.

    later that same year, in a used book store on a weekend outing to seattle, i found a dog eared bright pink covered monograph of photographs the like i’d never seen before nor since, whispered secrets all by an optometrist in kentucky named Ralph Eugene Meatyard. i’ve still got the receipt inside the front cover, yellowing now – $8.95 – which meant i went without lunch that day, having just enough to catch the ferry ride back home. and so i was off, as they say.

    age 38, springfield ohio, by way of port orchard, olympia, phoenix, tucson, chicago, tokyo, and ann arbor

  7. Lovely reminiscence James. How spellbinding those library shelves could be! I wonder if they hold any of the same magic for the Google generation. Obviously books are still important (the author of this post is in his early twenties), but a key ingredient back then was that you couldn’t get access to this world any other way.

  8. The first time I’ve hold Robert Frank The Americans into my hands was a magical moment, a kind of mythical experience…it was only in 91 at a party in LA, where I did’nt know most of the people around . The book was standing alone on a cofee table. And then maybe only an earthquake would be able to disturb myself from the photos and the book itself….Actually The Americans saved my life that day !

  9. Meyerowitz’s Cape Light… I don’t think there is one break in the sequence, beautiful flow from cover to cover. Exquisite loneliness that most still struggle to emulate… If I ever feel like I’m subconsciously acknowledging the end of film, this book is the answer to any question that could possibly arise. The picture of him with the Deardorff on the back cover makes me smile every time…

  10. “New York. Life is good and good for you in New York” by William Klein was the first photo book I was struck by. It was as if I was there, in the streets, jumping, pointing guns at someone’s lenses, making faces, shouting out loud. It’s not the kind of photography I like the most but I must admit that Klein’s book (that I found growing dust in an old bookstore in Logroño, Spain) made me want to milk reality with a camera…

  11. When i started to became seriously interested in photography in the early eighties, photobooks were very scarce where i live (Lisbon, Portugal). The first “book” that impressed me was a catalog from a exhibition of landscape photos taken in the Alentejo portuguese region that were outside of the cliché range (it was very thin, so i’m not counting it as a book).
    The first real book that impressed me was from another portuguese photographer: “Tabernas de Lisboa” by Luís Pavão (taberna was a cheap meal and wine establishment dating from the XVIII century that survived until some years ago), i was so impressed i bought it instead of film (also very expensive here in those day). Never regreted it, i still like the book.

    1. Jotag said, Diane Arbus, Aperture. Every week in my Intro to Photography (teaching 18 to 23 year olds) I show books at the end of each class. The last few years this Arbus book has hit an all new high with renewed acute interest. We will spend an hour looking closely at many of the photographs in it. Students want to know everything about the photographer– everything about her world. This is makes my job the best!

  12. It’s a seminal, yes, because its innately seminal. Eggleston’s Guide. I skipped class often and went to the photo library on my college campus. I knew nothing about photography, but I liked looking at pictures, not paying attention to names, history, or text, just titles and cover design. I picked up Eggleston’s Guide up at random and it had a serious pull (I think primarily because I had spent a lot of my childhood in Tennessee). I showed it to all my friends, kept it checked out for months, and wrote a story for a writing class about it, where I imagined he was taking pictures of my stuffed animal in the airport (i was a goofy sophmore). I really had no idea he was a pioneering photographer until few years later, when “Eggleston in the real world came out” and I saw the trailer in the movie theater. I was like “Hey that’s my favorite photographer guy!” Those new to photography times were sweet. I still don’t like to devour photography very readily, I’ve got many years to let what’s out there surprise me, as if I discovered it at random. Insular admission, but perhaps, its better that way.

  13. Larry Clark’s Tulsa. I was in college, it was 1975, I think, and one of my friends bought the book and a group of us devoured the experience like starving explorers lost in the jungles of Borneo. We’d just never seen anything like it.

  14. When I was about 15 (I’m 39 now) I saw Jim Goldberg’s book “Rich and Poor” and it had a profound effect on me. I bought it right away and still own this worn but beloved copy. I also use this project to show my students in my documentary class. I’m sure it is the reason I got into documentary work. The sometimes heartbreaking text that the subjects write above and below the images in their own handwriting packs a punch coupled with straight-up compassionate portraits. It’s gritty, real and simply done. It’s just a great book. I found out later that he submitted an earlier version of this project to the San Francisco Art Institute for graduate school. He got in, of course.

  15. I was 15 years old and fortunate enough to have a photography class at my high school. My teacher, Ms. Siegel, brought in an old, worn copy of The Americans. I quickly thumbed through the book, and came upon the photo, titled “Charleston, SC.” It stopped me dead in my tracks. I recognized the scene. I was a white boy who had been partly raised by an older African- American woman, Frankie Babb. I lived in South Carolina. When I looked at the photograph of what I presumed was an African-American nanny and the tiny white child for whom she cared, I was immediately struck by the intermingling layers of historical complexity and complicity, repression and entitlement, injustice and love, resentment and tenderness, coldness and warmth, despair and hope in the photograph. It was the moment that I realized the power of photography.

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