A New Documentary Reveals Larry Fink’s Personal Side 

A 15-minute documentary featuring nearly two years’ worth of footage reveals a highly personal glimpse into the life and mind of Larry Fink, the iconic photographer who died last year at the age of 82. A relentless documentarian of America’s stark class divide and enclaves of power, Fink captured images of poverty, ultra-candid portraits of celebrities and presidents, and photos of social movements as far back as Civil Rights marches and Vietnam War protests. Fink lived with his wife Martha Posner in the town of Martins Creek in rural Pennsylvania, where director Lisa Schiller, producer Nicco Quinto, and cameraman Kareem Atallah began filming in August 2021 and came to know him well over countless dinners and strolls around his farm.

The short film, titled “Fink,” shows the photographer in action — smoking cigars, tinkering with his saxophone and piano, and conversing with Posner at the dining room table — and relies on his musing responses to Schiller’s questions for narration. Fink offers up an endless stream of reflections on his life, some eloquent and profound, others delightfully vulgar and cynical. The film intentionally focuses on these streams of consciousness rather than centering Fink’s photographs, the best known of which are perhaps his Vanity Fair contributions of politicians and the ultrafamous, documentation of Studio 54, portraits of boxers, and protest imagery.

“Once you understand Larry and see Larry, you’re going to have to look him up, look at his photos, and experience them,” Quinto told Hyperallergic. The film was released alongside a Fink-sanctioned project from NFT photography company Fellowship Photos titled A Life of Looking.

Schiller and her team first visited the farm to source a quote for another documentary about fellow photographer Harry Shunk, but they were quickly enraptured by Fink. Schiller said that he and Posner welcomed the team and allowed them to spend directionless hours around their homestead carrying cameras into the sauna, onto the tractor, and into the kitchen after dinner. All were requisites for creating the film because, according to Schiller, “You can’t really direct Larry Fink.”

Throughout the course of the film, Fink talks about his obsession with jazz musicians, relates a comically scathing critique of Andy Warhol, and recounts a mushroom trip in which he and his camera embarked on a long journey to the frog pond near his house, where he captured amphibian “lovers.” He offers metaphorical reflections to accompany even the most seemingly trivial anecdotes.

Other exchanges are more pessimistic, though still tinged with a glimmer of optimism. In a conversation about his role in activist movements throughout the decades, Fink asks, “What the hell are we waiting for? Goodness has to come. The only thing that let it down was human beings, and the only thing that lets America down also is human beings.” Schiller points out that Fink has chosen to photograph people for 50 years. “Well, I believed in them and still do, but only on a singular basis. I used to believe in them collectively,” he replies. 

Schiller stayed in frequent touch with Fink until his death and continues to communicate with Posner. “You can’t not fall in love with him, and you can’t not gain something from having known him,” Schiller said. “There’s a reason why I liked going down to that farm and why I wanted to hang out with him. He was full of wisdom and light.”

In the documentary’s final scene, Fink speaks to Schiller in the passenger seat as he drives down a country road.

“Photography was a license to enter into worlds that are not your own,” Fink says. “That’s the thrill of it all — the nature of pictures and how what they illuminate lasts for a long, long time, longer than the impulse that drives you to make the picture.” Schiller asks him what that feeling is like.

He thinks for a few moments and smiles. “It’s like being in love,” he says, then chuckles.

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