Name: Lawrence Donald Clark
DOB: 19 January 1943
Place of Birth: Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA
Mr. Clark, do you still skateboard?
I retired because I hurt myself so much and it takes forever to recover, but I actually skated with some kids for about 5 minutes the other day. Took a big chance.
How difficult is it for you to take a picture of one of these skater kids who are so often the subjects of your photos? Do you have to explain who you are?
Well everybody knows Kids. So there is a calling card that I have there. It’s funny, I was at a skate park once and this fifteen year old came up to me and said, “Do you skate?” And I said, “Well I used to, but I am here with these kids and I am making a film about them. I’m a filmmaker.” He says, “Oh yeah?” And I said, “I made another film called Kids. Have you ever heard of that?” And he said, “Everybody’s heard of that!”
Why exactly are you so interested in youth culture? Because kids live for the moment?
Well I think it has more to do with the fact that I started making work when I was a teenager. I photographed my friends over a ten-year period and did the book Tulsa, which turned into visual anthropology. So you see us from the time we were teenagers up until our twenties and how everything changed and how we changed. So I guess since then I have been interested in how we grow up – different areas, different environments, different cultures, different ways that we grow up.
“When I had kids and I saw what my daughter was seeing at a very young age, I realized innocence as I knew it is lost very early.”
I think that is such an important time in our lives. Things that happen to us at that age dictate how we are going to be as adults. The way we are treated, the things that happen to us are so important in how we are formed into adults. It is a very, very important time. And I have been doing it a long time and I do it pretty good and people like the work, so what am I going to do?
Looking at your body of work it’s obvious you’ve had a lot of crazy times. How easy was it for you to slow down? Can you even slow down if you want to continue portraying this youth culture?
Well I think you have to slow down a little bit. But I am just trying to make work; I am just out there making work. I take care of myself so that I can survive. I used to not take care of myself so well, but now I do.
Were you ever afraid that your kids might do some of the things you have photographed other kids doing?
Well as a parent you are always worried and always thinking about the worst-case scenario – you are always just sweating it. But that is part of being a parent. Luckily my kids are so far so good.
Sometimes your work is very disturbing. Do you think that art should have any boundaries?
Well there has got to be some things you can't do. You can’t kill people, you can’t hurt children; of course there are some limits.
But I think that almost any part of the human experience is the human experience and why can’t we reflect it? I come from a period back in the ’50s when Eisenhower was president, and when I was a young kid everything was hidden. No one talked about drugs or child abuse or any of those issues. In America it just wasn’t supposed to be happening. But I saw kids come to school with black eyes and their parents beat them up and I knew kids with alcoholic and drug-addicted parents.
What about child abuse?
I was in junior high school with a girl who had five brothers, and they were all fucking her so her father probably was too. Everybody knew it, but this was never discussed. You never heard about these things. So when I started making work, I said, “Why can’t you show everything?” There were great photographers doing great things but they pulled their punches – there were certain things that you just couldn’t see.
And you felt like you had to show them?
I started thinking, “Why can’t you see everything?” If people had been making these photographs, well then I wouldn’t have had to make them. I always felt that. If somebody else were doing it then I wouldn’t have had to do it. These are just things that I see going on that are very important in a lot of other people’s lives. So it is just the way that we are as human beings at this point in time.
These days the internet has changed that tremendously. Now pretty much everything is accessible to anybody.
Kids see everything immediately. When I had kids and I saw what my daughter was seeing at a very young age, I thought innocence – or innocence as I knew it – is lost very early. But the kids are okay, it is their world and they deal with it. It is just the way it is – they don’t know any other way. When I was a kid, no one told you nothing. Now the kids know everything. They have information and access to everything whether they want to or not.