Book Review: Night at the Met by Larry Fink

Night at the Met by Larry Fink book cover

 

Larry Fink's latest book, Night at the Met, presents Fink's insightful personal photo reportage of a fund-raising gala held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in November 2007. The event and the book represent several small-but-noteworthy milestones in Fink's illustrious fifty-plus year career. He was recognized as the Met's guest-of-honor and also served as the house photographer for the evening:  invitations to the event stated, That was then. You are now…On this special night photographer Larry Fink will make new work and you will be his subject. Come, be art. Dress: Black Tie and Camera Ready. With the run of the place and over one thousand subjects to explore, Fink spent the evening applying his unique ability to capture and describe microdramas as they unfolded, with no one to please but himself.

The event was also a homecoming of sorts, harkening back to another night in 1968 when he photographed a similar Met event, blazing away for the first time with his now-trademark off-camera flash technique. Also noteworthy was the digital nature of the recent photoshoot. While Fink often uses digital equipment for his commercial gigs, he still shoots primarily on film for his personal work. For the 2007 gala, he was outfitted with a Canon 5-D and an array of strategically arranged studio lights, along with his hand-held flash. As he worked, images he made at the 1968 event along with others from his well-known Social Graces series were projected onto the wall of the huge hall, opposite the two thousand year old Temple of Dendur. In the Sixties, Fink identified himself as a Socialist and his images from that period reflect his concerns as well as the anger he felt toward those he considered political adversaries—some of the images from that era are very pointed in their attack. For the final hour of the 2007 event, while his new pictures were projected, some of the subjects cheered as they recognized themselves twenty feet tall on the wall. While somewhat kinder and gentler to the socialites this time, Fink's party pictures continue to serve as a mirror of his subjects' private emotions carried unknowingly into public: angst, envy, narcissism, and lust, along with a good measure of joie de vivre are all described.

The resulting book, Night at the Met, is also noteworthy in terms of Fink's publishing career. Developed in conjunction with Fotovision, a San Francisco Bay Area organization that advances social documentary photography, the book was produced using print-on-demand technology through Blurb.com. Fink participated directly in the design of the book, which opens with three images from the 1968 gala and follows with 45 black and white photographs from the 2007 event. The page layout and sequencing are engaging: as Fink is a passionate jazz devotee, it is no surprise that the images are arranged in clusters reminiscent of musical phrasing. As expected from a photographer of Fink's powers, each of the images stands strongly on its own, but there is also an alluring visual rhythm to the book that draws the viewer through it. While the reproduction quality is not equal to Fink's other superbly-printed books such as Social Graces, Boxing, Runway, or Somewhere There's Music, made with traditional offset presses, it is remarkably good for print-on-demand technology, and certainly no reflection on the masterful photographs contained within. Fink should be applauded for embracing this new technology and his use of it will no doubt encourage other photographers to utilize it.

Night at The Met (8 1/4" x 9 1/4", 48 black and white photographs and a brief statement by Fink) is available through Blurb.com, for $38.95 in softcover and $52.95 in hardcover. It is also available along with a signed chromogenic black and white print from www.fotovision.org, for prices ranging from $175.00 - $300.00.

Bill Lowenburg

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