The Photographer's Show at LACMA Spans Nine Years of Vanity Fair Oscar Parties
Since its inception in 1994, the Vanity Fair Oscar party has epitomized glamour; a coveted invitation promises a night of shoulder-rubbing with Hollywood’s great and good. At the behest of publisher Graydon Carter, photographer Larry Fink has documented the exclusive annual fete for the past nine years. The highlights are collected in LACMA’s upcoming show, Hollywood, 2000-2009 (as well as the forthcoming book Vanities), and previewed here today. “I’m not interested in stars and celebrity,” says Brooklyn-born Fink. “I’m just looking to see when people give birth to something deeply human—whether it be sad or happy or otherwise—and whether I can find a way to photograph it so it becomes communicable and beautiful.” Fink, who has been the subject of major solo shows at MoMA and the Whitney Museum, spoke to NOWNESS about blowing smoke, Oscar night hysteria, and why only jazz musicians make him starry-eyed.
How did you come to work for Vanity Fair?
Tina Brown was opening the magazine Talk [which ran from 1999 to 2001] and offering contracts with a great deal of liberty to people who were notable in some fashion or another. Graydon Carter, who hates, or at least hated Tina Brown, was competitive and offered many people, including myself, massive amounts of money so that they wouldn’t walk across the street—even though I wasn’t on his street. Anyhow, that’s how I got into Vanity Fair.
What’s the magazine’s Oscar Party like?
[It creates] a tremendous amount of hysteria, and a certain degree of anxiety, based on how you position yourself in the competitive hall of Hollywood. Then there’s happiness; people who work hard for their Oscars and are happy out of their brains. In the movie business they support each other—when they are not competing in nasty ways; there is a sort of family feel to it.
What were you looking for when you began to photograph the events?
I’m the only photographer who, in the beginning, didn’t know who anybody was. I’m the sort of person who doesn’t recognize people right away anyhow, because I’m looking at them in a primary kind of way, like a baby would be: “Look at that nose or those eyes,” or something. So I don’t, like Jonathan Becker or Patrick McMullan or those guys, jump after Brad Pitt and say “Excuse me, smile!” Bang.
Name the most outrageous thing you’ve seen at a VF party.
Graydon Carter, who is a very proper man, blew a big waft of cigarette smoke into my face like some adolescent, and looked at me with a lordly priority that said, “Okay buster, what are you going to do about it?” Here’s the editor-in-chief covering me with nicotine residue from his own luscious lips and he expects me to respond. He was testing me to see whether or not I would punch him or simply defer, and of course I deferred because I was under employment to the guy.
Is it difficult to capture celebrities in a candid way when they’re so used to performing?
No, I’m so fast. The way I shoot is I’m slow as a bear and then fast as a hare. So I just linger and watch and then pooom! When I see something, a gestation of an emotion, something primary and meaningful, then I go after it like a stiletto coming out of the blade. Not necessarily with that kind of violence applied to it though.
Have you ever been star-struck?
In terms of Hollywood, no, never, because I don’t care. In terms of jazz musicians, absolutely! When I was a kid I loved Coleman Hawkins and when I used to sit with him in the Metropole [the legendary New York jazz club] in 1969 I was star-struck. I was moony-eyed. I was goofy. And then Sonny Rollins or John Coltrane… musicians have taken the stars out of my eyes and put them into my heart.
To read more from Larry Fink about narcissism and the theatre of humanity visit our Facebook page here.