Ryan McGinley sits down to talk with the photographer of whom he claims to have given him the most influence and inspiration as a young photographer, Gilles Larrain. A man who has photographed the most interesting faces of NYC, throughout the Warhol decade, the musician-is-king decades and every transvestite to walk the streets.
Arriving at Gilles Larrain’s studio, Ryan McGinley explains; ‘his photos of Jack Walls and Robert Mapplethorpe arranged in the window. Inside, it’s a cavernous converted warehouse stuffed with his artwork. Photos from his series on flamenco dancers, elaborate collages of nudes covered in fruits and tattoos, and many photos of musicians taken mostly in the 80s, ranging from Sting and Billy Joel to Nina Hagen and Miles Davis. Propped up in one corner is a large photo of Phoebe Cates and Jennifer Jason Leigh, circa Fast Times at Ridgemont High, snuggling nude under a blanket together’.
Read an exert from the in depth interview below, you can read the full interview here at Vice.
We sat down in his kitchen, surrounded by hanging copper pots, and I tried my best to decipher what the hell he was saying in his low, raspy voice with its thick French accent.
Vice: The photos from Idols were first published in a French magazine called Zoom in 1972. Did you shoot them as an editorial for the magazine?
Gilles Larrain: No, I never shoot anything for any purpose. I shot them because I found those people crazy enough and fascinating enough to be photographed. I saw some of them at Max’s Kansas City and I thought, “I have to get those guys in the studio.” I became friends with Taylor Mead and John Noble. One came, then they all came.
When you photograph someone, do you shoot many photos or just a few?
At the time I shot a lot, now I shoot very little. I shot thousands of photos for this series. The book is only a small part of what I have. I have maybe 5,000 of these Kodachromes.
Oh, these were shot on Kodachrome? I love that film. It’s so saturated. I wish they still made it.
Yes. So rich. So this is only the top of the tip of the iceberg. We’re going to do something with the rest of them eventually.
How did the Idols series come about? Did you set out to document a specific scene?
I don’t work like that. Life happens while you make plans to do other things. I studied architecture. I was going to be a mathematician or a scientist. Nothing that I planned worked out. But what happens is more interesting. My plans are boring. So to answer your question, people heard about my studio and it was like a snowball coming down, getting bigger and bigger.
Were these people you normally hung out with?
They hung out in my place, yes. But I don’t hang out. I’m in my studio, I do my work, and people come to my studio. [points to some photos] This is Harvey Fierstein, you know, the playwright of La Cage aux Folles and Torch Song Trilogy. He began doing drag at my studio. He was about 19 here. And this one is Goldie Glitters, he was one of the Cockettes from San Francisco.