Dear Shaded Viewers and Diane,
It was a real joy and honor for me to have the opportunity of this inspiring digital conversation with Mr. Gilles Larrain. His just republished iconic book Idols was being celebrated with a very successful exhibition at Steven Kasher gallery in Chelsea only a few months ago, and through the fascinating medium of his wife Louda, Mr. Larrain told me about New York and the 70s, his charming birds of paradise, the intimate world of painting and his own childhood and how to seductively capture souls on kodachrome films.
S.B.: Could you tell me about your decision to reprint the book today? 38 restless years after its first controversial, pioneering release, its characters have truly become those Idols your title perhaps not too unconsciously predicted back then. Symbols of courage and commitment in a fight for freedom and rights that would inflame the world's streets in the following years, as well as emblems of that daring, young, hedonist New York art scene whose unlucky fate took part in the establishment of the legend. How much of it would you say it's true, how much myth? Do you believe your photographs contributed to the idealization of your models?
G.L: Well the book was republished almost 40 years after but when the first book came out, first of all it came out just like that. I photographed all these incredible birds of paradise and all the creative fauna that I could find in New York at the time.. I photographed them because they were just outrageous, and amazingly different, and daring. And Zoom did an article, prior to the book Idols in 1972 in January, 26 pages on the cover of Idols subject. Why to republish? Because a young photographer found.. Ryan McGinley found this book not only controversial but inspiring and a source of information for him and he came to interview me for Vice magazine and that created a revival of the project. Then Powerhouse came and asked me to republish the book and we did. And now we just had a show at Steven Kasher gallery in Chelsea, with my wife Louda in the back room.
How much of it would I say it's true, how much myth? There is no real boundary between myth and truth in this case, it's both at the same time. Myth reinforces the truth and truth reinforces the myth. They were trying to find their style, their presence, they were experimenting. They came back for one more session, it was like a place you go to remake your persona as you may go to a psychiatrist or a psychologist or advisor for guidance, discovery. There were many reasons why these people came, once the place was safe for them to come they needed to come, that was why the book came out, it was something that had to be presented to the population at large. And it was not very well-received here at the beginning. The book was not accepted by many layers of society, even some of my clients, in business, quoted "proper society", found the subject outrageous at best, insulting and dangerous at worst. It wasn't always an happy time, but we kept on doing it, as it was my belief that the subject was not only interesting but it had to be revealed, it and to be presented and photographed. And about the idealization of models, they don't need to be idealized, they are themselves. They find their own persona, their own arena, their territory, to create their dreamlike, phantasmagorical presence. It was creating their own reality, that's exactly what it was. A reality that was not realted to the reality of society at the time, and even today, it still lives in societies that are very separated by religion, race, color, faith, language, whatever.
Downtown New York at the time was this place that was in limbo, there were places where we could have lofts here, so available, so cheap and so big and where you could have your experimentations, your laboratories and playgrounds, swimming pools of ideas. It wasn't for business, none of these was for money, it wasn't a purpose to photograph this for magazines as it is now, it was a different time. We were looking for directions and experimenting and Max's Kansas City was a place where everybody went, it was the only place at the time where all the art scenes could mix together without having geniuses and superstars, no Lady Gaga and none of this garbage that is now polluting the minds of people. It was an open place where people were real people, very creative, and we got together in my studio to make creations of the days that weren't the common outfits in the streets, people were interested in that at the time. It was underground. It wasn't something like what now is fashion, and tattoos and piercings, people of course pierced their ears but..so it was a fresh moment. New York was going through huge changes, Gerald Ford the president came to New York at one point in '74, because New York was in default, financially. He said to New York "drop dead", the president of America. But New York at the time was a city that many people found like Sodom and Gomorrah, a negative place. There was a resentment of New York in the south, at the time I was working for the French television so we travelled, and New York was not the shining city of the mountains, it was a place of chaos. Of course the stock markets and Wall Street were in New York, and those were powerful financial engines that kept New York going, but not intellectually..and these people that came to my studio, the Cockettes and my Idols, I called them Idols because they were. They were out of the norm and they were some sort of in the light of the presentation of their style, their direction. This was prior to AIDS, the fear of AIDS came in the 80s, these were the 70s, we began in 1970-1971 and for about four years we kept on doing these photo sessions at the studio. New York was a place where there was freedom, in a way. Because it was not such a real estate money-grabbing city as it has become now. It used to be a bit so also then but less than now, and then there were areas completely out of this, there were gangs in this village and Soho was a hole. It was black, with no lights, there were no stores and nothing was painted, there were warehouses, abandoned many of them, where we could buy billings for nothing, we bought a billing here for a very small amount at the time, now it's untouchable. So everything has changed, and I think that Idols, these people brought some kind of fresh perspective to a lifestyle that evolved and fashion came out from those people there. They were creative. These people were the ones that created fashion, created movement, created the New York energy. And many of them are no longer here, many of them died, but at the opening there were a few friends that were there, and they were the courageous protagonists of this change and now are in fashion, all these things, gays, transvestites, bars, caf