The first solo UK exhibition of work by the Chilean photographer, Sergio Larrain (1931 – 2012), will include nearly 45 works, focusing on rare vintage prints taken in Santiago and Valparaiso in the 1950s, alongside a series of 10 rarely seen photographs taken in London.
Sergio Larrain’s photographic career was brief and yet his reputation as an experimental street photographer continues to grow. Born in 1931 in Santiago de Chile, Larrain first took up photography in 1949 whilst studying forestry at the University of California at Berkeley. After attending the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor he set off to travel through Europe and the Middle East where he began his work as a freelance photographer.
The abandoned street children of Santiago were the subject of his first substantial body of photographs in the 1950s and provided the foundations for his work that followed. The figures in these black and white photographs move in and out of the frame, and Larrain created chiaroscuro by playing with the harsh sunlight and contrasting shadow. In 1956, MOMA in New York purchased two prints from this series for their collections, establishing his career. The following year, Larrain began photographing Valparaiso in Chile whilst traveling for Du Magazine and continued this project for several years. In this series, featured in the exhibition, he built upon his established style and utilised endlessly unexpected vantage points to capture the life, both night and day, of the port city.
In 1958 Larrain, obtained a British Council grant to undertake an eight-month project photographing England. An outsider to the UK, he substituted his familiar harsh sunlight and shadow for the darkness, smog and grime of London – the resulting works are included in the exhibition. It was at this time that Henri Cartier-Bresson, co-founder of Magnum Photos, saw his work and suggested that he work for the agency. Larrain spent two years in Paris, where he worked for international press titles, became a Magnum associate in 1959 and a full member in 1961 after managing to photograph the mafia boss, Giuseppe Russo.
In 1972 Larrain met the Bolivian mystic, Oscar Ichazo, and abandoned photography to study oriental religions, calligraphy, paintings and to practice and teach yoga. Moving high into the mountains at Tulahuén, Larrain led an increasingly isolated life, the result of which is that exposure of his suffered in comparison with that of his peers. However, a resurgence of interest in his work began in 1999 when the Valencia Institute of Modern Art held a retrospective of his work, followed more recently by the first retrospective of his work in his native Chile at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Santiago in 2014. A selection of Larrain’s photographs of London will also be included in the forthcoming exhibition Strange and Familiar at Barbican, London from 16 March – 19 June 2016. The exhibition, curated by Martin Parr, will also include Magnum photographers Henri Cartier-Bresson, Raymond Depardon, Bruce Davidson and Bruce Gilden.