Sergio LarrainPhotographs by Sergio Larrain
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A notoriously reclusive artist, Sergio Larrain has nonetheless become a touchstone for those who have come to know and love his work, including authors Roberto Bolaño and Julio Cortázar. Celebrated by Henri Cartier-Bresson, his contemporary and a co-founder of Magnum, Larrain’s experimental process yielded images that transformed the fixed nature of the medium. His images have left generations of viewers in awe of the simultaneous serenity and spontaneity that a camera can capture—when placed, that is, in the hands of an artist with such rare meditative passion. “A good image is born from a state of grace,” the artist once explained. Sergio Larrain, a selection of over two hundred images, rectifies Larrain’s omission from the canon of significant twentieth-century photographers, and combines his work in Latin America with photographs taken in Europe. Following a creatively fertile period in the 1950s and ’60s, Larrain put away his camera and devoted himself to the solitary pursuit of spiritual mysticism, a decision that further contributed to his reputation as a romantic, a “fatal personage,” in the words of Bolaño. Created with the encouragement of Larrain’s family, the book is sumptuously produced, designed by Xavier Barral, and edited by Agnès Sire, who enjoyed a long correspondence with the photographer and has worked with Magnum on preserving his photographic estate.
Sergio Larrain (1931–2012, born in Valparaiso, Chile) grew up in Chile, but left at age eighteen to study at the University of California, Berkeley. Upon his return he began taking photographs in the streets of Santiago and Valparaiso; the early purchase of two images by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, reassured him in his chosen profession. Impressed by Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photographs, Larrain presented the photographer his work on los abandonados (street children in Santiago) during a trip to Europe. Cartier-Bresson then invited Larrain to join Magnum in 1960; around this time he also began what would become a legendary project on Valparaiso with a text by poet Pablo Neruda. Unsure if he was suited to working for the press, Larrain retreated to the Chilean countryside and dedicated himself to yoga, meditation, and drawing until his death in February 2012.
After earning a Ph.D. in philosophy and aesthetics, Agnès Sire (editor) worked at Galerie Alexandre Iolas in Paris before joining Magnum Photos as an art director. In 2004, she became director of the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, where she also oversees exhibitions and publications. She instigated the publication of Sergio Larrain’s works Valparaiso (1991) and London 1958–59 (1998), and was an associate curator of the photographer’s exhibition at Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno in Valencia, Spain.
Gonzalo Leiva Quijada (essay) is a professor of philosophy and aesthetics at the Instituto de Estética, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago. He is also a curator and a specialist in the history of Latin American photography.