Blog / Work of the Week: This Sporting Life, September 1978 by Larry Fink

Posted by Elizabeth Turner


The Sporting Life, September 1978 is a square-format black and white portrait by Larry Fink. He created the photo in 1978 as a part of his Primal Elegance series. The Sporting Life, September 1978 portrays a praying mantis perched on the stem of a flower. The praying mantis uses a leaf as a ledge to prop himself up and peer out at the world. The perspective of the camera angle is lower than the praying mantis and, in doing so, this normally insignificant insect becomes larger than life. Fink’s angle switches the roles of the human and the bug. We can see how the mantis must view its world.

Larry Fink, a photographer famous for his photographs of revealing social scenarios and dilemmas, is often praised for his realistic portrayal of the interaction of humans. In the Sporting Life, September 1978, it is clear that Larry uses his insight into the relations between living beings to give the viewer a fresh perspective on the life of a praying mantis.

Fink gives the viewer a peek into this bug’s life is by using a ground-level camera angle. Another important way he does this is by producing the photograph in black and white rather than color. Nature is something that artists usually choose to portray in color. The greens tones of the praying mantis and the bright colors of the flower surely would catch the viewer’s eye. Fink, however, chooses to present his photograph in stark, matter of fact, black and white. As the viewer looks at the long legs of the praying mantis and the different parts of the stem of the flower, it is tough to discern which is which. Perhaps this is meant to signify the bug’s relationship with the flower, and the interconnectedness of insects and their habitats.

Fink’s insightful photograph gives the viewer the chance to identify with something “alien”. The viewer of this photograph is no longer shocked by the oddity of the appearance of the praying mantis. Rather, the viewer feels a sense of understanding of the life of this tiny creature. And what of the title? Is This Sporting Life an allusion to Lindsay Anderson’s 1963 black and white film of the same title? In the film Anderson flirts with nouvelle vague by casting off any cinematic glitter, instead focusing on presenting a haunting reality of the anti-hero, Frank Machin, and his success in his sporting life and his failures at all other avenues of life. Fink seems to capture this duality in this photo of the praying mantis, making it larger than life over its little domain, but if the viewer pulls back it becomes dwarfed against the world at large.

Light Sensitive: Photographic Works from North Carolina Collections is on view through May 12, 2013

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