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Sergio Larrain

posted by Mel Luff April 14, 2016

Despite his relatively brief professional career (spanning just over a decade), Sergio Larrain has had a disproportionately large influence on photography and his reputation has only continued to grow since his death in 2012. Born in Santiago, Chile, in 1931, he first took up photography in 1949 while studying forestry at the University of California, Berkeley. After attending the University of Michigan he travelled through Europe and the Middle East where he started his freelance photography career.

Throughout his career, his subject matter was disparate, capturing everything from candid portraits to architecture. His distinctive and experimental style is easily recognisable, with his frequent use of vertical frames and love of low angle shots.

“A good image is created by a state of grace. Grace expresses itself when it has been freed from conventions, free like a child in his early discovery of the reality. The game is then to organize the rectangle.” Sergio Larrain

His first substantial body of work featured the abandoned street children of Santiago in the 1950s and it was this that laid the foundations for his work that was to follow. It was also these images that caught the eye of renowned street photographer and Magnum Photos co-founder, Henri Cartier-Bresson, in 1958.


CHILE. Santiago. 1955 © Sergio Larrain/Magnum Photos

In 1956, The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York purchased two prints from this series subsequently establishing his career as a professional photographer.

Two years later, Larrain was given a grant from the British Council to undertake an eight-month project photographing England. In turn, as a stranger to the UK, Larrain ‘substituted his familiar harsh sunlight and shadow for the darkness, smog and grime of London’.It was during his time in London that Henri Cartier-Bresson saw his work and suggested that he work for Magnum.

Larrain became a Magnum associate in 1959 and was set the difficult task of photographing wanted man and Mafia boss, Giuseppe Russo. He became a full member in 1961.

In 1968, Larrain met Bolivian guru Óscar Ichazo. Soon after he stopped taking photographs professionally and retreated to the Chilean countryside to pursue studies in Eastern culture and mysticism and to adopt a life of meditation (taking only the occasional photograph).

This latest exhibition at Magnum Print Room is the first UK solo exhibition of Larrain’s work, showing nearly 45 works focusing of rare vintage prints taken in Santiago and Valparaiso in the 1950s, alongside a series of 10 rarely seen photographs taken in London.

WHERE: Magnum Print Room, 63 Gee Street, London, EC1V 3RS

WHEN: Until 22nd April 2016 – 11:00 – 16:30, Wednesday – Friday


CHILE. Valparaiso. 1953 © Sergio Larrain/Magnum Photos 


GB. ENGLAND. London. Trafalgar square. 1958-1959 © Sergio Larrain/Magnum Photo


GB. ENGLAND. London. Trafalgar square. 1958-1959 © Sergio Larrain/Magnum Photos

Mel Luff

Mel Luff

Author at People of Print
Mel Luff

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