I had a chance to photograph Larry Bell in 2011 during the opening for his show with his friends and colleagues Ed Moses, Robert Irwin, Robert Wilhite and Laddie John Dill. The show was titled "5 Lites" and was part of the Pacific Standard Time series.
In late 2012, He contacted me about using the resulting portrait of him to illustrate his entry in an art book. I went over to his studio in Venice to sign paperwork and we had this conversation:
Me: Hey Larry! How are you doing?
Larry Bell: Alright, alright. Good to see you. God, I haven't seen one of those in a long time! (He sees a copy of January 9, 1968 issue of Look Magazine in my hand)
I wanted to bring this by to show you. I'm a big fan of Richard Avedon so I bought this issue because there's a famous spread of the Beatles. Does this ring a bell to you? (The issue is popular amongst Avedon fans for the four-page gate fold spread of the Beatles along with the color solarized individual portraits of them. Along with the story on the Beatles, there is a spread of Irving Penn's portraits of San Franciscans and a photo essay on contemporary artists by Arnold Newman, of which Larry Bell is one of the subjects.)
Yeah, I remember seeing that magazine but I don't remember what's in it...oh yeah, oh yeah. (Chuckles once he sees his portrait)
Yeah, I bought it from ebay and I'm flipping through it and I'm like, "Holy Cow! Look who's here!" Let's see. "Gallery 68. High Art and Low Art. photographed by Arnold Newman." Do you recall working with Arnold Newman?
Yeah, I didn't like the guy at all.
Oh really! Why not?
He kept wanting me to get behind the piece to shoot my face through the piece and I didn't like the idea of it being used that way. And we had a little...
A "discussion" about that?
No. It was NOT very pleasant. He had a lot of assistants and they were walking around (mimes cowed assistants walking around with hands behind the back trying to be invisible)
(We both laugh)
"WHY DON'T YOU TRUST ME!" He kept yelling at me.
OH wow. How come you didn't want to be photographed behind the work? Did you feel it degraded the integrity of the piece?
Yeah. I have the chance to show the piece in a magazine, the magazine of this stature, and I didn't want to fuck up what the piece was with me in it.
You know? So that was my symbol, flipping him the bone.
(Laughter) I wonder if he got it? Did he see that?
I don't know. He took the picture. He used the picture.