Larry Silver And The Art Of Photography (2017-Style)

Larry Silver is 82 years old. He’s been taking photos since he was a teenager.

His work is warm, evocative and engaging. He is known around the world.

Westport — Silver’s home since 1973 — is an important setting for his work.

Compo Beach is a favorite — particularly the outdoor showers near the concession stand. The parade of people — different ages, shapes and sizes, all set against the brick background — is a photographer’s delight.

In fact, his 1980 “Beach Showers, Westport CT” has become iconic. It hangs in many museums.

Larry Silver’s 1980 “Beach Showers, Westport, CT.”

But what was fine in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s is not okay today. The world has changed — and Silver’s photography is one of the casualties.

To get the spontaneous shots he likes, Silver keeps his camera largely out of sight. “I don’t want to be obvious,” he says. “I don’t want poses.”

But when he is shooting, he spends time focusing. He’s working on his art.

Passersby see a man with a camera, taking photos of people in showers.

Last year, someone — thinking Silver was doing something illegal — called the police. They asked for identification, and reviewed the images on his camera. They found nothing wrong, and returned his camera to him.

Several people who knew Silver confirmed to the police that he is an esteemed professional photographer.

The next day, Silver went to the Parks and Recreation Department. He showed facility manager Dan DeVito samples of his work, and apologized for creating a problem.

“He’s a nice guy — very reasonable,” Silver says of DeVito. “I understand he’s under pressure. He has to react.”

Silver took some more images, until the end of summer.

There is nothing illegal about taking photos in a public place, Silver notes. “If you’re at a place like the beach, you give up the right of privacy,” he says.

This summer, there were additional complaints. One woman called Silver’s wife Gloria a “pervert” for allowing him to shoot near the showers.

Silver tried to reason with the woman, showing her a published catalog of his works. She refused to even look at it.

The police were again called. Again, Silver spoke to DeVito. Silver showed him his images, and said he would stop his project.

DeVito asked Silver why he didn’t ask subjects for permission to shoot. “That changes the dynamics,” the photographer replied.

Still, he tried asking. “I could not get the kind of pictures I was happy with,” Silver says. “The people I asked were suspicious and distrustful. The people who agreed ended up stiff and posed.”

The other day, Parks & Rec sent Silver a letter. It said that he “created a disturbance,” and caused “alarm and discomfort.” It served as a written warning for “unacceptable behavior.” If Silver continued to take photos, he risked the loss of beach privileges for 2 years.

“I’ve been capturing this town with my eyes since I moved here,” Silver says. “I’ve documented the lifestyle of this community.

“I understand what Parks & Rec is doing, and why they have to,” he continues. “This is just the nature of the world we live in today. Photographers everywhere are being confronted and threatened.”

Silver’s shower series is over. Next summer, he won’t take any photos anywhere near there.

“If this disturbed people, I regret that,” he says. “However, I believe the images I have will some day be part of Westport’s history — especially if we approve an arts museum here.”

He’s got plenty of time to figure out his next subject. But he’s also busy preparing for an upcoming event.

On Friday, October 13, the Westport Historical Society throws a big gala. There’s great food, a Prosecco bar, and music.

There’s a special honoree too. His name: Larry Silver.

(All photos copyright Larry Silver)

57 responses to “Larry Silver And The Art Of Photography (2017-Style)

  1. Larry Silver is an Institution and part of the fabric of the town! I have admired his work over the years as he is a tremendous artist that takes magical photos of everyday life. We are privileged to have such a talent amongst us capturing Westport moments. I am growing soooo tired of the political correctness that seems …..way overboard. To the woman that would not even give him a chance to explain his work….find a safe space somewhere else! The above photos capture the lighter moments in life and celebrate the memories of the moment. If you don’t like Larry Silver or other artists….well you don’t understand the history of Westport and the great artist community that defines our town.

  2. I understand the problem all too well and feel bad he can no longer produce this art. The Times they are a changin’. I love these iconic images and even have some of my own!

  3. He can photograph me anytime! I will give my agent, press officer and lawyer the day off 🙂

  4. Beautiful photos catching a moment in life……Thank you Larry Silver

  5. What a depressing story to read first thing in the morning, Dan. These photos by Larry Silver, a very nice guy by the way, are classic shots of everyday life that make us smile. I’m annoyed that after Larry was checked out by the police, Parks & Rec would write a letter like this! Why wouldn’t Dan DeVito just tell the complainers that Silver is an artist who has been vetted and is allowed to photograph local activities at Compo??? Our town loses to the narrowminded folks.

  6. Nancy Axthelm

    Thanks Dan!
    Larry Silver is a treasure. He is intricately woven into Westport’s past, present and future history because his work inevitably captures the moments that make Westport unique. The Westport Historical Society is thrilled to be honoring Larry at the ‘Tomorrow’s History Gala’ on Oct 13th. Join us and meet the man behind the images.
    His work may be cherished and collected all over the world but, luckily for us, he is a Westport treasure.

  7. Shame DeVito let the lame paranoid opinion of one over rule sanity and the arts!

  8. John F. Suggs

    Park and Rec’s written warning to Larry Silver “for unacceptable behavior” is troubling on several levels. First, why is the Westport Police Department ceeding its law enforcement authority to employees of Park and Rec? When, and from whom, did Park and Recs get the authority to look at a professional photographers pictures? When, and from whom, did the Park and Recs get the authority to cite someone for “creating a disturbance”? Both of these actions are the proper legal authority of the Westport PD alone. It sounds like Mr. Silver has been inadvertently caught in a situation where the Parks and Rec Department have wrongly assume authority and power that rightfully belongs to our Police Department. Perhaps this confusion of Parks and Rec’s proper role is what is also contributing to the increased complaints about the poor basic maintenance of the beach? In any event, as the Independent candidate for First Selectman, I have recently proposed a “common sense solution” plan to outsource entirely the maintenance of the beach and fund it through a dedicated budget item paid for by visitors beach parking fees. Let our out of town visitors parking fees go directly to pay for the proper maintenance of Compo Beach. And let our Police Department reclaim their proper law enforcement authority. And let Larry Silver continue his fantastic beach photography undisturbed by a town department that seems to have lost its way.

  9. Jack Krayson

    Mel Brooks was so right-on about what he said last week “the PC crowd is killing comedy today” so let’s add art to that list.

  10. I have long admired Larry’s work; his photo of the Longshore entrance remains one of the iconic images of Westport.

    I wonder about this from a purely legal standpoint: does the town have the right under the First Amendment to limit Larry’s photography in this manner? While there historically have been time and place restrictions that can be imposed, I wonder whether those legal standards would be met here. (I don’t know the answer; I’m just thinking out loud.)

    • Grayson Braun

      Larry Silver is no longer allowed to take pictures at Compo Beach.

      What about the everyone else? Have cameras, cell phones with cameras and all other recording devices been banned from Compo Beach? Or, is it just one person who has had his freedom of expression revoked?

      This is a hard pill to swallow considering how much the people of Westport pride themselves on their liberal values.

      If someone complains about old men wearing Speedos will Parks & Recreation next issue a dress code for Compo? I offer for your consideration some sample language to be included in a possible Swimwear Guidelines Manual for Municipalities, “For individuals over the age of sixty-five (65) posessing a BMI of twenty-five (25) or more swimwear bottoms must contain a minimum of two (2) yards of fabric with a spandex content no lower than ninety-eight percent (98%).”

      All kidding aside, the Town of Westport, the Parks and Recreation Department in particular, has just been given a giant bucket of authority over our freedom of expression.

      Finally, to the people who complained about a world renowned artist taking pictures at the beach…do you have any idea how many photos are taken of you every day? From people taking pictures with their phones to security footage in stores to red light cameras…today more than any other time in the history of Civilization your image is being captured but you are worried about Larry Silver? Get over yourselves…

  11. Mike Stuttman

    Chasing Larry Silver out of Compo/Longshore is like chasing Ansel Adams out of Yosemite.

  12. Audrey Doniger

    I’m sick reading this article….what has happened to the world…is there no appreciation of truly innocent art..Larry is,aside from being a wonderful artistic photographer,a kind ,humble man and his wife Gloria is by his side because she loves him…can’t believe anyone would refer to her as a pervert..with everything going on in the world as it is..natural disasters,massacres,Donald T….why would anyone pick out an artist ,a completely true artist whose work is as pure Americana as Stephen Dohanos,Bernie Fuchs and all the other Westport artists whom the town is so proud of ……please people..if you must suspect everyone as a possible threat to the town or the country..dont blindly see evil in anyone. whom you evidently know nothing about…especially about one of Westports treasures..I think Larry deserves an apology from everyone involved in this fiasco…

  13. Michael Calise

    The Parks and Rec needs to spend less time pointing fingers and more time on routine maintenance. I have pictures too ,,,,,,,,,,,, of serious lack of maintenance.

  14. Let’s do something positive about this. Start a petition to protest the impingement of our freedom, a clear violation of First Amendment rights in Westport by the Parks & Rec Department, particularly Dan Devito, and whoever he conferred with to arrive at such an outrageous ban of one of the great photographers of our time, a true artist, Larry Silver. This is a time for clear action and advocacy and not jsut words of praise. How can we stand up for Larry Silver and our own rights now in Wewstport. It is time to act!

    • I am more than happy to collect signatures but this needs to be an effective campaign! I have called Parks and a Recreation and was advised that Dan DeVito is fielding all matters related to this issue. I left a message for him.

      This is another “red herring” issue that needs to be addressed and withdrawn immediately.
      Jen Fava, Mr. Haberstroh and Parks and a Recreation Committee as well as the RTM members and First Selectman need address this immediately. This attempt to sensor and silence Larry Silver’s art form is a threat to us all and a further erosion of Westport iconic history as an Artistic community.

  15. George Franciscovich

    It Is likely that the Police Department would not do this since it would be a clear violation of Larry’s First Amendment rights and they are more cognizant of that.
    This would seem like something the ACLU would be interested in-perhaps someone could suggest to Larry that he contact them

  16. Ruth Kalla Ungerer

    I am so disheartened by news of this travesty. Larry and Gloria should be celebrated as they will be by the Historical Society for their untiring devotion to Westport. They are my friends, neighbors and Larry is a fellow artist, though my work pales in comparison. He is a treasure! His work is renowned throughout the world. Lucky are we to have him in our midst. Unbelievable that anyone would judge him or Gloria in any derogatory manner. Shame, shame many times over for those who have done so!

  17. Bonnie Bradley

    Bravo for all the above comments. The heart of Westport still beats loud and strong.

  18. William Strittmatter

    Just to play devil’s advocate, say some random old person you didn’t know started taking pictures of your child or grand child (or other loved one) at the beach showers with a semi-hidden camera, would you be still be saying how nice it was they were exercising their constitutional rights and/or what a wonderful human being/artist they were or would you be a bit creeped out and/or worried why they were taking those pictures?

    I’m sure Larry is a talented photographer and a lovely guy but seriously folks, if you didn’t know him would you be reacting the same way? For what it is worth, I don’t think this is a recent “PC” phenomenon. I would imagine 30-50 years ago, behavior like this might have led to violence.

    • Are you just being contrary or do you really believe this? I think of Westport as “home town good people and artists” and maybe that’s a bit too idealistic for this day and age but I really think the woman who complained was a paranoid idiot and frankly, supporting the complaint (this is Westport) makes you the same – get some therapy!

      • William Strittmatter

        I don’t even know how to respond to such a pollyannaish comment.

      • David J. Loffredo

        Bill I think unfortunately you’re right.

        Cristina you’re naive to think a) that Westport people are better or different than anyone else, and b) that the “old man” couldn’t be from any other town since it’s a public beach.

        We live in interesting and sometimes very depressing times.

        • Nancy Hunter

          Man, the use of the belittling terms “pollyannaish” and “naïve” toward female commenters is tiresome and disrespectful.

          • Right; much better to call them paranoid idiots.

            • Nancy Hunter

              As usual, you have missed the point.

              Have a good weekend, and Happy Thanksgiving to Canada.

          • My comment based on “this is Westport” came from my upbringing in this town that we are taught in school to be smart, loving, sharing, generous, and put all prejudice aside. I was generalizing the ideal of the moment, folks! We marched against the Vietnam war and I felt a comraderie rise in all that was important to me and my friends! And I am an artist as were my parents and feel belonging to that Westport history. That’s all. I did not mean to paint or whitewash Westport. I love Our town – the town I grew up in and attended school from 7th grade until now my secret age (same class as Dan).
            Sometimes people should get off their high horse and ride a pony, a different ride but fun just the same.

          • I never wrote “old man” that was Bill

  19. Elaine Marino

    Shouldn’t Mr. Silver’s status as a professional photographer, whose photos can sell for thousands of dollars, be considered? His vintage Connecticut images range in price from $5,000 – $7,500, according to his website. The fact that he is a professional photographer makes the “consent” issue a must, in my opinion, especially where the person or persons in a photograph can be individually identified.

    I am in no way condoning the harsh treatment that the Silvers were subjected to at Compo, but I can understand how parents, in particular, can become anxious/suspicious when a stranger is seen taking photos of their child at the beach.

    • Michelle Mechanic

      Actually, consent is not required in a public domain/open space since th work is not being used for advertising or other commercial purposes. Larry is a visual artist. He’s not advertising a product or using names in his work.

  20. January Stewart

    Larry is an incredible photographer. That being said, taking pictures of someone else’s children at the shower area is… tricky. If you’re getting close ups of people who don’t know you, it’s polite to ask permission first. And if you’re taking pictures of a child, you should definitely ask first. Even at the playground area, you should really ask first. Yes, he’s got the right to take photos in a public area. And parents have the right to ask him what he’s doing, and to say no. Not everyone wants to be the subject of a strangers’ photo…even if the photographer is a great artist. I’m all for street photography, but if my small child is getting sand out of their swimsuit at the shower and I see an older man taking photos, I am walking right over to ask him what he’s doing.

    • Katherine O'Brien

      January, this is so eloquently stated and I know you are an accomplished artist/photographer in your own right as I’ve seen some work you have done for mutual friends at SES. Larry’s artistry is beautiful, but, I agree, when it comes to children, in particular, one needs to be very cautious and considerate. At the very least, approach the subject of the photo (or adult capable of providing consent) to actually obtain consent. If you desire the photo to be “authentic”, introduce yourself after the photo is taken, explain the project and seek permission to use the photos. If they ask not to be included, respect that. It’s that simple. Those of us at SES are still reeling from the fact a collector of child pornography was investigated literally across the road from the school. I think the feelings of every parent about our child(ren) being photographed without consent should be respected.

  21. Michelle Mechanic

    Larry Silver is one of the kindest, talented, and sensitive people I have the honor to call a “friend.” Gloria is a treasure as well. Larry is a gift to our community and an institution in American street photography. His timeless photos capture the beauty of every day moments both compositionally and contextually. I was heartbroken for Larry when he first told me of this news. Sadly, Larry’s situation presents some legally complex barriers.

    First, John Suggs is absolutely correct that this is a PD matter, which is not within the scope of Parks and Rex’s authority. Second, Larry’s First Amendment rights have been chilled. Unfortunately, people who do not appreciate, or are unwilling to avail themselves of the innocence and beauty of his work could claim they feel exploited or harassed. This then becomes a separate legal issue. Artist, even famous ones, struggle. How are he and Gloria going to thrive if a litigious person sues them? The legal fees alone, are crippling for an artist. Accusations like those made at the beach could wrongfully harm Larry’s fine reputation.

    I implore everyone reading this to speak out on Larry Silver’s behalf. Demand he be permitted to continue capturing Westport life as only Larry is capable. I stand with Larry Silver as a friend, and admirer of his work. Stand with me and support him as a community. If Larry faces legal issues, we must provide resources and pro bono services. Write to Parks and Rec and demand they restore his right to create and photograph at Compo Beach. Spread the word that his work is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other giants across the world. And for goodness sakes, if we hear him disparaged, we must all come to his aid. Larry’s work is not art for art’s sake, it is are for OUR sake! Love you both, Larry and Gloria! XO – M

  22. For heaven’s sake! Millions of people with their iPhones take photos every day, everywhere. And most of them are totally innocent, although some might be considered “annoying.” And a lot of them are on the beach. Are they going to be stopped, questioned and threatened?

    But, of course, gun control is bad!

  23. I’m a Staples grad (’68) beginning my professional photography career in Westport, 1974. That career continued in my hometown until relocating to Florida in 1981 and now still travel nationwide for my clients.
    Be certain that Mr. Silver has the right to do what he is doing without government interference which can be easily verified doing a web search. What he is doing is known as ‘Street Photography’ and the only restrictions about selling his work might occur if he is on Federal land such as a national park. He does not need a model release to sell his images. But it is reasonable to assume people may be curious regarding his motives.
    I’ve had the rare experience of serving two terms as mayor of my small Florida town and as such, constantly acted as a mediary in finding solutions.
    My recommendation is Mr. Silver should be issued a ‘press pass’ on a neck lanyard along with Town issued documentation to be presented to those who question his legitimacy.
    I’d assume the Town attorney would be asked an opinion and I feel certain he’d advise that government interference with Mr. Silver risks all the dangers of skating on thin ice. Those officials should consider waiting a few months and do their skating on Nash’s pond!

    • Rob, I was actually thinking along the same lines: that he wear a lanyard similar to a press pass which would identify him as a professional photographer. Your idea might even better ease the minds of anyone who has some concern.

  24. I don’t think placing blame on the complainers is the best approach. A logical solution is for the Town government to provide documentation that can resolve the fear.

  25. Leonard Everett Fisher

    I was appalled by both Westport officialdom (i.e. Police + Parks and Recreation) in the way Larry Silver’s art was comprised as was his First Amendment Rights. Larry Silver is a distinguished photographer whose work is known world-wide — gentle man with with an uncommon skill and an equally gentle wife. Our beach is awash with cameras that are in constant play. And to have singled out this one exceptional professional in a town such as ours which prides itself on its singular diverse artistic heritage was as demeaning as it was unconscionable. For shame!

  26. Nancy Hunter

    A press pass type of identification? Then, Dan Woog himself should have to wear one. Crazy.

  27. Elizabeth Thibault

    This is the same reason why parents aren’t allowed to take pictures of their own kids in the swimming pools at the YMCA.
    I can see it from both perspectives, but this isn’t behind doors in the locker rooms, it’s out in the open. I wouldn’t ever expect privacy in those places.

  28. This is an interesting discussion but let me be clear: Mr. Silver has the right to make photographs in a public space, regardless of what government tells him. My concept of providing him with a government explanation is recommended to make his life easier and better able to continue what he is allowed to do. He can explain his work to his potential subjects with or without the government assistance. That’s between him and officials and if taken to court, he’ll win.

    • Whether he wins or not will depend on the use to which the photographs are put and the subject matter.

      • Russell Gontar

        How the photographs are being used and the subject matter of those photographs are irrelevant. Whether or not the photographer is a great guy or great photographer is also irrelevant. Mr. Downey is correct: Taking pictures in a public space is absolutely legal. Mr. Silver is under no obligation to explain what is doing to anyone, nor should he be required to wear any sort of identification. Last time I checked, this was still the United States of America.

        • Not quite right. If you take a picture of someone and then put it on a million cereal boxes you will be sued, and you will lose. In a number of sates if you take a picture of an under age child and that picture is deemed to be “suggestive” (go figure) you have committed a felony. This is the United States of America, and this is not a first Amendment issue.

          • Russell Gontar

            You have introduced a new circumstance that no one is taking about. Of course for commercial purposes, you must obtain a release but that’s not what folks are taking about here. In a public space, you may be photographed legally whether you like it or not. Short of nudity, what is “suggestive” is in the mind of the viewer and is most certainly NOT a felony. Mr. Silver and anyone else remain free most specifically under the first amendment to photograph anything and anybody they want in a public space.

    • You are a lawyer and the woman who started this mess is your wife, right?

      • Not even close.

        • Michael, just LOOK at the examples of his work in Dan’s blog! They are artwork, lovely, evocative, professional. They speak for themselves. And I think the idea of a press pass might just satisfy the curiosity of people wondering “what is he doing”. Good heavens, he tried to show his work to the woman complaining and she wouldn’t even look! That immediately makes me suspicious of her and her motives. And yes, he has a 100% right to be there. I hope Parks & Rec will immediately apologize.

  29. “One woman” didn’t approve of what Larry was doing. “One woman” created a disturbance. “One woman” complained to Parks & Rec and now this world-famous, award-winning photographer is prevented from practicing his craft, which he has done for 70 or so years. Is this reasonable? I don’t think so.

  30. Arline Gertzoff

    I know Larry and Gloria and neither would harm anyone.He is simply taking realistic photography which should be applauded not putting a ban on.What level of stupidity have we descended to.?

  31. Larry Silver is a world famous artist…..a top photographer, and a lovely human being. He of course will come out of this kerfuffel with all the glory he deserves. Bravo to you, Larry……don’t lose sleep over this!
    Wally Woods

  32. Lynn Untermeyer Miller

    Larry and Gloria Silver are Westport treasures. And should not only be appreciated as such, but should be respected and celebrated. Thank you, Larry for sharing your wonderful images with us. And thank you to you both, for your friendship. I feel very lucky to count you both as friends.

  33. Judith Marks-White

    Larry Silver is a class act, not only as a brilliant photographer, but as a man filled with compassion and humor. Anyone who doesn’t appreciate him doesn’t understand what Westport is about. Larry has captured his iconic images of our town that will endure throughout time. Aren’t we, Westport’s recipients, a lucky bunch? Bravo Larry, and all that you stand for. And to Dan for honoring him as you did. Terrific piece.

  34. Anyone who knows Larry and his wife, Gloria, knows that they are the nicest, most down-to-earth people that you will ever meet. I am saddened to read about the Parks and Rec’s letter to Larry, which is essentially a “cease and desist” letter. Larry is right: photographing in public places is allowable and legal. (Not the case in private locations.) I’m curious if the Westport Police, whom I’m a big fan of, would disagree. By the way, Dan, thanks for publishing Larry’s newest photos. They’re absolutely beautiful.