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.
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.