THE FREELANCE has received notice of the passing of veteran photographer Larry Herman - "quite suddenly and unexpectedly" - last week.
10 January 2022
Larry Herman died on December 29, aged 79. He was a socialist and trade unionist who practised what he preached - and he preached a fair amount. His deeply-held principles informed his work and his social and political life, through and through.
He was quite a distinguished freelance photographer; his work was self-generated documentary reportage, frequently of people at work, always black and white images and all on film. He never took a digital picture; his standing as a photographer, combined with a determined persistence, earned him a free lifetime supply of monochrome film from Ilford.
In the NUJ, over nearly 50 years of active membership, he manifested concern for fellow workers and their welfare at every turn. He was full of ideas on improving things - most recently with his proposal to set up the showcase for their work on this London Freelance website. The photo gallery and the writers' bookshelf are not yet widely promoted but their potential for displaying the quality of union of members' work is unlimited.
Larry began his career in New York as an artist, training as a sculptor for a time in Italy. He came to London in the 1960s, like many young Americans, on principle to avoid conscription into the army invading Vietnam. He worked as a news photographer and became active in this branch. Covering the riots in Brixton in 1981 he was smashed across the face while taking a picture by a truncheon-wielding police officer. The blow broke a finger and scarred his face but he liked to boast that the Leica was undamaged.
As a member of the International Marxist Group (led by Tariq Ali) in the 1980s he took a break from his profession as part of what they called the Turn to Industry. Members took industrial jobs to involve themselves in union organisation and spread socialist ideas. Larry went first to London Transport, working as a guard on the Northern Line, in the days when there were still staff on the trains to control the doors and help the passengers.
After two or three years he moved to Sheffield to work on the blast furnace at Forgemasters, the steel foundry that produced large-scale metalwork. When the NUJ held Annual Delegate Meetings in Sheffield in 1986 and 1988, Larry was outside the doors selling his revolutionary newspaper and greeting union comrades.
The Turn to Industry was reversed in the 1990s and Larry came back to photography and London Freelance Branch and began his long-term reportage projects. He travelled widely to compile picture reports on, among other subjects, life in Cuba; black small farmers in the southern USA; the Caribbean community in north Birmingham; low-paid night workers in the City of London; and women in the garment industry in Bangladesh.
All were either commissioned or resulted in successful exhibitions. Larry's work is displayed in collections at the Museum of London, the National Galleries of Scotland, Tate Britain and the Victoria & Albert Museum, as well as in private collections; late in life he made a decent freelance living selling handmade prints for up to $1000 a time.
On his second visit to Bangladesh, three years ago, Larry fell awkwardly from an auto-rickshaw and damaged his spine. There was no medical solution and he had suffered pain, often severe, ever since. He also became quite deaf, and over the last two years had found communications on Zoom hard to follow, making meetings difficult for him. Larry did not move easily with the times.
But he steadfastly continued with his socialist proselytising. Larry was descended from a long line of rabbis in New York and there was a rabbinical air to his speaking, as if he were teaching. Much of his recent activity was to help students and new members. He took part in new members' meetings and the visits to London universities under the Branch recruitment programme initiated by Francesca Marchese and himself.
Some members found his style offputting, but his message, like Larry himself, was wholly benign. Larry was kind-hearted, gregarious and always non-judgmental. Members enjoyed his company and learned from his example probably more than they realised.
5 January 2022
Mike Holderness notes: Larry served on the London Freelance Branch committee until he went on assignment to Bangladesh - where he was quite seriously injured in a road accident. He was involved with the former Four Corners photographic gallery in Bethnal Green, and in 2018 was working to defend the rights of photographers whose work appeared in the linked Camerawork magazine. In the same year he had an exhibition of his photographs of the working lives of Cubans at the Brady Arts Centre in nearby Whitechapel.