PHO703: Larry Towell

There is a good interview with the veteran Magnum photographer Larry Towell on Vice (Elkaim 2015). Towell is a one-off, a Canadian farmer and something of a log cabin recluse who is also a documentary photographer in powerful black and white of injustice and civil strife in Palestine and Central America, of Mennonite communities and of life from his own front porch (Towell 2020). Towell does not buy into much of the modern world, particularly social media which can easily become an ego-fuelled, celebrity-driven maze. He has some good comments for people who are starting out on serious photography, people like me in fact.

‘First of all, you will see change immediately, but the change will be you. You will change. That’s the first step. Beyond that, the bad guys will never tell you that you affected them. Sometimes change takes generations. The main thing is to be on the right side, and if you’re not on the right side… then you’re probably going to make a lot of money. But If you believe you have to change the world with your work, which is a very pretentious belief, then if you don’t change the world then you failed. But that’s the only way to look at it. The only thing that makes sense, so you have to be governed by an inner clock, an integrity. I think that’s what we should be doing. We lose it sometimes – I know lots of photographers who come in as journalists and go out as corporate advertising photographers making rather than $400 a day $15,000 a day. I know lots of those people. …

Fig. 1: Larry Towell 1988. El Salvador 23
Fig. 1: Larry Towell 1988. El Salvador 23.

‘The first book is always bad. At the time, you think it’s great. My first books, I won’t even show them to anybody. I’ve got boxes of them downstairs. I won’t even take them out.

‘It’s a process. Each one gets better, you get better at it, you become a better designer, you become a better photographer, or you become a better storyteller, become a better craftsman at your own work.

‘You have to be self motivated and you have to be able to take a lot of rejection. You have to be able to enjoy rejection until rejection becomes so wonderful that you just can’t wait to get another rejection so that you can get back to the grindstone so you can get more rejection. …

‘I guess the main thing is, you’ve got to get out of bed in the morning, you’ve got to get on a plane. Somehow, you have to find how to get somewhere and you have to be with the people you’re with. That’s all you can do. And not everybody is going to survive, let’s face it. There are two things everyone is in the world: one of them is a photographer and one of them is a poet.’


ELKAIM, Aaron Vincent. 2015. ‘You Will Change: Magnum Photographer Larry Towell Has Advice for Young Photojournalists’. Vice [online]. Available at: [accessed 09 Jul 2020].

TOWELL, Larry. 2020. ‘Larry’s General Store’. Larry’s General Store [online]. Available at: [accessed 08 Jul 2020].


Figure 1. Larry TOWELL. 1988. El Salvador 23.