Larry Towell (born 1953) is a Canadian photographer, poet, and oral historian. Towell is known for his photographs of sites of political conflict in the Ukraine, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Standing Rock and Afghanistan, among others. In 1988, Towell became the first Canadian member of Magnum Photos
Towell was born in Chatham-Kent, Ontario and grew up in a large family in rural Ontario, attending local schools. At college, he studied visual arts at York University in Toronto, where his interest in photography first began. In 1976 Towell volunteered to work in Calcutta, India, where he became interested in questions about the distribution of wealth and issues of land and landlessness. Returning to Canada, Towell taught folk music and wrote poetry during the 1980s.
He became a freelance photographer in 1984. His early work included projects on the Contra war in Nicaragua, the civil war in El Salvador, relatives of the disappeared in Guatemala, and American Vietnam War veterans who worked to rebuild Vietnam. His first magazine essay looked at the ecological damages from the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
In 1988, Towell joined the Magnum Photos agency, becoming the first Canadian associated with the group. He has had picture essays published in The New York Times
, Rolling Stone
, and other magazines. His work has included documentation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Mennonite migrant workers in Mexico, and a personal project on his family's farm in southern Ontario.
He works in both film and digital photography formats. He has said "Black and white is still the poetic form of photography. Digital is for the moment; black and white is an investment of time and love." He has also worked with panoramic cameras to documents the impact of natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.
From 2008 to 2011, Towell traveled five times to Afghanistan to photograph the social effects of the Afghan civil war. Between 2013 and 2015, Towell photographed the above and underground construction work in Toronto's Union Station. In 2015 his photo Isaac's first swim was published by Canada Post as a stamp. In 2016 Towell photographed the Standing Rock protest in Standing Rock, North Dakota.
Towell has published books of photographs, poetry, and oral history. He has also recorded several audio CDs of original poetry and songs.
Towell lives in rural Lambton County Ontario and sharecrops a 75-acre farm with his wife Ann and their four children.
Larry Towell is Canada's most decorated photojournalist and is the country's first photographer to be made a member of Magnum, the world's most prestigious photo agency that was founded by Henry Cartier-Bresson
and Robert Capa
in 1947. Larry served as Vice-President of Magnum's New York office for several years between 2007 and 2016.
After completing a Visual Arts degree at York University, Toronto, he began photographing and writing in Calcutta. He then went on to complete book projects in Central America on the Nicaraguan Contra War and on the relatives of the disappeared in Guatemala. In 1996, Towell completed a monograph based on ten years of reportage in the brutal civil war in El Salvador, followed by a major book on the Palestinians. His fascination with landlessness also led him to the Mennonite migrant workers of Mexico, an eleven-year work he completed in 2000. After receiving the inaugural Henri Cartier-Bresson Award, Larry finished a second critically acclaimed book on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (No Man's Land
, 2005), followed by The World From My Front Porch
(2008) and most recently, Afghanistan
Towell's photo stories have been published in many international magazines including; LIFE, The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, Elle, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, Geo, and Stern. His international photo awards include: The Henri Cartier-Bresson Award (first recipient); several first place World Press awards including the 1994 Photo of the Year; a Hasselblad Award; The Alfred Eisenstadt Award; The Oskar Barnack Award; the first Roloff Beny Book prize, a Paul de Hueck and Norman Walford Career Achievement Award, the Prix Nadar of France, and a British Design and Art Direction (D&AD) Award.
Larry is also a gifted writer and musician and is known for his innovative live performances incorporating original music, video, poetry, and stills. He is the author of four music albums, fourteen books, as well as Indecisive Moments (2008), an award-winning short film.
Towell has had numerous one person and group exhibitions around the globe and is represented in many international public and private collections.
His current projects include the war in Ukraine and Central American migrants crossing Mexico. Larry lives in rural Ontario where he sharecrops a 75-acre farm.