It is hard not to miss Larry Blackburn. I had heard about and even seen the infamous Blackburn many times before we were ever introduced.
Towering over a crowd with a camera in hand is how I’ve always pictured him whenever his name came up in conversation. He seemed to me always larger than life, until I eventually got to sit down and talk to him and realize that he reflects all that is good about this community — kindness and compassion, among other things — and that he is in person just another human being trying to make things right.
“I fell in love with the Keys for the first time in 1975 and eventually work would bring me down about three to four times a year,” he says.
“Over the years I came to love everything the Keys had to offer and I fell in love with the community, especially the LGBT community and the hetero community that is intertwined with it,” he adds.
“The interaction and unity between the two communities made me feel like that’s the way the world is supposed to be. We don’t see color, age or sex. We just see people.”
Following the dream of equality, Larry officially moved to Key West 10 years ago after retiring from the United States Department of Navy. The extra time meant he could focus on his artistic talents as a professional photographer, and so that is what takes up a lot of his extra-curricular time these days. In fact, it has been for a long time.
He built his first pinhole camera when he was in the eighth grade. Eventually the pinholes morphed into generous gifts that include a 35mm his Dad brought him from Japan. He couldn’t put it down. From there, his quite literally developed a passion.
“My passion grew, but it was still a hobby,” he says. “I taught myself everything I could about photography.”
Photography encompasses many things. In Larry’s world, it means having his photographs published in local, national and international publications. It means shooting for The Miami Herald, The Washington Post and The New York Times.
And when it comes back to Key West, it means capturing the moments that are just as important to everyone else as they are to him.
“Couples come in to Key Wet to get married in the LBGT community and I am able to put together some nice memories for them” he says.
Larry is also a candidate for Fantasy Fest King. Contestants donate their time to organize events to raise money for AIDS Help. The two who raise the most money are crowned King and Queen.
It doesn’t mean that a monumental turn is needed or that they need to change the world. It is just a small step at a time.
Larry wants to be Fantasy Fest King because, as he says, “I just couldn’t find a reason to say no anymore.”
So there’s that.
When I interview Larry he is working at La Rubia on Fleming Street, the hat shop his wife, Stephanie Hellstrom, owns, while she is visiting famiy in Ecuador. He speaks the world of her and her mother and how incredible these two women are in his life. I think they may have an influence on his decisions.
You can catch Larry at one of his upcoming events by following @larry4king on Facebook or visiting www.larry4king.com.
“You can support a candidate of your choice,” he says.
And of course, support AIDS Help. ¦