Larry Sultan, Pictures from Home

Photography as a medium has always had a good memory. It allows us to pick and choose moments, frame them, place them into different contexts, work with memories to create evidence of the past. Larry Sultan has been a house favorite for many and this kind of praise is not new by any means. In fact it took a revisit to the work to get the excited sensation about photographs again.
In the sea of modern photography, Larry Sultan's mark still floats like a strong ship, as winds change and times attempt to move on, his work still has unbelievable impact upon not just young photographers, but everyone.

They were made in a time where excitement ran through photography's veins, graduates had the chance to collaborate and people would listen - Mike Mandel comes to mind and his work with Larry - particularly Evidence, 1977.

Perhaps the golden era provides a golden shine to this work and with the Americana of Pictures from Home, its nostalgia reaches an all time high. It is not just their beauty, nor their nostalgia that make them great pictures.  Their context does not make them as photographs, their branding does not make them great. They stand alone as impeccable photographs of humble processes. The obsession to record ones family, each moment, to step aside and prevent yourself from the memory and to leave it as a moment between the subjects, with the maker acutely aware of their position.

The care taken to avoid invasion, only prompting direction from time to time, to record moments that are a correspondence of three, not just the two in the frame.

I remember, early on coming across a quote by Larry's Father regarding a picture set up by his son, and he implied it was a self portrait for the maker, Larry, not himself. This is somewhat true in relation the photographer, the natural position to feel and understand their own role becomes the part of the product they produce. But his process is organic, developing a nurtured relationship to reveal layers beyond what we would have anywhere else - the relationship between photographer and their family members.

"The house is quiet.  They have gone to bed, leaving me alone, and the electric timer has just switched off the living-room lights.  It feels like the house has finally turned on its side to fall asleep.  Years ago I would have gone through my mother’s purse for one of her cigarettes and smoked in the dark.  It was a magical time that the house was mine.

Tonight, however, I am restless.  I sit at the dining-room table; rummage through the refrigerator.  What am I looking for?

All day long I’ve been scavenging, poking around in rooms and closets, peering at their things, studying them.  I arrange my rolls of exposed film into long rows and count and recount them as if they were lost.  There are twenty-eight.

What drives me to continue this work is difficult to name.  It has more to do with love than with sociology, with being a subject in the drama rather than a witness.  And in the odd and jumbled process of working everything shifts; the boundaries blur, my distance slips, the arrogance and illusion of immunity falters.  I wake up in the middle of the night, stunned and anguished.  These are my parents.  From that simple fact, everything follows.  I realize that beyond the rolls of film and the few good pictures, the demands of my project and my confusion about its meaning, is the wish to take photography literally.  To stop time.  I want my parents to live forever."

Larry Sultan


Although their lives are quiet, their representation of retirement becomes universal. Although their position is privileged their values still stand. For a families values, although they vary, have equal importance.
And although the pictures are personal, their stance is far enough to look objectively, a position that would seem uncomfortable for the son of two parents.

With all their dazzle, their Americana, their nostalgic value, we are not smogged by these pictures. They undoubtedly stir our senses, stay in our minds, drive us forward and make us feel motivated to match the standard set. After seeing the work again I can't help but roam around in the past, basking in the glory of the weighted, new and exciting. It reminds me that photography is not there yet, if such a body of work can affect us like this and others can't. I still get the feeling photography is missing something, something that Pictures from Home has in abundance.