Remember that editorial photo of Paris Hilton laying on a bed in an average suburban California home back in 2007? The photographer who captured that photo was Larry Sultan, and it was actually taken in his parents’ former bedroom.
While familiar with the name Sultan, I had no idea who the photographer really was. Viewing his work, I realized that I had unknowingly been exposed to his editorial work many times in the past. I was in LA last week and was planning to go to the LACMA, which I try to do whenever I’m in town. I saw that they had a retrospective of Sultan’s work on display and made a point to go and see it.
I don’t know exactly why I felt so strongly towards the work, specifically his Pictures From Home series. Was it because of my personal connection to growing up in the suburbs in the 90s? Arguably the peak of suburban childhood living before video games and the internet really took hold. Maybe it’s because I still live in the suburbs now.
An underlying theme in all of his work is this delicate balance between realism and façade. Each scene being so perfectly set up that it almost doesn’t look real, yet so detailed that it seems impossible to be fake. How could every detail be just so at that exact moment? As if the image’s perfection was so unexplainable that it could only be justified as being fake. I left that show feeling inspired. So much so, that it’s difficult for me to put into words. If you get a chance to view his retrospective at the LACMA, please do. He left us with a virtually timeless body of work to study and be inspired by.
Larry Sultan: Here and Home is the first retrospective of California photographer Larry Sultan (1946–2009). The exhibition includes more than 200 photographs ranging from Sultan’s conceptual and collaborative works of the 1970s to his solo works in the decades following. Sultan never stopped challenging the conventions of photographic documentation, exploring themes of family, home, and façade throughout his career. Five major bodies of work are represented including: Evidence (1977), made collaboratively with Mike Mandel; Swimmers (1978–81); Pictures from Home (1982–92); The Valley (1998–2003); and Homeland (2006–2009). The show is augmented by a “study hall,” with documentation and ephemera providing a glimpse of Sultan’s modes of inquiry as an artist and a teacher.