The Art Institute of Chicago  
  tina barney
September 16 - December 3, 2006 philip-lorca dicorcia
nan goldin
sally mann
larry sultan

Tina Barney
Philip-Lorca diCorcia
Nan Goldin
Sally Mann
Larry Sultan
Recommended Reading


    Mom Posing for Me, 1984 Sitting on Bed, 1986
    Untitled Snapshot, 1947/1991 Practicing Golf Swing, 1986

    In 1982, while visiting his parents in Los Angeles, Larry Sultan pulled out a box of old home movies the family had not watched in years. Astounded by the films, Sultan later commented, "They were remarkable, more like a record of hopes and fantasies than of actual events. It was as if my parents had projected their dreams onto film emulsion.”

    Family albums, reels of home movies, and the tales they prompt all help to construct and define, individually and collectively, the term “family.” What is pictured on the album page or living room wall—and what is left unpictured—attests to a common desire for a tale of domestic happiness. In his project Pictures from Home (1982–91), Larry Sultan used his own contemporary photographs as pendants to his parents’ old movies and snapshots, exploring a complete, more complex sense of family. The chronological distance separating these two components raises questions of history, memory, and time. The child photographing his parents reverses the social norm, complicating the sense of power, identity, and self-creation experienced on either side of the camera.

    “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. . . . 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.”

    Sultan’s photographs his parents as they go about their lives—post-corporate retirement for his father and entrepreneurial home-selling for his mother—against the quintessential backdrop of the American dream: a ranch house in the suburbs, a heated garage, and wall-to-wall carpeting. Accompanying the photographs, their voices fill the pages and wall spaces of the project as they contemplate their current relationship to one another:

    So your mother is my best friend, but the truth is, that trust is a fragile thing and can be easily broken. Our real problem is how I get irritated and how that can escalate.

    Really, sometimes he can be very sweet, but other times I feel that I have to tiptoe around him, that any moment he’ll turn on me. You know that look of his, it burns right through you.

    Sultan himself also enters the dialogue, discussing the project and the different narratives of their shared history with his father:

    There are no clear lines—I don’t know where you stop and I start. And it’s crossed my mind that perhaps I’m out to justify my own life, my choices, by questioning yours.

    You worry too much. I’m really happy to help you with your project. Seriously. I just wanted you to know that for the most part that’s not me I recognize in those pictures.

    These voices work with and against the photographs, sometimes confirming the apparent reality of the pictures and sometimes contradicting their purported documentary truth. Or is it the reverse? Perhaps it is the photographs that corroborate or complicate one person’s recollection. Pictures from Home, as a revision of one family’s record, deftly navigates the elusive breach between fact and fiction in both its images and its narrative.


    Web site

    Steven Wirtz Gallery


    Pictures from Home. Abrams, 1992.

    Evidence. D.A.P., 2003.

    The Valley. Scalo. 2004.

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