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Larry Sultan, Pictures From Home
Larry Sultan, Pictures From HomeCourtesy of the artist and MACK

Larry Sultan’s chic, stylish ode to his parents in middle-class suburbia

The acclaimed photographer’s Pictures From Home immortalises his beloved, achingly cool mother and father in their mid-century desert dream home

“These are my parents. From that simple fact, everything follows,” wrote photographer Larry Sultan in his acclaimed book Pictures From Home. “I realise 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.”

First published in 1992, it’s considered by Martin Parr to be “one of the most significant American photobooks of the 1990s” and has no doubt influenced the work of photographers such as Miles Aldridge and Nadia Lee Cohen. Pictures From Home is a labour of love, created by Sultan over many visits throughout the 1980s to his parent’s home near Palm Springs in Southern California; a deeply personal document in which he attempts to preserve his parents forever within the pages. The upcoming reprint of this seminal book, published by MACK, combines furtive, voyeuristic shots and documentary photography with carefully choreographed images, stills from home movies, old photographs, ephemera, transcribed fragments of conversation, and Sultan’s own written reflections.

Pictures From Home is a true period piece. Set against the backdrop of the Reagan-era US, it’s a perfect time capsule of the decade’s conservative, affluent, aspirational American family life. Sultan is renowned for his saturated colour photography, and captures the vivid tones of his parent’s modish retirement pad – a mid-century dream home in the desert. Yet the project is also Sultan’s attempt to “puncture this mythology of the family”; a painful testament to the complex dynamics of child and parent relationships and inevitable generational misunderstandings as the photographer’s artistic endeavours are often undermined by his father’s old-school machismo attitude. Seeking patriarchal affirmation that never materialises, Sultan writes, “Every few months I visit, loaded down with camera gear and ideas for pictures. It takes a day or two for most of these ideas to seem strained or foolish and then I’m left with cases of unexposed film and a feeling of desperation.”

Curator David Campany brilliantly describes the work as, “A memoir, a scrapbook, a cry of pain, and an album of bitterly affectionate photographs. Larry Sultan’s images and words were his reconciliation with the oedipal mess of the American Dream.”

The inherent sadness of Pictures From Home lays in the impossibility of the task the late photographer set out to accomplish. Anchored so distinctly in the late 20th century, this incredible collection of images and text perfectly distilled a son’s imperfect adoration of his parents and their world, but it’s evidently a disappeared world peopled by long-gone figures. Photography may fail to fulfil its literal promise, time moves inexorably on, but Pictures From Home remains as devastatingly and achingly poignant as ever. 

Take a look through the gallery above for a glimpse of a few of the gorgeous photographs in Larry Sultan’s ode to his beloved mother and father. 

Larry Sultan’s Pictures From Home is published by MACK and is available for pre-order now