Larry Sultan


1946, Brooklyn, New York
2009, Greenbrae, Marin County

Portrait of photographer Larry Sultan

Photo: Betsy Schneider


Larry Sultan was born in Brooklyn, grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, and settled in the Bay Area. By the time of his death at age 63 he was an internationally acclaimed photographer, a beloved teacher at California College of the Arts, and an important advocate for public art.

Sultan first gained recognition for Evidence, a 1977 project created in collaboration with Mike Mandel, whom he met when they were both graduate students at the San Francisco Art Institute. The two shared a deadpan sense of humor, a background in political science, and an interest in Conceptual art. For Evidence, they excavated photographs from the files of local corporations, government agencies, and research institutions. Extracted from their original contexts and displayed in a museum, these documents provide few clues about what they were originally intended to show. Instead, they conjure strange and sometimes humorous associations, inviting speculation rather than certainty.

Sultan returned to the San Fernando Valley suburb of his childhood for Pictures from Home (published 1992), a decade-long portrait of his aging parents, and again for The Valley (published 2004), which examines the adult film industry's use of middle-class houses as stage sets. Like so much of his work, including later projects on San Francisco socialites and migrant workers, these pictures consider the physical and emotional place we call home while providing an object lesson in the fictions that even the most straightforward of photographs construct.

Audio Stories

Hear about Sultan’s intimate Pictures from Home

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Bay Area photographer Larry Sultan is interested in the lie behind the photograph and the many ways an image can be understood. In his series Pictures from Home, Sultan focused on capturing the reality of his parents daily lives. Curator Erin OToole: 



Larry Sultans Pictures from Home project basically started when he began looking through family snapshot albums and home movies, and started considering what sort of fiction was being manufactured in these photographs, because he felt that what they showed wasnt really what he remembered his family life to have been.  


His parents had come from a culture where photographs were meant to sort of idealize. Sultan doesnt consider the photographs he took of his parents to be objective or documentary and that the snapshots are fantasies or sort of manufactured realities. He sort of considers all photographs as being slippery, as not being truthful; that we invest so much in this idea that photographs can be evidence of something, that they tell the truth, but in fact, they are constructions; and that the photographs that he made of his parents were as much constructions, based on his idea of his family and of family in general, as the snapshots that he found in his family albums.

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