Larry Sultan - In Motion Picture

Photograph by Kelly Sultan

Larry died Sunday12.13.09


wonderful Photograher and Human being.

Some artists have confronted the role photography itself has played in creating and complicating our sense of domestic life. Larry Sultan photographed his father and family over a ten year period spanning the 70s and 80s as part of an elaborate project that included his parents own photos, home movies and statements. This was the Reagan era which preached the values of family life, a version Sultan didn't recognise.

"Photography is there to construct the idea of us as a great family and we go on vacations and take these pictures and then we look at them later and we say, 'Isn't this a great family?' So photography is instrumental in creating family not only as a memento, a souvenir, but also a kind of mythology." (Larry Sultan)

As Larry set about creating his version of the Sultan family experience, his father Irvin struggled with the role his son now gave him, as the following exchange reveals:

Irvin: “I'd get set, I'd get comfortable and he says to me 'Don't smile', which would absolutely irritate me because when he says 'Don't smile' in my own mind I have no idea what he is projecting. What is he trying to tell me to do?" "I remember that picture so distinctly sitting on the bed, shirt and tie dressed up and I looked like a full on lost soul and I look at the picture and I say 'That's not me!'"

Larry: "In fact you went even further you said, 'That's not me sitting on the bed that's you sitting on the bed. That's a self portrait'. And I thought that was right. And you said this too, you said 'Any time you show that picture you tell people that that's not me sitting on the bed looking all dressed up and nowhere to go, depressed. That's you sitting on the bed and I am happy to help you with the project but let's get things straight here!'"

"The daily practice of a photographer is to be distanced, to have a little bit of room between what you're doing and how you see, what you look at. For me the biggest surprise was that the distance I thought I needed as a photographer slipped. It wasn't about 'these' people it was about 'us'."


Summer comes and summer goes,
Buds the primrose, fades the rose;
But his footfall on the grass,
Coming swiftly to my door,
I shall hear again no more,
Though a thousand summers pass.

Once he loved the clovers well,
Loved the larkspur and bluebell.
And the scent the plum--blooms yield;
But strange flowers his soul beguiled,
Pallid lilies, laurels wild,
Blooming in a crimson field.

So he plucked the laurels there,
And he found them sweet and fair
In that field of blood-red hue;
And, when on a summer night
Moonlight drenched my clovers white,
Lo! He plucked Death's lilies, too.

It may be that e'en to--night,
In the Gardens of Delight,
Where his shining soul must dwell,
In has found some flowers more sweet
Than the clovers at my feet,
Some celestial asphodel.

But while summer comes and goes,
With the primrose and the rose
Comes his footfall on the grass--
Gladly, lightly to my door--
I shall hear it echo o'er,
Though a thousand summers pass.

~ W. D. Eaton
Continue Reading: Echo