Creating Costumes from someone’s personal life

By Judith Dolan
Costume Designer for Pictures from Home

Through a collage of snapshots, home movies, corporate headshots, voice recordings and posed “theatrical” set ups, Sultan questions the boundaries between documentary and fiction. As familial patterns and delicate emotions are revealed and shared, the divide becomes ambiguous. Sultan himself notes that “…the boundaries blur, my distance slips…” He questions himself, “…which version of the family” does he present?

As the costume designer for the theatrical presentation Pictures from Home, my approach is primarily through the characters. But with the artist, the father and the mother’s multiple points of view: how can I honor them all? How can I suggest the intentional ambiguities that Sultan presents? Although most theatrical productions encourage a unified “concept,” it seems that Sultan’s artistic choices were intentionally disparate. The additional challenge for me was to convey the emotional landscape of the production through the characters. A landscape that must actively include the audience in the discoveries that Larry Sultan makes as the adult son.

Rendering by Costume Designer Judith Dolan.

Rendering by Costume Designer Judith Dolan.

Zachary Fine and Susan Koozin in Pictures from Home.

Zachary Fine, Susan Koozin, and todd waite in Pictures from Home.

The overall arc of the costume design suggests Larry Sultan’s point of view as he interrogates his many interactions with his parents over the years. As the play begins, Irv and Jean are portrayed in neutral clothing with a kiss to an earlier time. Their personalities are not yet quite defined to their son; they are a bit “out of focus.” In this way, the costumes hopefully will suggest, in a subliminal way, the audience’s own memories of parents or grandparents.

The costumes throughout the play are in conversation with the scenic and projection elements using the palette of California light. Costume colors may repeat or anticipate the scenic design. Some textile patterns merge elements from Sultan’s photos. Some costumes replicate his photographs. And some, toward the end, present Irv and Jean as they wish to be seen. The final costumes are drawn directly from Irv and Jean’s own celebratory snapshots that Larry Sultan generously – and subversively – included in his monograph.

The lens is wide in this production of Pictures from Home. The directing, writing, scenic, costume, lighting, sound and projections flow in a nuanced concert with one other and with the actors. It has been a joy to work with such talented and generous collaborators. I trust that the Alley audience will be intrigued, engaged and finally moved by the story of Larry, Irv and Jean.

Pictures from Home runs until February 11. Get your tickets here!