Beginning in the early 1980’s, Larry Sultan spent ten years photographing, interviewing, and writing about his parents, and his relationship with them. The result was his acclaimed photo memoir, Pictures from Home.
The images from the book are often treated as if they are the artwork. When in fact, the real artwork is the entire project. It’s Larry’s interviews with his parents; his profound exploration of their relationship; his memories of childhood; his perspective on adulthood as he attempted to make sense of himself through the lens of his parents’ experiences; and of course, the extraordinary photographs.
But it’s more than that. The artwork is also a documentation of Larry’s parents, and their agreement — sometimes weary, sometimes hostile, but always an agreement — to engage with him.
I first encountered the project during Sultan’s 2015 retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Printed on the gallery wall next to a picture of his father, Irv, was the following exchange:
-Don’t you think that a fiction can suggest a truth?
-Maybe, but whose truth is it? It’s your picture, but my image.
The image in question was of a man, sitting on a bed, in a blue suit. Irv. A man, who, at first glance, does not present as a person interested in discussing concepts like ownership of image. The exchange resonated with tension, intimacy, rejection, acceptance. Then and there I wanted to know everything about Larry Sultan, his father, and his mother, Jean.
This play is my exploration of Larry’s exploration. But take one further step with me: it also represents actors, along with their director, interpreting that exploration: Larry’s pictures, his parents’ images, this play, all further interpreted by an audience.
So whose truth is it? I like to think Larry would appreciate the idea of even more layers being added to that question.