Reading in Bed, 1988
From “Pictures from Home” series
Archival pigment print
Edition 2/10 + 2 APs
50.8 x 61 cm.
In his seminal photographic series Pictures From Home (1982-1991), the American photographer Larry Sultan captured his parents in both spontaneous and constructed scenarios of various mundane domesticity, revealing the socialised and idiosyncratic aspects of family life. The pictures make evident that the photographer is not a privileged, passive voyeur but rather an active participant inextricably bound to his subjects. Sultan upends conventional family albums whereby parents record the lives of their children, to highlight the dynamic tensions in family relationships. In keeping with photographic discourse of the period, through subtle means, Sultan undermines the claim that photographs can be truthful and implicitly suggests that pictures that purport to be documentary are really an elaborate fiction.
While beautifully lit and quite possibly staged, Reading in Bed appears to be a casual shot. Intimacy and humour are made palpable in this everyday scene, which is equally a perceptive inquiry into the camera’s construction of family and an expression of love. Sultan’s nuanced use of photography invokes the medium’s most rudimentary appeal: to preserve a moment in time, and its subjects.
Larry Sultan (1946-2009, Brooklyn, NY) was an influential photographer and educator. He earned an MFA at the San Francisco Art Institute (1973), and taught for twenty years at the California College of the Arts. His photography has been widely published, including ground-breaking self-published collaborations with Mike Mandel How To Read Music In One Evening (1974) and Evidence (1977). Based on documents found in government and corporate archives, the Evidence project is acclaimed as a watershed in the history of conceptual photography. Sultan was the recipient of numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship (1983), and his works continue to be internationally exhibited, including a recent retrospective at LACMA, Los Angeles. Works from Pictures From Home were featured in Presentation House Gallery’s 1995 exhibition Death and the Family.