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Larry Sultan, Business Page, 1985
From the series, "Pictures from Home"
Chromogenic print, 30 x 40 inches
© Estate of Larry Sultan
Photo courtesy the Estate of Larry Sultan

In the mid-1970s, Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel produced a series of black and white photographs called "Evidence" that had a resounding impact in the art world. Most of this still potent series is featured in Larry Sultan: Here and Home on view at the LA County Museum of Art through March 22, 2015.

Larry Sultan; Mike Mandel, Untitled
From the series, "Evidence," 1977, printed 2014
Gelatin silver print
Image 8 x 10 inches; frame 13 x 15 inches
© Estate of Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel
Photo courtesy the Estate of Larry Sultan

Funded by an NEA grant, Sultan and Mandel used the letterhead of a defunct company, Clatworthy Colorvues, to write to companies like Jet Propulsion Lab, Northrop, Sunkist to ask for photographs from their archives. What they received was “evidence” of various technological and industrial processes that are to the average viewer completely absurb. And funny. Why does that man have his head in a big plastic bag? Seen in retrospect, they bridged issues of Conceptual art and New Topographics and have had quite a lasting influence on contemporary photography.

Larry Sultan, My Mother Posing for Me
From the series, "Pictures from Home," 1984
Chromogenic print, 40 x 50 inches
© Estate of Larry Sultan
Photo courtesy the Estate of Larry Sultan

Sultan and Mandel, both from LA, met at San Francisco Art Institute and collaborated for over 30 years. But each also had his own career. Sultan passed away in 2009, and this show, organized by Rebecca Morse, is the first retrospective of his photographs. On his own, he captured an essential absurdity even while taking pictures of his parents in their suburban home in the San Fernando Valley. Dad practicing his golf swing in the bedroom or reading the newspaper, Mom bringing out the turkeys to be cooked for the holiday. As he once said that he enjoyed being a subject in the drama rather than a witness, that he used photography literally, “to stop time.”

Larry Sultan, Dad with Golf Clubs
From the series, "Pictures from Home," 1987
Chromogenic print, 20 x 24 inches
© Estate of Larry Sultan
Photo courtesy the Estate of Larry Sultan

As a result, Sultan’s point of view is not harsh and the exhibition includes various family photographs that underscore the humanity of the people in his pictures. Sultan found unexpected beauty in the mundane: the chain link, the stucco walls, the sprinklers, illuminated by the magical light of California.

Larry Sultan, Boxers, Mission Hills
From the series, "The Valley," 1999
Chromogenic print, 40 x 50 inches
Image 8 x 10 inches; frame 13 x 15 inches
© Estate of Larry Sultan
Photo courtesy the Estate of Larry Sultan

He was a respected teacher at SFAI and California College of the Arts but his best known series brought him back to his home town. The Valley was born of a Maxim magazine assignment to document a porn star at work in a film. He continued by photographing multiple shoots in the San Fernando Valley, images often titled by street location: Chandler Blvd. Instead of obviously sexualized or sensational shots, Sultan documented the actors waiting and waiting, wearing heavy make-up and unlikely costumes. Even in this context, Sultan reveals his subjects as vulnerable, as well-endowned working stiffs, if you’ll excuse the expression. At every turn of his career he was moving forward which, in hindsight, is very satisfying. For more information, go to lacma.org.

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