It happened in 1982, during one of the frequent visits that Larry Sultan (Brooklyn, New York 1946- Greenbrae, California, 2009) made to his parents at their home in the San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles. One night, instead of renting a video film, they decided to dust off a box full of home movies. So, suddenly, on the screen, they saw years of their lives go by. However, more than a chronicle of real events, they were an extraordinary fable; a reminder of old wishes and fantasies. “It was as if my parents had projected their dreams onto film emulsion,” wrote the photographer. “I was in my mid-thirties and yearned for that intimacy, security, and comfort that I associated with home. But whose home? From which of the versions of the family home?
In this way, Sultan began to shape a project that, initially conceived as the portrait of his father, would last for a decade. A painful and cathartic approach to the intimate labyrinths of the domestic environment that would result in one of the most relevant and acclaimed photobooks of the nineties: Pictures from Home, which is now reissued by MACK for the second time. “At that time, the Republicans had kidnapped the family and turned it into an ideological tool,” recalled the eloquent artist, in a video interview recovered in the retrospective dedicated to him by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2017. ” In my opinion the values of the family they were referring to were quite oppressive. I believe that the family is one of the most complex and puzzling institutions, but it is still the last institution that most of all of us believe in. We certainly don’t believe in governments, many of us don’t believe in the Church, and we definitely don’t trust banks. The family still has a pull. And it is a really interesting place ”.
“We certainly don’t believe in governments, many of us don’t believe in the Church, and we definitely don’t trust banks. The family still has a pull. And it is a really interesting place “
Thus, starting from the strong figure of his father, a Jewish orphan of very humble origins, who became vice president of an important corporation on his own merits, the author will delve into his own identity. “My father was pissed off that I was an artist,” recalled the photographer. “He always gave me a hard time. He called me a loser. He lost his job in his mid-fifties. The company closed and he never went back to work. The wound deeply penetrated the family ”. Sultan pretended “Deflate the mythology of the family” extolled in Reagan’s America and “show what happens when we allow ourselves to be carried away by the image of success that capitalism extols.” Thus, combining the frames with other snapshots from the family album and his own photographs would compose a moving elegy outlined by a writing, in which the artist reels off the family history. “Has there ever been a photographer who writes better than Sultan?” Asks Alec Soth on the photography platform Photocaptionist, “I’m sure no one has done better when it comes to combining text and image,” he adds. That so intimate and personal story would acquire a universal character.
Throughout six chapters, Sultan returns to the family home without being able to stop being an integral part rather than an aseptic witness. The portraits of his parents, Jane and Irving, reveal both bitterness and love, emotions that are skillfully balanced in the sequencing of the images. This is how the tension is palpable in the pristine interiors where the premises of the American dream are reflected. They are images as intimate as they are cinematic. Some documentaries, other posadas. “For me the truth is in the representation, in how we act, in how we project,” said the photographer. “The truth can be represented or found.” However, those certainties revealed in a private sphere would become public, a breach of trust that made the photographer uncomfortable. To solve this, his parents became his collaborators and, in the same way that the artist questioned those family films, half fiction, half truth, he found that his parents questioned their own.
On Pictures From Home, the ordinary is loaded with content and becomes sublime, like the portrait of his father sitting on his bed impeccably dressed in a blue suit. “Look Larry, my father told me”, recalls the author, “I am very happy to be able to help you with this project. But I want you to know that I already know that the one sitting on the bed right now is you. This is a self-portrait ”. But beyond wanting to delve into his own wounds and confusion, the artist understood that a clear intention emerged: “the desire to literally take photographs to stop time. I wanted my parents to live forever, ”wrote the photographer.
Portrait of a saga faced by their political differences
Photographer Gillian Laub (1975, Chappaqua, New York) belongs to a Jewish family that escaped death during the pogroms in Ukraine. “They settled in the United States, they faced discrimination, they left their skin to work, and they managed to build something incredible”, as she describes herself. Addressed issues primarily focused on community conflicts, including Testimony (2007), which deals with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Southern Rites (2015), an exploration of racism in the southern states of the United States, the circumstances led the author to focus on a personal struggle unleashed in 2016, when practically all the members of her family, her adored and privileged tribe, passed to be somehow strangers to her, turned into staunch supporters of Donald Trump.
Gillian Laub focuses on a personal struggle unleashed in 2016, when virtually everyone in her family became staunch supporters of Donald Trump.
Thus, in an exercise of honesty and tolerance, this family political drama finds form in Family Matters, a book published by Aperture, which accompanies the exhibition of the same title, which is held in the International Center of Photography (ICP) from New York. A fundamentally visual story that, as is the case with Pictures from Home, uses text to get where photography alone could not. Hence, each image is accompanied by a text written by the author where the main protagonists of this saga find a voice, pointing to the complexities, contradictions and nuances that define each of them.
There are many references to Sultan that we find in Laub’s work. The author will also have the participation of her parents and relatives to prepare the book, who will lend themselves to stage moments that the author did not have the opportunity to capture with her camera. The look to the past in this case is facilitated by the extensive archive that the photographer would have been preparing on her family for two decades, headed by the charismatic and peaceful grandfather Irving, who poses uninhibited with his zebra swimsuit and who best expresses the extravagant way like this as an expansive of the family when it comes to embracing life.
The humorous tone is perhaps the best ally of the author to carry out the project, and the element that she uses to temper the anger, sadness, confusion and also the affection and respect that she experiences throughout the entire process. . Time during which he not only struggles to understand the attitude of his family, but also to define his own identification with the values that govern current American society. To do this, he had to approach his family with the same attitude with which he has approached other issues in the exercise of his profession, “without a critical attitude and with an open mind.” All of them with the purpose of “accepting and also challenging an entire nation in conflict”, as the photographer expresses it.
Pictures from Home. Larry Sultan MACK Books. 53 euros.
Family Matters. Gilliam Laub. Squeeze. 200 pages. 43 euros.
Family Matters. Gilliam Foliage. International Center of Photography (ICP). New York. Until January 10, 2022.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.