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Larry Sultan “Here and Home” at LACMA

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Larry Sultan, My Mother Posing for Me, from the series "Pictures from Home," 1984. All photos: © The Estate of Larry Sultan. Photo courtesy the estate of Larry Sultan

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Canal District, San Rafael, from the series "Homeland," 2006

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Discussion, Kitchen Table, from the series "Pictures from Home," 1985

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Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel, Untitled, from the series "Evidence," 1977, printed 2013. © The Estate of Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel. Photo courtesy the estate of Larry Sultan

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Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel, Untitled, from the series "Evidence," 1977, printed 2013. © The Estate of Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel. Photo courtesy the estate of Larry Sultan

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Sharon Wild, from the series "The Valley," 2001

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Boxers, Mission Hills, from the series "The Valley," 1999

The first retrospective of the work of iconic California photographer Larry Sultan, “Here and Home,” features more than 200 photographs and five major series’, displaying his keen eye for subversive detail, framing, and context which made him one of the most genre-pushing purveyors of the medium. Sultan died suddenly five years ago, after producing more than 30 years of photographs that mostly centered around long-term projects that explored authorship, Conceptualism, and California identity and culture.

His “Evidence” series, made with Mike Mandel from 1975-77 , repurposed internal imagery science, industry, and government as art photography. The 59 black-and-white archival photographs– of a canyon explosion, of an abstracted head in a hardhat, of bare footprints across a wet stone ground– are reconsidered as scenes of life captured by an auteur: it is widely considered one of the first Conceptual photography projects. In his solo work, Sultan looked closely at Southern California, where he grew up, as well as Northern California where he studied and later taught. His interest in place, reflected in the exhibition title, is perhaps nowhere as apparent as in “Pictures from Home,” for which he photographed his aging parents for years among the furnishings of their California-kitsch home and on their impossibly green lawn. But beyond sense of place, Sultan measured the distance between photographer and subject, and the objective space the photographer continually takes up and cedes.  “What drives me to continue this work is difficult to name,” he wrote in a statement on the work in 1992. “It has more to do with love than with sociology, with being a subject in the drama rather than a witness.  And in the odd and jumbled process of working everything shifts; the boundaries blur, my distance slips, the arrogance and illusion of immunity falters.”

Later photographs look more objectively at place, as in “Homeland,” in which he posed migrant workers in the in-between places of suburban life, and “The Valley,” a documentation of the suburban homes where pornography is filmed. In the later, he often obscures the most provocative action, or the obvious, in favor of highlighting the obliquely personal, such as a sloppy floral arrangement left by the home’s actual tenants. As he said in a 1990 interview with BOMB of the series, “All the photographs raise the issue of voyeurism—it’s unavoidable. I mean, no one believes in photographs, right? We’re much too sophisticated. Yet, in fact, we do.”

“Here and Home” is on view through March 22. 

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