Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Evidence of Larry Sultan

"Evidence in its broadest sense includes everything that is used to determine or demonstrate the truth of an assertion. Giving or procuring evidence is the process of using those things that are either a) presumed to be true, or b) were themselves proven via evidence, to demonstrate an assertion's truth. Evidence is the currency by which one fulfills the burden of proof."

I was startled this morning when flipping through the New York Times to see an obituary for the great photographer Larry Sultan. He was 63 and made a wonderful and valuable contribution to contemporary photography. I remembered being flummoxed and delighted after first stumbling upon his book Evidence in my school library. The book was a unique compilation of pictures that were discovered and collected by Sultan and Mike Mandel from the archives of a few large West Coast corporations. The pictures were, while hilarious, possessed by the taint of a kind of weighty and slightly disturbing mystery. Much like Sultan's own, more personal work that followed. In 1991 my schoolmates and I invited Larry Sultan to come visit us and discuss his work. While it's difficult to clearly remember anything that happened over 20 years ago I do remember our eager anticipation of the visit. His work was significant to many photographers of my generation who were coming of age at this time and his books Evidence and Pictures From Home were front and center and part of our daily discourse. It's interesting to consider the dictionary definition above of the word evidence and how it relates to photography in general and Sultan's work in particular. It seems to me that it goes to the very core of what makes photography so unique, powerful and slippery. A photograph, on the one hand, will always be nothing more than the mechanical record of physical facts placed dumbly before the lens. On the other hand it is, of course, so much more. Particularly when massaged, kneaded and filleted by a maker possessed of great sensitivity and intelligence. It was, to me and so many others, the work of Larry Sultan's that helped to make this evident.

From the book Evidence, by Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel

Winking Mom, 1989, by Larry Sultan, from the book Pictures From Home

Sharon Wild, by Larry Sultan, 2004, from the book The Valley

Dad On Bed, 1985, by Larry Sultan from Pictures From Home

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1 comment:

W Geddes said...

I heard him speak a few years ago. I always liked both his directness and unpretentiousness. He remarked after all those heady days of conceptual work -Evidence,etc - he wanted to get back to photographing. He wanted to produce work that "didn't require a graduate degree to understand." Refreshing comment to hear. His work straddled that line between accessibility and interest.
Nice blog you have, btw. W