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  • Writer's pictureJohn A Lewis

Larry Sultan : Pictures from Home

Larry Sultan created a project which relates to his own family, in particular his parents. His book was published in 1992 by Harry N Abrams, Inc. This book has been inspiring for me as I developed my own book ‘One in Eight Men’. See projects tab. His idea stems from the relationship with his parents and his urge to capture them in his 'family album', but also to record their lives before it was too late. In the book many images show his father and mother in everyday poses, but they have a deeper meaning, we interpret the meaning of the pictures from the viewpoint of our own family situation, which I think makes them all the more powerful.

Sultan's father was reported as saying that the picture were not actually of him but a self portrait of Sultan. He participated in the image but felt he was presenting himself as his son.

When I reflect on one image in particular, see left, I can put myself in a similar position. I know how it feels to have retired, having gone to work in a suit every day for 40 years, then suddenly you leave your work life behind. I missed it terribly. One day you are 'someone', the next you are simply 'retired'.

Taking the interpretation further when I had Prostate Cancer I took early retirement shortly after my major surgery. As I had no warnings that anything was wrong, one day I was fine, the next I was not. I felt like 'Mr Nobody'. See left.

This image reminds me strongly of my own bedside table, with its bits and pieces - a portrait of man and wife in earlier times, the evidence of ill health, you wonder what is in the glass?

And what is the relationship with his wife? Has this changed? See my bedside table, left.

Reflecting on these images has inspired me to focus on my own family for my book and the changed circumstances following my illness. Sultans images speak to me very strongly on a number of levels, and has given me the incentive to move away from previous ideas of simply creating portraits of men with Prostate Cancer.

Its also interesting to read that Sultan did not know why he was following this project and his parents also wondered what he was doing and why? This uncertainty is also something I have experienced. How do you represent your experience, your feelings, in a realistic way to others? After all there is only so much you can show in a photograph. I will look at other work of photographers and how they looked at their families.

Larry Sultans book is highly regarded as a powerful and important work in the development of photography. As a result it was particularly expensive to buy. Fortunately a new publication became available in 2017 published by MACK A fabulus book and now in my collection !

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