Larry Sultan

Untitled (Dad with marker board), from the series, Pictures from Home, 1989

Larry Sultan (American, 1946-2009), Untitled (Dad with marker board), from the series, Pictures from Home, 1989, chromogenic print, 30 x 40 in. each. Schwartz Art Collection, Harvard Business School, 1998.23.1. © Estate of Larry Sultan.

Born in Brooklyn, Larry Sultan grew up in California’s San Fernando Valley, which was a source of inspiration for much of his work, including his groundbreaking 1992 book and series Pictures from Home. Sultan’s photographs from this series blend documentary and staged images of his mother and father in an array of settings. They are ruminations on his relationship with his parents, as well as suburbia and the American Dream. Here, he photographs his father standing in front of a whiteboard holding a dry-erase marker.

The companion text to the image, written by the artist, reads: “I find myself continually comparing myself and my father. I go back through various points of his life to see how I measure up. I go into my files of photographs (movie stills, snapshots, business pictures) to find the image of my father at that particular age. I always look younger than he did when he was my age. Perhaps people age differently prior to the 1960’s; can it be that the times we live in leave imprints on our faces and bodies? Or maybe it is impossible for me to imagine being older than my father, even when he was younger than I.

I’m married and have two kids, own a house, shop in malls, read the business section of the newspaper, take my shirts to the laundry, catch myself continually calculating my savings, and worry about dying from various terminal illnesses. Was it that different when he was forty-four? Did he feel the same intensity of doubt and confusion as I do? Was he haunted by all the things he was unable to be? Would he have been willing to trade hours of his day to collect fleeting sensations of his childhood? Did he suck in his stomach every time he passes by a mirror?”