The Pritzker Center for Photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art continues its celebration of California photography with exhibitions of work by hometown hero Larry Sultan and his frequent collaborator and fellow San Francisco Art Institute grad, Mike Mandel. “Larry Sultan: Here and Home,” on view until July 23, presents each of the photographer’s major projects, starting with “Evidence,” the collection of found images that he and Mandel pulled from corporate and government archives in the 1970s. The show continues with projects such as “Pictures from Home,” the documentary images of his parents’ lives in the suburbs of Los Angeles and in a retirement community, which he shot from 1983 to 1992; “The Valley,” the six-year study of porn sets in California’s San Fernando Valley, which Sultan began as a magazine assignment; and “Homeland,” the series of images of suburbs in northern California, which he was working on at the time of his death in 2009. “As an artist, Larry Sultan was one of the great thinkers of photography in all its facets,” Clément Chéroux, SFMOMA senior curator of photography, has said in a statement about the show.
“Mike Mandel: Good 70s” opens a month after the Sultan show, on May 20, and then they will run concurrently through most of the summer. While Sultan explored familiar themes such as domesticity and family life in a probing, ironic way, Mandel is drawn to kitsch, often portraying icons of American culture in humorous, surprising ways. “Good 70s” begins with the photos he made of car passengers while they were stopped at an intersection. It includes two series from 1974: “Motels,” which look like resort postcards writ large, and “Mrs. Kilpatric,” his bemused and affectionate series about his neighbor in Santa Cruz. The exhibition also shows his fascination with photographic history. For his 1975 series “Baseball Photographer Trading Cards,” Mandel photographed Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham and other photographers as baseball players. “Seven Never Before Published Portraits of Edward Weston” is a collection of photos of, and questionnaires filled out by, men named Edward Weston. He spent much of the 1980s working on “Making Good Time,” which he made by attaching pulsing lights to people’s hands, then using time-lapse photography to capture the movement of light as they made bologna sandwiches or changed a diaper. The results are fun and amusing.
The twin shows at the Pritzker Center demonstrate how two thoughtful photographers have stretched our ideas about what photography can show, and how revealing it can be. —Holly Stuart Hughes