It’s difficult to believe that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is hosting the first-ever retrospective of Larry Sultan‘s work. As both an artist and a teacher—most notably for two decades at California College of the Arts—Sultan established himself as one of the most influential American photographers of the twentieth century.
Evidence, Sultan’s early collaborative project with Mike Mandel, mined the archives of various government and non-governmental institutions, highlighting “useful” images and considering them in an art context. The pair won a National Endowment for the Arts grant for the work, an effort that anticipated contemporary interest in vernacular photography. The Los Angeles County Museum exhibition includes this work and several other collaborations between Sultan and Mandel.
Sultan’s work as an individual included a series of underwater photographs, “Swimmers,” which he made between 1978 and 1982; “Pictures From Home,” his series documenting his parents in their Palm Desert, California retirement community; “The Valley,” a project photographing the oddly domestic periphery surrounding porno film shoots in the San Fernando Valley; and “Homeland,” his final series, which depicted transitional areas between public and private spaces in suburban areas in the San Francisco Bay.
The exhibition also incorporates Sultan’s editorial images, made for clients like The New York Times, W and Vanity Fair, and demonstrates how his artistic and commissioned work influenced each other. (“The Valley,” for instance, grew out of an assignment for Maxim.)
A catalogue, which includes essays by San Francisco Museum of Modern Art photography curator Sandra S. Phillips and writer Philip Gefter, accompanies this long overdue tribute to Sultan’s career. – Conor Risch