Larry Sultan on the institution of family

Larry Sultan has made one of the most well-known photobooks about family, Pictures From Home (Amazon). It’s deeply personal work, and involved the intimate collaboration of his parents in making images that might otherwise appear somewhat exploitative.

Larry Sultan, Dad on the Bed, from the series Pictures from Home, 1984 , Smithsonian American Art Museum, © 1984, Larry Sultan

In this short interview, he talks about the work through a different lens – the family as an institution.

At the time he was making the work, the family was a contested institution that was bing co-opted by conservative forces to serve an ideological agenda (so successfully that we often now think of the family as one of the pillars of conservatism). And now, even more so than when he made the work, our faith in institutions is collapsing, so the idea of making a work that seeks to explore and celebrate an institution is remarkable.

In 1983 the Republicans had hijacked the family, and they had turned it into an ideological tool, family values. I felt the family that they were talking about was quite oppressive. And I felt the family is one of the most complicated, unnerving institutions. And yet it’s the last institution anyone I think believes in, most of us believe in. We don’t believe in certainly the government, most of us don’t believe in the church, certainly we don’t believe in the bank. The family still has a pull, so it’s an interesting, its a really interesting place.

Larry Sultan:

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