/18 Family

Larry Sultan

Pictures From Home

The house is quiet. They have gone to bed, leaving me alone, and the electric timer has just switched off the living-room lights. It feels like the house has finally turned on its side to fall asleep. Years ago I would have gone through my mother’s purse for one of her cigarettes and smoked in the dark. It was a magical time that the house was mine.

Tonight, however, I am restless. I sit at the dining-room table; rummage through the refrigerator. What am I looking for?

All day long I’ve been scavenging, poking around in rooms and closets, peering at their things, studying them. I arrange my rolls of exposed film into long rows and count and recount them as if they were lost. There are twenty-eight.

What drives me to continue this work is difficult to name. It has more to do with love than with sociology, with being a subject in the drama rather than a witness. And in the odd and jumbled process of working everything shifts; the boundaries blur, my distance slips, the arrogance and illusion of immunity falters. I wake up in the middle of the night, stunned and anguished. These are my parents. From that simple fact, everything follows. I realize that beyond the rolls of film and the few good pictures, the demands of my project and my confusion about its meaning, is the wish to take photography literally. To stop time. I want my parents to live forever.

Excerpt from Pictures From Home, 1982, Larry Sultan

I can remember when I first conceived of this project. It was in 1982 and I was in Los Angeles visiting my parents. One night, instead of renting videotape, we pulled out the box of home movies that none of us had seen in years. Sitting in the living room, we watched thirty years of folktales – epic celebrations of the family. They were remarkable, more like a record of hopes and fantasies than of actual events. It was as if my parents had projected their dreams onto film emulsion. I was in my mid-thirties and longing for the intimacy, security, and comfort that I associated with home. But whose home? Which version of the family?

Excerpt from Pictures From Home, 1982, Larry Sultan