BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page was last updated in October 2007We've left it here for reference.More information

7 February 2011
Accessibility help
Text only

BBC Homepage
Arts Homepage

Contact Us

Like this page?
Send it to a friend!



We Are Family

Dad on Bed, 1985 Larry Sultan

Dad on Bed, 1985 © Larry Sultan

Some artists have confronted the role photography itself has played in creating and complicating our sense of domestic life. Larry Sultan photographed his father and family over a ten year period spanning the 70s and 80s as part of an elaborate project that included his parents own photos, home movies and statements. This was the Reagan era which preached the values of family life, a version Sultan didn't recognise.

"Photography is there to construct the idea of us as a great family and we go on vacations and take these pictures and then we look at them later and we say, 'Isn't this a great family?' So photography is instrumental in creating family not only as a memento, a souvenir, but also a kind of mythology." (Larry Sultan)

As Larry set about creating his version of the Sultan family experience, his father Irvin struggled with the role his son now gave him, as the following exchange reveals:

Irvin: �I'd get set, I'd get comfortable and he says to me 'Don't smile', which would absolutely irritate me because when he says 'Don't smile' in my own mind I have no idea what he is projecting. What is he trying to tell me to do?" "I remember that picture so distinctly sitting on the bed, shirt and tie dressed up and I looked like a full on lost soul and I look at the picture and I say 'That's not me!'"

Larry: "In fact you went even further you said, 'That's not me sitting on the bed that's you sitting on the bed. That's a self portrait'. And I thought that was right. And you said this too, you said 'Any time you show that picture you tell people that that's not me sitting on the bed looking all dressed up and nowhere to go, depressed. That's you sitting on the bed and I am happy to help you with the project but let's get things straight here!'"

"The daily practice of a photographer is to be distanced, to have a little bit of room between what you're doing and how you see, what you look at. For me the biggest surprise was that the distance I thought I needed as a photographer slipped. It wasn't about 'these' people it was about 'us'."

Extract from 'We Are Family', Genius of Photography (Wall to Wall)

We Are Family

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy