Portfolio Review- Larry Sultan ‘The Valley’


I first came across the work of Larry Sultan a couple of years ago whilst doing some research on family portraits and family photography. I studied his series ‘Pictures from Home’ a body of work which looks at his parents life in suburbia, taken after his Father was forced into an early retirement. I had a brief knowledge on the background of Sultan’s photography but never gave any of his other series much thought.

Take a look at this interview by Roswell Angier who discusses ‘Pictures from Home’ with Larry Sultan.

A way of understanding Sultan as a practitioner is through his approach to intimate and private moments. His subjects always appear at ease, Sultan is one of those great photographers who is able to photograph in a non-intrusive way, where his subjects accept his presence rather than fight against it. ‘The Valley’ shot in the infamous San Fernando Valley during the late 90’s/ early 00’s is Sultan’s earlier work where Sultan photographs a series of behind the scenes shots from porn shoots, a little different to his family portraits.

‘The Valley’-

Sultan takes stylised shots of the porn business, he observes as a voyeur taking an authoritive role, narrating the sets and the heart of the porn industry. There are some great articles out there about Sultan, unfortunately he hasn’t got his own website but I’ve picked a couple of paragraphs from an article I found on American Suburb X which discusses this body of work.

Sex and work aren’t words you’d use in the same sentence unless you were talking about bad sex or an affair at the office, but they are words that best describe Larry Sultan’s recent photographs of porn shoots in and around the San Fernando Valley. Title The Valley, Sultan’s ongoing series conveys an unexpectedly workaday aspect of eroticism. Most of the 25 photos were taken on the sets of Thomas Paine Production, whose roster of stage names – Savage, Swift, Everhard – reads like a synopsis of the Kama Sutra, and whose product is a mythical world where every nightstand has a sex toy and every woman and man is willing. Great sex may be described by those who have it as pure bliss, but apparently, for those who’ve made a career out of having, or simulating it, the process is more laborious than blissful….

…..Sultan stands back from the action in several prints, employing an authorial distance. From this vantage point sex becomes inexplicit, little more than a blurry commotion in the background. At times it’s hard to tell the gender, or number, of people having sex, not to mention what specifically they’re doing to each other. The photographer has kept himself at arm’s length not out of coyness or detachment but as a way of establishing that sex is only one aspect of the world he’s documenting. It’s a world that doesn’t require our presence except as consumers; we’ve entered a tacit (and voyeuristic) agreement to look at these people but not interact, to gaze across a divide that both protects and segregates the observer and the observed. Distance tinges Sultan’s art with melancholy.

You can buy Larry Sultan ‘The Valley’ as a hardcover book here.

If you like Larry Sultan ‘The Valley’ you should check out:

Work similar to this series, Barbara Nitke, if you like Larry Sultan it’s pretty much the same, just a racier version.

Music blogged to: Smoke Fairies ‘Blood Speaks’ 2012

1 comment
  1. For recent updates on my blog posts and photography follow me on Twitter @sophiajwise

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