Essay by Susan Worsham
Pictures from Home
When I was a young girl, I remember my mother leaving me on the third floor of J.C. Penney while she shopped down below. There, laid out in one long row on the back end of the department store, were the rooms of a perfect family home where I would play house in a diorama without the glass. In Pictures from Home, Larry Sultan lays out the rooms of his parents’ home, taking us past the exterior paint and perfect Dichondra lawn. He peels back the protective layers of the family album and expands the archived dreams of his parents to make room for his own pictures. Larry’s photographs of his aging parents are held up against the youthful, smiling faces of their own snapshots and home movies, measuring the American Dream against its waking moments.
Larry opens up the living room curtains on the mundane and shows us a family that resembles our own. Nothing much happens on this family stage. Groceries are unpacked. Newspapers are read, and a vacuum cleaner is fixed. But these small acts are everything, and all of these insignificant moments when strung together make up a life. A life a few shades off from our own. The green lawn of the living room where Larry’s father practiced his golf swing is just a shade off from the green carpet that I grew up turning cartwheels and skinning my knees on. I can easily insert myself into the pages of Pictures from Home, in between his parents as they read in bed. They become my parents. Somehow his pictures become my memories. There is one image in particular that takes me straight to a memory—a small detail from my life that I had not remembered until seeing Larry’s work. It is a photograph of his father reading the newspaper. The way the paper covers his father’s face allows me to imagine my own father reading the Sunday paper. I can still hear the pages turning and the paper folds being dealt with. I wonder if seeing the light coming through those papers, being softened by their fibers, is the moment as a child that I first saw light in a special way, that I first saw the beauty that even a simple newspaper could hold.
Full essay in Issue Three, which you can purchase here.