Image-text photobooks in a nutshell #9: Alec Soth on Pictures From Home by Sultan
We asked a pool of international photobook experts to share with us an image-text photobook they find particularly interesting, regardless of its publication date and where text is a fundamental element in the narrative (not a mere introduction or essay on the photoworks). Here Alec Soth reveals why Larry Sultan’s Pictures from Home, first published by Harry N. Abrams in 1992 (pages 112 + 1.9 x 27.9 x 25.4 cm) has made a lasting impression on him.
Larry Sultan was not only an exceptional photographer and conceptual artist, he had a gift that largely eludes everyone else with those titles: he could write.
Pictures From Home is a perfect melding of all of those talents. The book manages to simultaneously probe emotional family dynamics while also functioning as an intellectual investigation of the practice of photography.
This delicate balance is only achieved because of the gifts Sultan had as both a photographer and a writer. Plainspoken, smart and brutally honest, it is a masterpiece of narrative photography.
Alec Soth (b. 1969) is a photographer born and based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 2008, Soth started his own publishing company, Little Brown Mushroom. Soth is represented by Sean Kelly in New York, Weinstein Gallery in Minneapolis, Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco, and is a member of Magnum Photos.
“The institution of the family was being used as an inspirational symbol by resurgent conservatives. I wanted to puncture this mythology of the family and to show what happens when we are driven by images of success. And I was willing to use my family to prove a point” Larry Sultan, The Guardian, 2 May, 2017
The book has been revisited and published by MACK in April 2017. As they explain on their website, they have increased the page count of the original edition with the idea of celebrating the multiplicity of voices – both textual and pictorial – in order to offer a fresh perspective of this seminal body of work. Also, special emphasis has been given to the cinematic motion of the family’s home videos, as the Super-8 film stills have been newly digitised and magnified, with select scenes running full-bleed across double-page spreads at the beginning and at the end of the book.
MACK also decided to supplement Sultan’s photographs of his parents as they go about their daily lives – against the quintessential backdrop of the Reagan-era American dream – with previously unpublished images.