Larry Sultan on Ambiguity and Refraining from Narrative that is ‘Too Well Formed’

@ The Estate of Larry Sultan

“That [Ambiguity] is really important to me. Part of the difficulty facing photographers is that almost any subject matter has accumulated a representational history, so to find a new discursive space, a space to wander around those subject matters, is a real challenge. If I know too much, if the narrative is too well formed, I’m making pictures that are illustrative, and as a maker, that’s not interesting. As a viewer, that’s not interesting.”

@ The Estate of Larry Sultan

@ The Estate of Larry Sultan

“But that ambiguity and that play between the ordinary and the surreal or the extraordinary is really the edge that I’m hoping for. So when I photograph a kitchen that looks like a normal kitchen, and you realize slowly that maybe it’s fabricated, the whole kitchen is fabricated, It raises the question, well, why is this picture here? What’s interesting about it? So that, hopefully, encourages people to look, to inspect, and to stay with the picture a little bit. It doesn’t confirm that they’re looking at good pictures. It makes it problematic. It makes it challenging. Why is this there? What do we know? What can we tell from the picture? In that sense, I think finding that room to make pictures that don’t jump off the wall as, or detonate as dramatic, either in lighting or in form or in composition or in subject matter, but more ordinary, That’s the challenge.”


– Larry Sultan (1946-2009)




(All rights reserved. Images and text @ Larry Sultan Estate.)

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