Larry Sultan, Longtime CCA Faculty Member, Dies at 63

photo by Kelly Sultan

We are very sad to report that one of CCA's most beloved faculty members, Larry Sultan, died of cancer on Sunday. He was a distinguished professor in both the undergraduate Photography Program and the Graduate Program in Fine Arts and had taught at CCA since 1988.

Tammy Rae Carland, chair of the Photography Program, says, "Larry Sultan was one of the most compassionate, generous educators I've ever known. He was a great mentor, a great teacher, a great colleague. He had a lot of success in his own career but continued to be vital to the Photography Program. He really cared about its pedagogical development, about keeping it current and lively. He was incredibly generous with his students, always sharing his network, his experience, his connections. He got a tremendous amount of pleasure out of teaching."

Sandra S. Phillips, senior curator of photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, says, "Larry Sultan was a leading figure in the Bay Area art community. He was one of our great friends and a gifted artist. His work has been shown in our museum regularly since the 1970s. His responses to our world have always been both intensely personal and wonderfully humane, accessible, intelligent, and sympathetic."

Larry Sultan was born in New York in 1946 and moved with his family to Southern California in 1949. He grew up in the San Fernando Valley. He received a BA in 1968 from the University of California at Santa Barbara and an MFA in 1973 from the San Francisco Art Institute. In San Francisco he was represented by Stephen Wirtz Gallery.

In addition to his teaching career and extensive commercial work for W magazine, Vanity Fair, and other important clients, he produced a large and widely influential body of personal work. His first major project was a collaboration with the artist Mike Mandel: a book of appropriated photographs titled Evidence and a subsequent exhibition organized by SFMOMA in 1977. The pictures came from the files of government agencies, corporations, and research institutions, offering a witty and provocative look at contemporary American culture.

In 1992 Sultan compiled the book and accompanying exhibition Pictures from Home. The decade-long project began when his father, a vice president at Schick Safety Razor Company, was forced into early retirement. Sultan started by photographing his parents and their home lives, then expanded the undertaking to include extensive diaristic writing, family artifacts, and stills from his parents' home movies.

Working in the San Fernando Valley on Pictures from Home led Sultan to his next project, The Valley, an investigation of suburban houses used as sets for pornographic films. Like Pictures from Home, the project focused on Southern California culture, engaging ideas of truth, fantasy, and artifice in the context of home and middle-class domesticity. The Valley was presented at SFMOMA in 2004 as a solo exhibition of more than 50 large-scale photographs shot between 1999 and 2003. In the pictures, mundane objects such as a roll of paper towels or a bored woman in high heels become symbolically charged, inviting speculation.

Sultan exhibited internationally throughout his career. His work is in the collections of SFMOMA; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; and Tate Modern, London. He received numerous grants and awards, including five NEA grants, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Louis Tiffany Comfort Award, and a Fleishhacker Fellowship.

Read the New York Times obituary.