Loading...
 

Porn for the people

Photographer Larry Sultan goes deep in The Valley

We are porn. And porn is us.

??
No phenomenon seems so quintessentially American, so much about artifice and money and alienation as the porn industry. And it's everywhere these days.

??
It's the raw inspiration for the American Apparel marketing campaign, the obsession of hip-smut lad mags like Vice and Maxim. It's the subject matter of artist Timothy Greenfield-Sanders' porn star studies, XXX: 30 Porn-Star Portraits, and the aesthetic of fashion photographer Terry Richardson, who's built his edgy reputation on porny images of the young, the hip and the naked.

??
Porn has probably dictated more than we care to imagine of native sexual customs. And according to Female Chauvinist Pigs author Ariel Levy, porn now also defines the sex lives of the teenagers who grow up surrounded by it.

??
"The idea of why that's interesting, why people are drawn to pornography is such a curious phenomenon," says photographer Larry Sultan, discussing his own porn-centric project, The Valley. "Pornography used to be a theater down the street where mainly really sad men would go in the dark and watch a movie and try to hide when they came out."

??
Sultan's own quasi-documentary images center on the X-rated films shot in the San Fernando Valley neighborhoods where he grew up. The color images, on view through July 1 at Atlanta's Jackson Fine Art, center on the moments of boredom and ennui not generally associated with porn sets; the naked actors lounging between takes and the gaudy, sad, hollow splendor of the McMansions whose owners lease them to the X-rated filmmakers.

??
"I didn't want to glamorize it at all," says Sultan, who had something very different in mind. "I was really interested in how it plays into the American dream."

??
The Valley is Sultan's reckoning not only with the porn industry as a metaphor for America's flashy, insatiable superficiality. It is a reckoning with Sultan's own childhood innocence and the corrosive effect all those porn movies shot in San Fernando Valley living rooms and kitchens have had on the American vision of sex and success.

??
"The porn industry is a perfect American phenomenon," says Sultan. "It's very homegrown. It's rags to riches. It's about individual investment in entrepreneurship. And it's also about everything having an exchange rate, everything being able to be consumed. It's a good metaphor for me for the kind of emptiness of that."

??
For the years Sultan worked on The Valley, he would shuttle between his Marin County home and Los Angeles, the base of the porn industry. "I would fly down, maybe spend three days and then come back home. I remember the first day when my wife and I went together. It was shocking ... for about an hour."

??
But the longer he spent on set, the more ordinary routine took over. Like the actors he documented, Sultan experienced long hours of boredom. Amid the sexual acrobatics, Sultan's mind would wander to home.

??
Certain smells and sounds would conjure up memories of his childhood. It was a world he had in some sense documented before, in his portraits of his own aging parents' country club Valley lifestyle, Pictures from Home. "There were these birds I grew up with, mocking birds that have this particular sound," says Sultan. "The quality of light in Los Angeles; the smell of certain seasons. It was deeply Proustian for me."

??
The photographer has an ambivalent relationship with his hometown. "It scares the living daylights out of me as a place, as a phenomenon and a symbol of our country," says Sultan. "But at the same time, there's something much more innocent there: My own past, my own sense of home, and place. So those conspire to create a complex work."



More By This Writer

Article

Tuesday June 27, 2017 08:52 pm EDT
Sofia Coppola imagines female desire in 'The Beguiled' | more...

Article

Friday April 27, 2012 03:00 pm EDT
Local painter loses her innocence in a dark, abstract solo show | more...

Article

Monday April 23, 2012 05:00 pm EDT
Chastain Arts Center's new exhibit is quiet and contemplative | more...

Article

Friday April 13, 2012 04:00 am EDT
Duo's Beep Beep Gallery collaboration is the best kind of cultural time capsule | more...

Article

Friday March 30, 2012 10:30 am EDT
Solo exhibit transforms Get This! Gallery into dive bar | more...
Search for more by Felicia Feaster

[Admin link: Porn for the people]