Issue 189, Summer 2009
For two years Larry Sultan has been hiring day laborers as actors and subjects in the landscape photographs he takes on the outskirts of the suburbs. He drives to strip malls near lumberyards and big-box hardware stores where, from dawn to early evening, hundreds of men wait to be picked up for hourly work. These men occupy the marginal spaces and transitional zones invisible to most of us. The patches of shade the men find to wait in—on the edge of a vacant lot beside an auto-body shop, or on the grassy verge beside a freeway entrance—remind Sultan of the terrain where he took refuge as a child in the San Fernando Valley: “empty fields behind malls, the scruffy borderlands of the Los Angeles River that ran behind my house, places outside the boundaries of property and ownership, a free zone that eased my uncertainty and provided a safe place away from the judgments of others.” In his recent photographs of day laborers Sultan romanticizes that suburban no-man’s-land. Drawing on his own memories of home, and his interpretation of their lives in exile, he directs his hired hands to enact the mundane activities of domestic life in landscapes that might appear banal—until they are seen through his lens.