Chris Timothy is a photographer and teacher from England, he runs the 21 Rue De La Hachette blog which is well worth a follow. He got in touch to add thoughts on Larry Sultan’s ‘The Valley’ with reference to key images. If you do not have access to the book make sure you check out our video from cover to cover.
Chris Timothy on Larry Sultan’s ‘The Valley’
Larry Sultans work entitled “The Valley” documents the filming of pornographic movies in his hometown of San Fernando Valley in Southern California. The Valley is an average middle class area, where homes cater for the needs of dentists, lawyers and strangely enough porn stars. These wonderful homes are rented out to the porn industry for live scenes to be captured in an aspirational setting. The strategy that ensures the body of works identity is different to that in which it is documenting is its main angle of concentration on location rather than the actors or actresses being sexualised or objectified. Sultan’s images explore the issues surrounding the questions; why would the owners of these middle class homes rent them to the industry, why does the industry want them? And maybe most importantly what are the consequences?
Why would the owners of these middle class homes rent them to the industry? Is it a sense of self-indulgence on the owner’s part or is it simply a method of further financial gain, which helps with the continuity of the middle class lifestyle? I believe it is the later. To rent out your home to the porn industry is a big moral decision and to do so is a clear indication of where you stand on the issue. However Sultan’s work discretely highlights maybe this moral decision is simply ignored and the homes are being rented out without too much thought to what the consequences may actually be. Sultan’s images show family portraits and personal photographs of the homeowners, their friends and their families, left on shelves and cabinet tops. These photographs are being captured in the background of sexual scenes and taken into the industry. While the viewers are consuming sexual media texts the home owners family and friends are on full view. Is this conscious choice of Sultan to show this demonstrating the loss of morality and care for others when a high amount of money is involved.
So why does the industry want these homes? The choice of location has been made by the production companies to satisfy the needs of the consumers of the films. Remember, the sole aim of these films are to excite the viewer, so the combination of sexual gratification and aspirational images and locations will help the audiences purpose of consumption be met. To set scenes in houses, which most are not able to afford adds to the fantasy aspect for consumers and maybe most importantly adds to the escapism. Sultan’s choice of mis en scene within some of his images demonstrates this.
There is a definite juxtaposition between the property owners and the porn stars. One of Sultan’s images will focus on the pleasure and excitement of being a porn star and the next, the banality of sitting, sleeping and generally waiting around on set. This drastic change of emotion could be compared to that stereotypical view of a superficial consumer lifestyle held by the middle class. One minute you are filled with excited with a purchase that most would not be able to afford, the next this excitement has worn off. You find yourself sitting in your museum of expensive purchases with the realisation that boredom has set in due to a lack of motivation and purpose of a lifestyle where there is no need to work towards anything, success has already been achieved.
Although Sultan states this work is not focused on the stars of the porn industry, after the audience views the images, most cant help but question why the actors and actresses take part in the industry. Do they perform due to a sense of aspiration and a desire to gain financial clout from a profession that is relatively high paid? Are the actors motivated by and aspire to be the very people who are renting their homes to the industry in which they work? So what are the consequences of the middle class renting out their home to the porn industry? Well, that is a matter of opinion dictated to you by your own moral standing. But what “The Valley” does clearly demonstrate is the porn industry and the films it creates are becoming more and more integrated in every day life and society in the western world.
– Chris Timothy