Mike Mandel and Larry Sultan: An Interview

1976 | 00:24:00 | United States | English | B&W | Mono | 4:3 | Video

Collection: On Art and Artists, Single Titles

Tags: Advertisement(s), Blumenthal/Horsfield Interviews, Culture Jamming, Photography

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West coast artists, Mike Mandel (b.1950) and Larry Sultan (1946-2009) became artistic collaborators in 1972 while both enrolled in the San Francisco Art Institute’s MFA program. This interview captures the duo’s camaraderie (look closely, they are wearing matching shirts!) and youthful optimism as they describe the impetus behind their California billboard installations of the early seventies.

In the interview, the artists suggest that billboards, as a site of production, offer interesting possibilities for interrogating the processes of perception and the larger visual landscape. Wanting to challenge the “believability of photography,” the two used found images, stripped them of text, and reproduced them on a monumental scale, disrupting viewer's expectations. By using a space beyond the traditional art context, Mandel and Sultan sought to create ambiguous images that would require the participation and creativity of the viewer. For the artists, the invitation to analyze one’s visual landscape constituted a critical intervention that could lead to empowered thinking and an awareness of the politics of representation in advertisements.

In the last minutes of the tape, Mandel and Sultan begin to describe their current work on Evidence, a photo narrative comprised of images they found in government and corporate archives. Published the following year in 1977, this work would become one of their most significant contributions to the emerging conceptual photography movement. With Evidence, Sultan asserts, “We are using their ‘facts’ to tell our lies.” 

 – Faye Gleisser