Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Sally Mann became well known as a photographer in 1992, with the publication of her book Immediate Family. The book consists of 65 black-and-white photographs of her three children, taken when they were all under the age of 10. Many of the images were taken at the family's remote summer cabin along the river, where the children played and swam in the nude. They explore typical childhood themes of skinny dipping, dressing up, napping, and playing games, but they also touch on darker themes such as insecurity, loneliness, sexuality, and death. When Immediate Family came out there was a lot of controversy, including accusations of child pornography, and of being a work of contrived fiction. Mann herself considered the photographs to be natural and honest - through the eyes of the mother - who lives with her children everyday and is aware of the various moods of their young lives. The book has an open candor and is photographed with maternal care. The photographs are beautiful, luminous, strange, and dream-like. She goes deeper into the meaning of family than most would be willing to go. 

In the mid 1990s, Mann started photographing landscapes on wet plate collodion 8x10 glass negatives. She also used a 100 year old Bellows view camera that she had used with her earlier work. Many of the prints were 40"x50" and manipulated with the wet plate collodion process. This gave the images a ethereal quality and revealed many flaws and artifacts from the process and the old sometimes cracked lenses that she used.

What Remains, published in 2003, is in five parts and is based on the exhibition that was at the Corcoran Museum in Washington, DC. The first section contains photos of Eva, her greyhound after decomposition. The second part has photos of dead and decomposing bodies at a federal Forensic Anthropology Facility. The third part details the site on her property where an escaped convict was killed. The fourth part is a study of the grounds of Antietam, the site of the bloodiest single day battle in American history during the Civil War. The final section is a study of close-ups of her children. All of the images have an element of decay in the way they are printed as they are faded and again reveal the artifacts of the process and the plates.

In 2005, Mann published Deep South that consisted of landscapes of the south, including battlefields, decaying mansions, shrouded landscapes and the site where Emmett Till was murdered. The images in Deep South hover somewhere between document and dream. They have a spiritual quality as if the history they depict still exists as a ghost.

Proud Flesh was published in 2009, and is a study taken over six years of the effects of muscular dystrophy on her husband Larry Mann. It consists of nude studies of a mature male body. It suggests a profound trust between woman and man, wife and husband, artist and model and reverses the roles in a male-dominated field by having the female artist turn the camera on her husband at some of his most vulnerable moments.

Recently, another book was published - Sally Mann: The Flesh and The Spirit, which is an exploration of her approach to the human body. It includes her earliest platinum prints from the late 1970s, Polaroid still lifes, early color work of her children, haunting landscapes, recent self-portraits, and nude studies of her husband.

Sally Mann makes exquisitely beautiful photographs that are personal, ambiguous, contradictory and center around the relationship between the human figure and landscape, and the history that resides in these places. The photographs are controlled but have an improvised quality as well. The compositions seem so perfect, as if they must have been planned out, but they also feel as if they could have only been captured at that perfect moment that only lasts for a fraction of second. Her photographs reveal the process of living and dying at the same time.

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