Week Forty Four
Sally Mann (1953)
American photographer Sally Mann became known in the 90’s for her book entitled Immediate Family (1992), detailing her children as they began to grow up, showing them playing, swimming, unclothed, enjoying life in an idyllic setting. These 65 intimate black and white pictures sparked a huge controversy, with people calling for her to be arrested on the grounds of child pornography. The Wall Street Journal printed a photograph of one of the children, Virginia (then 4 years old), and censored her eyes, breasts and genitals by covering them with black bars. Virginia responded by writing a letter to the journalist saying “Dear Sir, I don’t like the way you crossed me out.”
Since then, Mann’s work has continued to focus on her family and their home environment, a farm in Lexington, Virginia, along with images of the deep South. Over a six year period she documented her husband Larry and the effect that muscular dystrophy has had on his body, resulting in a book Proud Flesh, published in 2009. In 2006, she had a riding accident, hurting her back for a number of years. Following this she took a number of self-portraits, of her face and of her own damaged body.
Another series entitled What Remains (2000–04), shows close-up images of corpses, that have been donated to science at the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Centre. These are left outside in the woods to enable forensic scientists to study the process of organic decomposition.
Her focus is around being a human being, the body it inhabits and what illness and death might look like. She uses old plate cameras, and a traditional chemical method called the wet-plate collodion process, giving an old-fashioned, painterly quality to her images. She was named “America’s Best Photographer” by Time magazine in 2001.
What she has said:
Many of these pictures are intimate, some fictions and some fantastic but most are ordinary things that every mother has seen.
Time, memory, loss and love are my main artistic concerns, but time, among all of them, becomes the determinant.
This was a project my husband Larry and I talked about for six years, maybe eight. The further I got into it, the more exciting it became. Every new picture opened the door to another, which doesn’t happen often. I knew I was done when I had explored every inch of Larry’s body: feet, arms, hands, legs, butt, back, head. Larry was excited about the work from the beginning. We’ve been married almost 40 years, and he has muscular dystrophy. It’s fairly pronounced now, but the pictures don’t show it much; it’s not something I wanted to emphasise. He is a big, strong man, but his bicep is now the size of his forearm, or smaller. It’s got so I don’t want to show it, out of consideration for him. It’s weird: I never said, “It’s going to be obvious you’re losing muscle mass.” But he knows me; he knows I don’t flinch, and he knew what the deal was when he committed to the pictures.
What others have said:
Few photographers of any time or place have matched Sally Mann’s steadiness of simple eyesight, her serene technical brilliance, and the clearly communicated eloquence she derives from her subjects, human and otherwise – subjects observed with an ardor that is all but indistinguishable from love.” – Reynolds Price, TIME
Why I like her:
Regardless of the content of her work, her images have an ethereal beauty to them. She is showing us some kind of truth about many things, including childhood and what it is like to grow up – her children are seen nude, sick, angry, hurt. She does not shy away from difficult subject matter and this I admire.