This week in Photography History, we are featuring a photographer known initially for her large black and white (often nude) photographs of her children and eventually her unique perspective in landscape photography which so often prominently featured death and decay rather than a typical scene of life and abundance. Join me as we take a look through the interesting life and career of Sally Mann, an iconic American photographer.
Born and raised in the American South (Lexington, Virginia to be specific), “Sally Mann has always remained close to her roots” (sallymann.com). She still lives in Virgina on an expansive 425-acre farm which she shares with her husband. Choosing to produce her work around her surroundings rather than abroad, Mann has created an extensive body of work that offers a unique look at portraiture, architecture, landscapes and still life in the American South since the 1970s. As she explored new and emerging genres throughout the 70s, Sally found her stride during a study of girlhood with her second Book “At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women”. Progressively, her gaze turned from the young and exuberant beings we know as children to the macabre and often disturbing subject of death and decay. One of her more recent projects (Proud Flesh , 2009) has been to document the progression of her husband’s late-onset Muscular Dystrophy, these images in particular are haunting, beautiful and touching to go through.
Mann admittedly prefers to work in black and white (though she has experimented with color) and turn-of-the-century antique cameras / processes, such as platinum and bromoil printing processes via an 8×10 wooden view camera with lenses riddled with mold and held together with tape. It gives her work the ethereal quality that it is quite well-known for. It can be said that “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)
Her works are among the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), the Corcoran Gallery of Art (Washington D.C.), the Hirshhorn Museum (New York), the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), SF MoMA and the Whitney Museum (New York) as well as a host of others.
If you’re interested in viewing more of her work in print form, she has published numerous books as well: Second Sight (1983), At Twelve (1988), Immediate Family (1992), Still Time (1994), What Remains (2003), Deep South (2005), Proud Flesh (2009) and The Flesh and the Spirit (2010). Some of these books are hard to find, having only seen a couple of them in person myself.
All images are ©Sally Mann
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