Sally Mann

Sally Mann has been one of my favorite photographers since I first encountered the photographs of her “immediate family” close to 20 years ago.

Mann was born eight days before me. We are of the same era, as well as the same Zodiac. Other than college, she has pretty much lived in the same area of Virginia where she was born.

Mann took up photography in high school to be, as she claims, alone in the darkroom with her boyfriend. Her education includes a Masters’ degree in creative writing, but she says that she has “never” read about photography.

We’re both self-taught. I like that. (Although I do admit reading everything about photography I could get my hands on in college.) I, too, took up photography in high school; not to be alone with anyone, but because my best friend was shooting for the school paper, and I reasoned that if he could do it (photography) so could I. Never discount peer pressure as a motivator (or young love).

Mann is perhaps best known for Immediate Family, her third collection, first exhibited in 1990 and published as a monograph in 1992. The New York Times said, “Probably no photographer in history has enjoyed such a burst of success in the art world.” The book consists of 65 black-and-white photographs of her 3 children, all under the age of 10.

The photographs are amazing. However, this book brought Mann not only acclaim but much notoriety, as the children are unclothed in some of the photographs. Only in America. In some Western cultures, bathing suits aren’t even bothered with for children until they approach puberty. We are such prudes, sometimes.

Mann’s appearance recently at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth was part of the book tour for her recently published memoir: Hold Still, A Memoir with Photographs. She read one chapter of the book – about her friendship with neighbor and fellow artist Cy Twombly.

The book sounds wonderful as well. Apparently the MA in writing is not going to waste. I was a little disappointed that there were not more photographs accompanying the presentation, but that was not the point of the evening.

The memoir is that of a life lived in the South. Mann is nothing if not a Southerner. But she is an interesting outlier as a Southerner. Certainly not the usual WASPish stereotype one expects. Anything but.

An excerpt from the book:

As ephemeral as our footprints were in the sand along the river, so also were those moments of childhood caught in the photographs. And so will be our family itself, our marriage, the children who enriched it, and the love that has carried us through so much. All this will be gone. What we hope will remain are these pictures telling our brief story, but what will last, beyond all of it, is the place.

Mann uses an 8×10 view camera. During the question and answer period that followed the reading, she was, of course, asked about still using film.

She gave the oft-repeated rationale that there is no substitute for the silver gelatin print; that inkjet black and white prints just can’t match them. (Without an explanation as to how or why.) This hollow argument was a little more amusing since she is now doing wet-plate.  She also lamented that papers weren’t as good as they used to be – another very cliched’ comment without further explanation.  For someone who professes to not read about photography, she sounded as if she would be right at home on an internet film forum.

Don’t get me wrong.  Although I was a little taken aback by her superficial answer as to “why film?”, I’m still a big fan.  All in all, an enjoyable evening listening to one of America’s most acclaimed photographers.

#SallyMann #Immediate Family

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