Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Sally Mann's Motherland

I've always been drawn to Sally Mann's work. The photographs of her son and daughters childhood are superb and speak to childhood and growing-up better than any other work I know.

Many of those photographs were situated in a particular landscape, which was almost as much a separate character in that work as the children.

After her children had grown up, Mann spent more time focusing on that landscape - especially the Southern landscape of her own life and childhood, as well as exploring further afield, but still remaining in (and re-imagining) the South.

Clearly influenced by Brady and O'Sullivan and the other Civil War photographers (among others), she also utilised their techniques, working with the very awkward wet collodion plate process. What, in the hands of another photographer, could have very easily lead to a sort of Civil War Re-enactment type of photography, with perfectly replicated glass plates, in Mann's hands become a process and way of seeing that incorporates wounds and faults, damage and lucky accident - the process melding with her vision to produce some quite exquisite and memorable photographs.

The first part of the work was published as a gallery monograph called Motherland (which I prefer as a title). As it expanded beyond that, it was later published in the book Deep South. One thing I find about all her work is that it always feels honest and genuine.

There is a video here and here of Mann talking about her work, as well as some further info here

Finally, I feel her other recent work, What Remains, is also an important work. Despite the amount of violence on TV, in the movies and on video games, despite the real life (and death) violence of the news hour and war in Iraq, despite Six Feet Under, death still remains one of the last taboos, one of the last mysteries. Mann addresses death and loss in her own unique way in What Remains - but that's for another time.


Anonymous said...

Very very good. I am unreasonably fond of early Mann--all of her Immediate Family and earlier work, but I've always been slightly put off by the turn she took when her children grew up. I'm not sure why, but I've never given it the attention or thought it deserves. This post makes it clear that I need to give it a closer look, and why, and what might be going on with it.

Anonymous said...


If you get a chance to see the recent tv special on Mann, it's worth watching.


Mel Trittin said...

If you ever have the opportunity to see her work exhibited go. I had the opportunity to see some of the images form Deep South at the "So the Story Goes" exhibition at the Chicago Art Institute over the winter and the phenomenal depth of the prints that just doesn't reproduce in books is remarkable. Now when I look at the book I have the memory in my mind.

Anonymous said...

Great piece on Mann and her work. What comes across in your observations is the originality of her seeing. As I looked at the photographs illustrating your brief essay, I thought about the work of another one of my favorite photographers, Eugene Atget.

Bill Wheeler
Colorado Springs