Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sally Mann

So last year in my Art History class I had to do a presentation on assigned photographers and little did I know then that one of them would quickly become my favorites. Her name is Sally Mann, she was born in 1951 in Lexington, Virginia and is a renowned American photographer. She graduated from The Putney School in 1969, and started photography her. Her debut was a portrait of a nude classmate. Mann is known mostly for her large black and white photographs. She depicts various thing including landscapes, self-portraits, study of the effects of muscular dystrophy (her husband was dying from it), portraits of intimate family life over the past 30 years (many of her young children), and a multi-part study of the legacy of slavery in Virginia. A lot of her photographs suggest decay and death.

Her main focus was photographing what she loved and making art out of the everyday and ordinary. That being said, Mann is known for the controversial photographs she produces, creating artwork that challenges viewers' values and moral attitudes. She was okay with that tho, because she aimed to make people think and reevaluate their beliefs, opening her photographs up for interpretation and reflection.

When I was researching her, I found out that she has a DVD out titled, "What Remains: The Life and Work of Sally Mann." I ordered it and watched it. It just follows her through her work at her home in Virginia and shows her family life and how she integrates that with the photographs she takes. This DVD contains an unbridled access to the many stages of Mann's work, and is a rare glimpse of an eloquent and brilliant artist.

Now to the controversy...and the best part, "The Immediate Family" series. It contains 65 black and white photographs of her 3 kids that are all under the age of 10. Most of the photos were taken at her family's summer cabin along the river, where the kids played and swam nude. A lot of the images show her children in the nude, at times in sensual poses, with a bloody nose, or fast asleep on a urine-stained bed.

A lot of the photographs in the series explore typical childhood themes like skinny dipping, reading the funnies, dressing up, vamping, napping, and playing board games. Others touch on darker themes like insecurity, loneliness, injury, sexuality, and death. In a way, she encompasses what is mean by  the term "growing up," conveying the whole, all-encompassing concept of childhood.

When the series was released in 1992, it was very controversial. Some people saw the images and exploitative images and child pornography. Mann responded to the accusations by saying that the photographs are, "natural through the eyes of a mother, since she has seen her children in every state: happy, sad, playful, sick, bloodied, angry, and even naked."

Candy Cigarette, 1989

Gorjus, 1989

Jessie and the Deer, 1985

Jessie at 5, 1987

The Wet Bed, 1987

Sunday Funnies, 1991

Emmett, Jessie, and Virginia, 1989

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