Friday, November 6, 2009

Joerg Colberg reviews Sally Mann's Proud Flesh

Joerg Colberg's Conscientious blog is one of the most interesting of the (by now) millions of photography blogs. Joerg roams widely around the world of internet photogrpahy resources and always comes back with fascinating photographers and their sites. A good number of the more interesting Southern photography items I've used on this blog had their start with a reference on Joerg's site.

Now, he's done a thoughtful and challenging review of a book of Sally Mann's Proud Flesh, new images of her husband, recently noted here during their exhibition in NYC at the Gagosian Gallery. The review is definitely worth reading in its own right, but what interests me is his reaction to Mann's earlier work. He celebrates the achievement of her Immediate Family but finds her later work, especially Deep South and What Remains, to be "weak," in effect communicating an idea but not any feeling.

I've had the good fortune to see Deep South at Jackson Fine Art in Atlanta and What Remains at the Corcoran in Washington, DC and my reaction in both cases was profoundly different. Perhaps these images have to do with a southern sensibility; perhaps they point to something distinctive about a southern photographic aesthetic.

The images in Deep South are enormous images of southern landscapes; to me they are powerful evocations of both a deep connectedness to the land, to this southern land, and a profound ambivalence about the legacy of that connectedness. This paradoxical set of feelings gets picked up again in the What Remains series, with the images of Civil War battlefields that stand alongside images of haunting faces and rotting corpses and animal skins.

Sally Mann has the power in this work to look, and to invite us to look, at places and histories and their painful, haunting legacies, and our involvement in those legacies. She's the closest person I know to a Faulkner of American photography. I have not seen the What Remains images, but it sounds like she continues to build on her past work in what is apparently a series of loving meditations on her husband's body.

Maybe in these elements of her work there are clues to what makes a southern photographic practice really southern. More later.

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