Thursday, November 25, 2010

Sally Mann at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Sally Mann (shown above surrounded by her work in an image from the Richmond Times Dispatch) is having a major exhibition of her work at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, open now through January 23rd, 2011.

Mann chooses not to call this a retrospective, since she says that sounds like something one does at the end of a career, and she is very much in the middle of hers. Nevertheless, this show includes 90 images drawn from all phases of her career and includes early work that is being shown for the first time.

Sally Mann is in my view the most important Southern photographer working actively today. She has produced major bodies of work that have earned her an international reputation and just about every fellowship and award available to her, all from her home base in Lexington, Virginia. The themes of her work -- time, landscape, the South's tangled and complex history, and their inscriptions on the bodies of young and old alike -- are all deeply grounded in Southern concerns and obsessions.

Mann's photographic technique -- her use of old cameras and historic processes for image-making -- inscribe the history of her medium in the surface of her images. Each one embodies the paradox of seeing photographically -- the clarity with which the photographic image can put us in the presence of  complex and painful subjects and yet remind us of the difficulty of seeing through the haze of memory or the complexities of desire or the fearful paradoxes of mortality.

I suspect that Mann has spent much time, profitably, with the images of Matthew Brady and the novels of William Faulkner, with the photographic record of slaves' tortured flesh and Civil War carnage and the stories of the South's complex attempts to make meaning of its memories, passions, and desires.

Atlanta's Jennifer Schwartz went to the show in Richmond. Here is her report. This is a major show, well worth getting to. There is an extended discussion of this show, and of Mann's career in photography, at here.  If you can't get to Richmond, the catalogue is available here.

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