Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Sally Mann Show at the Edwynn Houk Gallery

The distinguished Southern photographer Sally Mann has just opened a major new show of work from her Upon Reflection portfolio at the Edwynn Houk Gallery, at 745 Fifth Avenue, in New York City.

This show opened on September 13th, and will be up through November 3rd, 2012.

The images in this show are, chiefly, work Mann did during her recovery in the late 2000's from a horseback riding accident. Unable to work in her accustomed manner, she turned her camera on herself, producing a series of self portraits and images of her own torso in its damaged, healing state.
According to the Houk Gallery, Mann  "has created a new technique for this project which is based on 19th century processes but that incorporates a modern sensibility. Each unique image is captured as a wet-plate positive on a large, black glass plate."

John B. Ravenal says of this work that "Mann complicates the logic of the flattened geometrical order with references to the antiquated, the irrational, and the horrendous.

"The repetitive display of degraded images calls to mind discards from a mid-nineteenth-century photo studio – plates flawed by the sitter’s movement or the medium’s unstable actions, of which they present a catalogue: pitting, scarring, scratching, streaking, graininess, blurriness, erosion, fading, haziness, delamination, over-exposure, and under-exposure"

The Gallery goes on: "For the very first time, the works from the Omphalos series will be on display.

"In this series, the focus is on the artist’s torso. Akin to the faces, the process is the same, but the grids of Omphalos examine more abstract, sculptural forms.

"The plates themselves have been treated as such: chiseled, scratched and smoothed until flesh becomes stone. Clearly a departure from one of the earliest and most timeless motifs in art, Omphalos is a title not only referring to the torso, but also to the symbolic continuation of the themes explored in Mann’s previous work: fertility, family, and heredity, recorded in the human form and in the land"

 Sally Mann is a deeply Southern photographer.

In response to a question about "what makes my work Southern," she said, "Oh, the obsession with place, with family, with both the personal and the social past; the susceptibility to myth; the love of this light, which is all our own; and the readiness to experiment with dosages of romance that would be fatal to most twentieth-century artists.

"In that sense, Southern artists are like certain of our mountain religious folk, who, in their devotions, subject themselves to snake bites that would kill or disable anyone else.

"What snake venom is to them, romanticism is to the Southern artist: a terrible risk, and a ticket to transcendence."

I think what makes Mann a Southern ARTIST is her unflinching vision, the gaze that does not hold back from the personal, the physical, and the mortal, and her ability to make our experience of that gaze compelling and engaging, and deeply troubling, as well.

There is no casual viewing of work by Sally Mann. That's a major reason she is Sally Mann.