Sunday, April 26, 2015

UPDATED Sally Mann in the New York Times -- April 2015

Honored Southern photographer Sally Mann has had a long and distinguished career as a fine art photographer. 

Mann has exhibited and published widely, and has been awarded a Guggenheim fellowship and three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. Time Magazine named Mann "America's Best Photographer" in 2001. 

Mann has now written an autobiography called appropriately Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs, available from May 12th, 2015, from Little, Brown. 

For a pre-publication review by Kat Kiernan of Hold Still, go here to Kiernan's Don't Take Pictures blog.

In the run-up to its release, the New York Times has published an excerpt from Mann's memoir in the NY Times Magazine for April 4th, 2015 with the title "The Cost of Sally Mann’s Exposure: What an artist captures, what a mother knows and what the public sees can be dangerously different things." 

In this essay, Mann discusses the complex reactions she evoked by the publication of her third book of photographs, Immediate Family, in 1992. 

Mann has photographed a wide range of subjects during her career, but none of her work has drawn the same degree of attention as this body of work. 

The subject of Mann's photographs in this portfolio were Mann's own children, photographed while they were young, engaged in typical children's activities, often in the nude.

Mann writes of her choice of subject matter in this portfolio:

"Out of a conviction that my lens should remain open to the full scope of their childhood, and with the willing, creative participation of everyone involved, I photographed their triumphs, confusion, harmony and isolation, as well as the hardships that tend to befall children — bruises, vomit, bloody noses, wet beds — all of it."

The reaction to Mann's work was strong, complex, and frequently hostile. Mann, unprepared for it, describes it in her essay as feeling "as though my soul had been exposed to critics who took pleasure in poking it with a stick."

Mann's work gained wide exposure because of an article, also in the New York Times Magazine, entitled "The Disturbing Photography of Sally Mann," by Richard B. Woodward

Mann remembers, "In my arrogance and certitude that everyone must see the work as I did, I left myself wide open to journalism’s greatest hazard: quotations lacking context or the sense of irony or self-­deprecating humor with which they were delivered."

Mann's work -- and the reaction to it -- reminds us that our response to art is our response, dependent to some extent on the context we bring to the work when we look at it, but ultimately deriving from within ourselves and ultimately revealing more about ourselves than it does about the work which evokes that response from within us.

Or, as KJ Dell'Antonia, in an essay on Mann's photography in the NY Times parenting blog, puts it:

"The emotion we draw from an image we know nothing about fools us into thinking we want to know more. 

"Instead of looking inside for that knowledge, as an artist hopes we will, we prefer to take the easier route and dig for less metaphorical truths. 

"Or maybe, and this is the risk, this is the fear, and supposedly no small part of the reaction the pictures provoke, maybe whatever is inside some few of us that the images touch is so ugly and unknowable that we want to destroy or possess the reality, or the illusion, behind their creation."

Such insights are good to have with us when we see work that we find challenging, disturbing, or upsetting. 

As part of the Times' coverage of Mann's work, the NY Times photographer LESLYE DAVIS (see image above) talks about the experience of photographing Mann in an essay entitled "A Lesson from Sally Mann: "Just Take the Picture," here.


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