Sally Mann portrait

Sally Mann /    Sally Mann

United States 1951


Sally Mann
Sally Mann
United States
December 23, 2014
Nina Karaicic is a journalist with experience in TV and radio media. Born in 1989, she had studied at the University of Belgrade – Faculty of Political Sciences (Journalism). Interests: Photography, Art, Film, Folklore, Video Games

It seems that a quest for exploring something as pure as childhood can be understood and observed as beautiful by some, and quite controversial by others. Sally Mann is one of America’s most famous photographers, whose love for her family has inspired her best-known series of work, but has also sparked the questions about the need of the artist to portray her children completely or almost nude in many occasions. She is certainly a master of photography, who has so far produced architecture and landscape based artworks, and successfully mixed the portraiture with the elements of still-life. Every single photograph seems like it’s a shared memory, like Mann is allowing her viewers to see exactly what she saw. Not as a simple observer of her art, but as someone who was actually there at that moment and lived through the same memories as she.

Sally Mann - Hephaestus, 2008 - Was Ever Love, 2009, new photographs and portraits of young kids will be shown at the gallery and the museum
Sally Mann – Hephaestus, 2008 / Was Ever Love, 2009

The Childhood and Art Controversy

The Immediate family is the series which brought her much attention, both positive and negative. Similarly to David Hamilton and Jock Sturges, Mann was also under an attack from the people who accused her of the overuse of the nudity, even going as far as characterizing her work as child pornography. The critique only saw the naked bodies of the children and failed to bother with the artistic reason behind these photographs. For Mann, nakedness wasn’t problematic. It wasn’t even that much important, as she focused on something else. She tried to immortalize the childhood of her kids, all the bruises and bloody noses, all the happy memories they had on their rural farm in Virginia. By including some fiercely private and embarrassing moments such as bed-wetting, Mann was photographing childhood as it is. Nothing more, nothing less. Sure, her artworks are loaded with sensuality as she recognizes the innate sexuality of her children. And where others will turn their heads, she glorifies that sexuality. For they will once be a grown people, and the idea behind Mann’s work has always been that the “photographs open doors into the past, but they also allow a look into the future.”

Mann tried to portray the childhood as it is, and that meant including some fiercely private and embarrassing moments

Sally Mann - Emmett, Jessie, Virginia, 1989 - Virginia at 6, 1991, museum and gallery hold the young portraits and photographs, books
Sally Mann – Emmett, Jessie, Virginia, 1989 / Virginia at 6, 1991

Personal Life, American South, and the Family

Mann was born in Lexington, Virginia, and she attended the Putney School, the Bennington College, and the Friends World College, before receiving her BA with Summa Cum Laude from the Hollins College, Virginia, in 1974. She went on to earn her MA in Writing from the same institution in 1975. After the graduation, she started working as a photographer for Washington and Lee University. Her first solo exhibition took place in Washington D.C. in 1977, and she immediately attracted the wide audience. That was just an introduction into her further series where she photographed her family. Mann projected her ‘addiction’ to the American South into two series, Mother Land and Deep South. In In What Remains, the artist deals with the complex issues of mortality, inspired by the death of her beloved dog.

She attracted a lot of attention with her first exhibition

Sally Mann - The Last Time Emmett Modeled Nude, 1987 (Left) - At Warm Springs, 1991 (Right), books, works, 2016
Sally Mann – The Last Time Emmett Modeled Nude, 1987 (Left) / At Warm Springs, 1991 (Right)

What Remains

Upon completing the Southern Landscapes series, Mann’s attention turned towards more gruesome topic as she took pictures of the bodies on a body farm, starting new series entitled What Remains. It is unclear is it a question or a statement, and she clarifies it by quoting Ezra Pound’s Cantos: “What thou lovest well remains, the rest is dross. What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee.” The process of making these photographs was based on a question of what remains. With the emphasize being more of the statement than on the question part, the artist still provides an answer – in a word, it is love, the only thing that endures everything, even time. The photographs in this series are not easy on the eyes, and Mann, curious to find out why people are bothered by a simple fact of nature, sets to actually confront human death and everything that comes along. By making the viewers a little uncomfortable, she encourages them to examine who they are and why they think the way they do. The inspiration for the series, that eventually became a book, came from her personal reactions to several different events.

The inspiration for this series came from different sources, with one thing in common – death. First of these inspirational events was her father’s passing away, for which she was present. The thoughts of where all of that his-ness went appeared shortly. Other events that further increased her preoccupation with mortality were the shooting of an escaped prisoner on the grounds of her farm in Lexington, Virginia, but also the death of her beloved pet greyhound, Eva. The artist arranged for her pet’s skin to be preserved by tanning, and she buried the remains in a cage in order to prevent them being carried away by wild animals. After fourteen months, Mann dug up the cage and found that the skeleton was picked completely clean – another evidence of death’s efficiency. Eva’s decomposition was documented through a series of photos, later included in the book What Remains. Some critics found the photos off-putting, but the reactions were quite positive, considering the dominant theme. Mann was even surprised that the book didn’t garner the amount of controversy that followed her previous book which featured nude photos of her young children. Some wondered how no one questioned her right to take the photographs of the dead and later publish them when there had been extensive protests over her pictures of her children. The artist stated that she thought that all the people in the photos had signed release forms for photographs to be taken. However, she later found out that some of the bodies were street people who never had a chance to sign the proper documentation. The whole experience influenced on Mann’s decision to arrange for her own body to be donated to science after her death.

Mann’s photographs in this series address the issues of mortality

Sally Mann - Images from series What Remains
Sally Mann – Images from series What Remains

Last Measure

What Remains’ conceptual ambition was continued in the Last Measure, where the artist addressed how death can affect our perception of a specific place. Walking in the fields of Fredericksburg, Antietam, Wilderness, Manassas, Chancellorsville, etc, and following the footsteps of her artistic predecessors such as Mathew Brady and Alexander Gardner, Mann is interested in society’s role preserving hallowed ground, but also in the involvement of art in sanctification of any such site. Since more than 150 years has passed since the conflict, there are no operation, faces, and ravages of war – but Mann isn’t really interested in all of that. She rather seeks to capture the experience of walking among the accretion of millions of remains – the bones, lives, souls, hopes, joys and fears that devolved into the earth. In the summer of 2000, the artist began making pilgrimages to various locations that marked the Civil War and where many losses have occurred in the countless battles. Hoping to address the means by which life takes leave of this earth and the manner in which they are rejoined, she focuses is on the ineffable divide between body and soul.

The subject of this series is radically different from her previous ones – lyrical landscapes of the American South, intimate glimpses of her family life, even the dead bodies of What Remains. There is much more spirituality, and it’s certainly one of her more ambitious works. Darkly mysterious, somber and often quite difficult to even identify, landscapes are left open for interpretation by the viewers, all due to her aesthetic intent and the photographic process she applied. A large format camera in combination with an antiquated method – the wet plate collodion, were used to create evocative and monumentally scaled pictures. Frederick Scott Archer invented one of the earliest and most technically complex photographic methods in 1850, and Mann found it perfect for this series as it produces a deep, rich effect, further enhanced by her addition of Soluvar varnish to which she added diatomaceous earth. Ultimately, her efforts resulted in a spirited body of work charged with history, yet resonating with a somber beauty that is clearly the artist’s own.

She followed the traces of other artists and their work, but remained unique and true to herself

Sally Mann - Untitled [Wilderness #19], 2001 (Left) - Untitled [Antietam #14], 2001 (Right), images courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery
Sally Mann – Untitled [Wilderness #19], 2001 (Left) / Untitled [Antietam #14], 2001 (Right), images courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery

The Appreciation

“Unless you photograph what you love, you are not going to make good art.” Sally Mann certainly loves her family, and that is evident in the photographs, whether they are labeled as indecent or as a representation of the skills the artist possesses and her feelings towards her family. Even though she had photographed landscapes, architecture, and still-life, every artwork is a portrait, not in a sense it has the traits of a person, but rather in a way it draws out a certain intimacy. The viewers recognize that intimacy, and that is one of the main reasons Mann’s work is so appreciated.

She is represented by the Gagosian Gallery.

Sally Mann is based in Lexington, Virginia.

Featured image: Sally Mann – portrait, photo credits Nancy Ostertag/Getty Images
All images courtesy of the artist

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group 
2016Southern Landscape, online exhibition21st Editions, The Art of the BookSolo
2015Sally MannReynolds Gallery, Richmond, VASolo
2015At TwelveJackson Fine Art, Atlanta, GASolo
2015Sally Mann: BattlefieldsTaubman Museum of Art, Roanoke, VASolo
2015The Energy of Youth: Depicting Childhood in the NCMA’s Photography CollectionNorth Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NCGroup
2015Phantom Bodies: The Human Aura in ArtThe Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville, TNGroup
2015Arts & Foods PavilionLa Triennale di Milano, Milan, ItalyGroup
2015Fatal Attraction: Piotr Uklanski Selects from the Met CollectionThe Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NYGroup
2015The Memory of Time: Contemporary Photographs at the National Gallery of Art, Acquired with the Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad FundNational Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.Group
2015Southern ExposureMuseum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, Jacksonville, FLGroup
2015Forensics: The anatomy of crimeWellcome Collection, London, EnglandGroup
2015A History of Photography: Series and SequencesVictoria and Albert Museum, London, EnglandGroup
2015Rooted in SoilDePaul Art Museum, DePaul University, Chicago, ILGroup
2014Fusion: Art of the 21st-CenturyVirginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VAGroup
2014Dialogues: Recent Acquisitions of the Sheldon Museum of ArtSheldon Museum of Art, Lincoln, NEGroup
2014Self-Processing – Instant PhotographyOgden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans, LAGroup
2014GorgeousAsian Art Museum, San Francisco, CASolo
2014The Collector’s Eye: The Maloney CollectionFotofest Inter-Biennial Season, Houston, TXGroup
2014Vacation DaysReynolds Gallery, Richmond, VAGroup
2014Terra Firma: Landscapes from the Photography and Media Arts CollectionThe Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DCGroup
2014Aperture RemixThe Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego, CAGroup
2014Bodytime Rønnebæksholm, NæstvedGroup
2013Regarding the Forces of Nature: From Alma Thomas to Yayoi KusamaBowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, MEGroup
2013MetempsychosisReynolds Gallery, Richmond, VAGroup
2013Shared Vision: The Sondra Gilman and Celso Gonzalez-Falla Collection of PhotographyBrooks Museum of Art, Memphis, TNGroup
2013Lunch With Olympia32 Edgewood Gallery - Yale University School of Art, New Haven, CTGroup
2013A Democracy of Images: Photographs from the Smithsonian American Art MuseumSmithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DCGroup
2013Everyday Epiphanies - Photography and Daily Life Since 1969The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NYGroup
2013Perchance to DreamAndrea Meislin Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2013An Artist Collecting ArtVestfossen Kunstlaboratorium, VestfossenGroup
2013Light SensitiveNasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, NCGroup
2012Upon ReflectionEdwynn Houk Gallery, New York City, NYSolo
2012Refracting LightReynolds Gallery, Richmond, VAGroup
2012Howard Greenberg CollectionMusée de l´Elysée, LausanneGroup
2012Summer SelectionsEdwynn Houk Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2012Shared Vision: The Sondra Gilman and Celso Gonzalez-Falla Collection of PhotographyAperture Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2012Imaging HistoryFotomuseum Antwerpen, AntwerpGroup
2011The Art of Caring: A Look at Life through PhotographyThe Art Museum of South Texas, Corpus Christi, TXGroup
2011Mars vs Venus: Images of Male and FemaleGreg Kucera Gallery, Seattle, WAGroup
2011Carolina Collects: 150 Years of Modern and Contemporary Art from Alumni CollectionsAckland Art Museum, Chapel Hill, NCGroup
2011The Shape of the ProblemElizabeth Leach Gallery, Portland, ORGroup
2011Dawn Till DuskGallery Jen Bekman, New York City, NYGroup
2011Another StoryModerna Museet, StockholmGroup
2011ProcessEdwynn Houk Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2011Viewing RmHemphill Fine Arts, Washington, DCGroup
2010Sally Mann - AfterlightReynolds Gallery, Richmond, VASolo
2010The Family and the LandThe Photographers' Gallery, LondonSolo
2010Sally Mann & ArchivePage Bond Gallery, Richmond, VAGroup
2010WaterWaysThe Rose Art Museum, Waltham, MAGroup
2010Portrait PhotographsWorcester Art Museum, Worcester, MAGroup
2010What I Did Last SummerStephen Cohen Gallery, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2010Art of Caring - A Look at Life through photographyCincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal, Cincinnati, OHGroup
2010Another Nude ShowRobert Berman Gallery, Santa Monica, CAGroup
2010Strictly Death: Selected Works from the Richard Harris CollectionSlought Foundation, Philadelphia, PAGroup
2009The Family And The LandFotomuseum Den Haag, The HagueSolo
2009Sally Mann - Proud FleshGagosian Gallery , New York City, NYSolo
2008Sally Mann PhotographsThe National Museum of Photography - The Black Diamond, CopenhagenSolo
2008Sally Mann - FacesGalerie Karsten Greve, CologneSolo
2007Immediate FamilyEdwynn Houk Gallery, New York City, NYSolo
2007The Given - Studio Work by Sally MannSecond Street Gallery, Charlottesville, VASolo
2007Sally Mann. Battlefields/Deep SouthStadtmuseum Jena, JenaSolo
2005Sally Mann - BattlefieldsGalerie Karsten Greve , CologneSolo
2004Paradise Lost: Landscape Photographs by Sally MannThe Fralin Museum of Art - University of Virginia Art Museums, Charlottesville, VASolo
2004Sally Mann: What RemainsThe Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DCSolo
2002Sally Mann: YucatanCatherine Edelman Gallery, Chicago, ILSolo
2001Sally Mann - Deep South PhotographsGalerie Karsten Greve , ParisSolo
2000Sally Mann - Still TimeUMMA - The University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor, MISolo