About the Photographer
American, b. 1951 Lexington, VA
Sally Mann has used her 8 x 10 view camera to capture in fine detail, among other subjects, images of her children as they mimic and act out social and familial roles in the lush landscape of their rural Virginia home. For the series Immediate Family, Mann's children, who often appear nude, are posed or simply arrested in their activity to convey both primal and playful aspects of human behavior. The images in her later monograph At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women (Aperture, 1988) capture the confusing emotions and developing identities of adolescent girls. Candy Cigarette (1989) is a striking example of Mann's distinctive combination of careful planning and serendipity. In this work Mann's daughter, Jessie, suspends her activity and gracefully balances a candy cigarette in her hand, appearing to be the innocent miniature of a blonde and gangling twenty-something beauty. Mann’s expressive printing style lends a dramatic and brooding mood to all of her images.
As they reached adolescence, Mann shifted her camera away from her children and undertook several projects drawing on historical processes and subjects. Accustomed to working with large format cameras, Mann began to experiment in 1999 with the wet plate collodion process, which was pioneered in the late 1850s and was the dominant photographic process used to document the battlefields of the American Civil War. Mann uses the antiquated and labor-intensive process to revisit the landscapes and sites where our country’s bloodiest war was fought, returning to the hallowed ground of her native land for a fresh appraisal. The wet plate collodion process entails the use of large glass plates made chemically sensitive to light in the field minutes before use and placed in the back of a view camera. Mann incorporates the flaws of the wet plate collodion process, including chemical streaks, blotches, and dust spots, to lend her work an aura of mystery. The resulting images, flecked with marks and blemishes from the sticky collodion negative, are unnervingly similar to their historic counterparts. Where fences and bodies once punctuated dim fields, the trees overhead are still rendered in a blur owing to the long exposure required of the process.
Mann’s first project dealing with themes of mortality and decay began with the death of her pet dog, Eva, whom she photographed in various stages of decomposition. After photographing Eva, Mann began several other projects that hinged on topics of mortality. Her work led her to accompany New York Times reporter Kathy Ryan on a tour of the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Facility where the decomposition of human bodies is studied, and to photographically document the stages of decay of human bodies. This work, which is collected in a five-part project entitled What Remains, is a gritty meditation on the mechanics and aesthetics of mortality.
Sally Mann was born in 1951 in Lexington, Virginia, where she currently lives and photographs. She is the recipient of numerous grants and awards, including a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (1987) and Individual Artist Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1982, 1988, 1992). Her work has been the subject of numerous solo and group exhibitions nationally and internationally, including So the Story Goes, Art Institute of Chicago (2006); Hospice: A Photographic Inquiry, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (1996); Picturing the South, The High Museum of Art, Atlanta (1996); The Whitney Biennial, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1991); and Pleasures and Terrors of Domestic Comfort, The Museum of Modern Art, New York (1991). Monographs include At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women (Aperture, 1988), Immediate Family (Aperture, 1992), What Remains (Bullfinch Press, 2003), and Deep South (Bullfinch Press, 2005).