Sally Mann

Immediately when I look at a photograph by Sally Mann, I am struck by the strength the picture gives off. By strength, I mean that in each picture there is a sureness and confidence that comes across. An easier example of this would be in her Immediate Family collection, her kids and husband in the pictures pose with a confident and almost casual stature that leads you to believe the picture is just a snapshot when in fact this is not the case. Sally Mann uses a very very old 8×10 camera, in order to shoot with this piece of equipment it takes times to set up and once set up, the subject of the photo most stay still. Because of this technical choice of a complicated procedure required to use her camera, the feeling of a snapshot like picture must be created instead of found. These factors result in her well thought-out, meticulous pieces of artwork . 

Immediate Family was Sally Mann’s third collection published in 1992 and it is thought of as perhaps her best known collection. The NY Times stated that “ Probably no photographer in history has enjoyed such a burst of success in the art world.” Her collection surrounds the every day life of her three young children, her husband, and her animals. Her collection was indeed stunning and extremely successful, the photos in what is my personal favorite collection of hers however received an over whelming rush of criticism as well. Nudity was common through out the pictures and this seemed to cross a line for a lot people who thought of such displays as child pornography. Despite the complaints and harsh reviews from critics, her collection thrived and a lawsuit was never filed.   


It was really hard to choose favorites of this collection because there really were so many I loved, but these three were definitely some of the most powerful in my opinion. Something I noticed later that all three have in common is that the subject in the picture is always making eye contact. I think that eye contact is huge factor of why these photos are so strong. The shadows, the soft lighting, and girls posture in these pictures are particular things that stood out to me when I was looking at them.

Later in her career, Sally Mann started to move away from photographing her children and switch to landscapes. She came out with a collection called What Remains and eventually turned it into a book as well like she did with all her other collections. What Remains was a series focusing on death. It ranged from landscapes that had been battle fields to real decomposing bodies that she was privileged to observe and photograph at a Forensic Anthropology facility. A once again stunning show received mixed reviews like any show would and straying to a new subject of photography proved a good idea. Sally’s process for the What Remains show was different than other shows. She photographed with glass plates which she coated with collodion, dipped in silver nitrate and exposed while still wet. The collodion made a film-like cover on the photo and resulted in a cloudy effect. She explained that she welcomed “happy accidents”. By this Sally went onto explain that she liked when debris landed on her glass plates or things went unexpectedly in the process and made blemishes on the photo. She liked the uniqueness of this look.


These pictures were probably my favorites of the What Remains collection. I liked the texture that they both had a lot of, and the debris surrounding and covering both subjects. 

Sally Mann had originally planned to have her opening of this show in a very famous gallery in New York, however the gallery cancelled her show because they didn’t think it would make any money. When discussing this, Sally Man had said that she knew it wouldn’t make any money when she started, but it had just been something she needed to do. It’s a hard thing to come to terms with, if it’s more important for you express your personal artistic vision in an art piece or to be successful and gain public recognition. Sometimes people can achieve both, however this is not something you can count on. The whole purpose of art is to express yourself, and sometimes people end up instead expressing what they think people want them to be, you must take risks to be successful. Sally Mann’s risks may have pushed the envelope but that’s what good art does, it makes you inspired and it makes you think.


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