Friday, April 24, 2015

On "Sally Mann's Exposure"

from "Family Pictures," 1984-1991, by Sally Mann

I find Sally Mann's photographs to be extraordinarily, heart-breakingly beautiful. I just read this long, thought-provoking article by her in the NY Times Magazine, called "Sally Mann's Exposure." In it, she discusses her images of her (often nude) children running around in the privacy of their isolated, rural, safe family home. She addresses making her photos, and she also touches on their reception and her criticism (that these photos are inappropriate, or somehow exploited her children).

In both Mann's writing and images, I see such vulnerability. I firmly disagree with critics who find the children's nudity problematic or sexual. These are photos of play, imagination, magic, and being immersed in a safe childhood. She also photographs her husband, and there seems to be such trust between the two of them--it's lovely.

I found this point of hers very intriguing:
"To be able to take my pictures, I have to look, all the time, at the people and places I care about. And I must do so with both ardor and cool appraisal, with the passions of eye and heart, but in that ardent heart there must also be a splinter of ice."
 All artists and writers have to do this, in a way.

Further along in the article, Mann raises the point that her images did allow her children to be looked at by many people, and described a terrifying stalker who sent letters to her home and kids. She looks back on her work, and states, "With love, rapture and perhaps some measure of foolishness, I made pictures I thought I could control, pictures created within the prelapsarian protection of the farm, those cliffs, the impassable road, the embracing river."
from "Southern Landscapes," 1998, by Sally Mann

The issue of control of our images and art is an important one. Can we ever control its presentation or reception? I don't think so. But all of us who draw from our lives while creating (so, that's all of us!) have to confront this concept in some way.

Hope you enjoy the article--I'm interested in hearing your thoughts.

1 comment

  1. I read this article on the day it came out. It's worth clipping and saving (I'm very much looking forward to reading Mann's memoir). The quotation you highlight is extremely apt. It's also haunting, because it says, Temper the ardor or passion.

    I also was struck by Mann's point that her photographs are NOT her children, are not reality as it exists within her home. Her daughter, whose letter is reproduced in the article, seems to get that. Sadly, I think that's a distinction all too many others will not understand.

    Though I think artists do have some significant measure of control over what they present and how they present it, none of us, I believe, can control art's reception once it's released from our hands. There are as many "readings" as there are people. Those who read into photographs or other visual art, even poetry, what they imagine and what they want to see thereby excuse themselves from responsibility when they go over a line, as with those who view Mann's work as something pornographic. Just this morning I read an article from the Boston paper contrasting the work of white poets with black poets'; it truly saddened me, even as I understand the reasons for the essay.


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