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View Full Version : Sally Mann, great article in the NYT



Darin Boville
17-Apr-2015, 02:08
A really nice article in the New York Times on Sally Mann.

She talks for the first time about the personal side of the controversy over her work with her children (nude)--how all sorts of creepers came out of the woodwork, one to the point where she kept a photo of the nut with her to see if she might see him on the street. She basically acknowledges that some of the critics of her work were right.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/19/magazine/the-cost-of-sally-manns-exposure.html

For my part I've always thought her argument that there was nothing especially erotic etc about her work was a sort of hippie-chick view of the world--wanting it to be something other than it is. She appears to see that now. There's also the complicating factor that she became well known precisely because of this controversial work--and that controversy is the very reason we are reading this New York Times article all these years later.

In many ways sort of the anti-Jock Sturges despite the similarity of the controversy (she seems genuine while Jock strikes me as a major bullshitter, cult-of-personality type; her claims of the innocence of the photos seems about right contrasted with Sturge's history of sex with minors, etc).

The article is taken from a book by Mann that is coming out in May. Well worth a read and the presentation by the New York Times is excellent.

--Darin

Peter Lewin
17-Apr-2015, 04:24
Darin, here is a comment I just posted to the NYT website to accompany some 300+ other comments posted by readers of the article:

I would like to add a comment, based on a week I spent with Sally Mann long ago when she was teaching a photography workshop. One of the words Sally used frequently was "quotidian" to describe the daily activities of ordinary life. She was encouraging us to find images in the quotidian. This was the context in which she explained her "family pictures," pointing out that her children often ran around without clothing. In that same spirit, Sally felt that she could be photographed in her daily activities; one of the students took pictures of Sally taking a bath, and doing other things which were absolutely normal, but not usually photographed. At the end of the workshop, instructors prepared a slide show, including some of their students' work, and up on the screen (for the entire "campus" of students, not only those in Sally's class) went the slides of a naked Sally Mann. There was no difference (other than quality!) between the pictures she would make of her family, and the pictures she was comfortable having others make of her. At the end of the workshop, our entire class met in secret, took a naked group picture of ourselves using a self-timer, and presented the finished print to Sally as a memento.

Lee Rust
17-Apr-2015, 06:37
Like her children, Sally was an innocent, slow to understand the lack of boundaries in our culture of images. She thought of her photos as separate objects that could exist apart from her actual family, when in fact the pictures served as portals through which the outside world could invade and occupy her secluded rural life.

Since the introduction of surveillance cameras, drones, satellites, social media, smartphones and the internet in general, the elimination of personal privacy has become almost complete. All that's left are a few spaces inside our heads and homes. For now, at least.

Larry Kellogg
17-Apr-2015, 06:53
It is no wonder that famous writers, such as Thomas Pynchon, have decided to remain secluded, out of the public eye, so that they can go about their lives without unwanted attention. Perhaps Sally should have produced her work under a pseudonym. Of course, amateur sleuths would have eventually tracked her down but it would have been more difficult for people to harass her.

This article says a lot about the wisdom of children and the ignorance of adults. A six year old child can differentiate between a photograph and her physical body but the adults seem unable to do the same. I had little respect for the Wall Street Journal before this article and have even less now that I see how they acted with regards to Sally's work.

Unfortunately, none of us can control how others react to our photographs, nor can we control people who are mentally ill and wish us harm. As the police officer mentioned, some people are turned on by shoes. Should we all stop wearing shoes as a result?

EdSawyer
17-Apr-2015, 07:21
I've always loved her work, and I think her early family pictures were the best she's done that I have seen. I never really got the controversy. It's not like she was the first to explore that subject matter. And anyone who has had kids can easily tell the photos were innocent, and not worth getting worked up about from that point of view. People bringing their own baggage and preconceptions to her work can just go bugger off, if they have a problem with it, then they can just ignore it, I'd say.

Will Whitaker
17-Apr-2015, 07:22
What an incredibly literate writer she is! And still one of my favorite contemporary photographers.

Jac@stafford.net
17-Apr-2015, 08:10
For my part I've always thought her argument that there was nothing especially erotic etc about her work was a sort of hippie-chick view of the world--wanting it to be something other than it is. [...]

My experience with young families who lived in deep rural areas, small farms, often without electricity has been that they were anything but hippies; they had little to no understanding of that social movement which was really urban.

Silly me, it finally dawned upon me that Mann's early choice of a large view camera was a necessary to a photographic artist in a nonelectric household.

Sally Mann's article is brilliant, honest, illuminating and hopefully rounds the sharp edges of criticism from socially naive urban critics.

John Layton
17-Apr-2015, 08:24
I find two passages in the article to be remarkable…in both their apparent contradiction to each other, and by the way that, together, they reaffirm an artists compulsion and responsibility (as these do coexist) to both connect with and communicate something universal…something larger than self.

Sally writes: “For all the righteous concern people expressed about the welfare of my children, what most of them failed to understand was that taking those pictures was an act separate from mothering…”

And later she writes: “In the pictures of my children, I celebrated the maternal passion their bodies inspired in me — how could I not?”

Celebrated…and also acknowledged.

While any number of arguments and counterarguments can be made about Sally Mann’s photographs involving her children, I do believe that her path has
been a responsible (and even noble) one, and that history will continue to bear this out.

Peter Lewin
17-Apr-2015, 08:56
My experience with young families who lived in deep rural areas, small farms, often without electricity has been that they were anything but hippies; they had little to no understanding of that social movement which was really urban.
Jac: I'm not sure you meant it that way, but in combination with the article's mention that Sally's farm was without electricity, the implication is that her family was, let's say, in a lower socio-economic class. If I remember correctly, the farm has been in the family for generations; I have no way of knowing why it wasn't modernized. But Sally's father was the county doctor, her mother ran the bookstore at nearby Washington & Lee University, and Sally herself attended private schools and graduated with honors from university with a B.A. in English. She always said that her father was an iconoclast, so while "hippy chick" doesn't seem appropriate, a certain amount of being "counter to the prevailing culture" does.

What the article doesn't convey (of course it is an excerpt, and deals primarily with the response to "Immediate Family") is the amazing breadth of Sally's photographic interests. Early in her career she did color studies of decomposing vegetables (she showed some of these in her slide show at the workshop) and I think received support from Polaroid for that project. After the "At 12" and "Family" projects, I remember she did a book on decomposing bodies, she had made contacts at a forensic farm where they studied decomposition to help estimate time of death. That was followed by extended works on Southern landscapes, and landscapes associated with the Civil War (IIRC).

Granted I sound like a Mann groupie, and I guess I am. I was first attracted to her work because of her facility with a Large Format camera, which I hoped to emulate (never have!), and then got to know her a little at the Maine Photographic Workshops. While I, like many, feel that her early work was her best, she has followed her artistic muses to wherever they have taken her. I have one of her prints from the "At 12" series hanging on my wall for inspiration. While that print was very affordable from a time when the Friends of Photography offered a series of prints from different artists annually, I just saw three prints from "Immediate Family"at AIPAD yesterday, and while they were modern contacts from her 8x10 negatives (as opposed to "vintage prints") they had price tags up in the 5-figure range.

Randy Moe
17-Apr-2015, 11:55
As a former 'hippie' we used to skinny dip in the 70's at our self made isolated rural pond. Many adults and children, until one day a mother or 2 stopped that practice as bad for children. We complied, but life changed soon after at the farm. Everybody was naked only from shore to water, there was no beach and sitting meant chiggers. We also had to keep an eye out for Water Moccasin. Our stock of Bluegill were fond of nibbling on slow swimmers. Think about it...

As a child in Minnesota, well before hippies, we always swam skinny, in rural lakes.

I really admire Sally Mann, in all she does.

MDR
20-Apr-2015, 03:10
[QUOTE=Peter Lewin;1236625]Jac: I'm not sure you meant it that way, but in combination with the article's mention that Sally's farm was without electricity, the implication is that her family was, let's say, in a lower socio-economic class. QUOTE]
In what remains she states that her father, Robert Munger, was very artistic and that he was the towns doctor so hardly lower socio economic class. Her mother ran a bookstore She also states that her father inspired her to take up photography.
I believe the Mungers were extremely well educated and open People, whereas many critics of Mann's work are shallow and very narrow minded and probably closet pedos themselves.

Jac@stafford.net
20-Apr-2015, 08:32
Jac: I'm not sure you meant it that way, but in combination with the article's mention that Sally's farm was without electricity, the implication is that her family was, let's say, in a lower socio-economic class.

In some parts of the USA electricity is very expensive. I helped build a log cabin in a deep rural area of Arkansas in the early Seventies. No electricity. To get electricity, a person had to subscribe to service and pay for the lines to be brought in from miles away. It was troublesome and expensive enough to discourage use.

(What brought us to the area was inexpensive real estate, Appalachian dulcimer making and a large cave a friend discovered. He bought the land over it. Eventually things became complicated as the government became interested in the cave, and he sold it to get out of the hassle.)

jp
20-Apr-2015, 09:04
Yes, we have people around here who live off-grid because it's too many poles away from utility power to be worthwhile. Monthly cost is reasonable, but construction is about $3k/pole (more if you've got ledge). Spending $20k over time building a solar power system was preferable to adding $40k for power infrastructure to the mortgage when building the house if they even used financing. We've got people living on islands (or at least summering) without electricity as well, and there is no chance of ever getting electricity to the islands.

Jac@stafford.net
20-Apr-2015, 09:30
[...] We've got people living on islands (or at least summering) without electricity as well, and there is no chance of ever getting electricity to the islands.

The memories you provoked! My darling of 18 years lived in a river house without any utilities. We have lots of people doing that here. Given how bitter our Winters are, I am struck by how resourceful they are.

Photo by Alec Soth: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-DpXMVMfFxt8/T0GSr4Dj0zI/AAAAAAAAAyE/3zWTQTBmvEw/s1600/Peters-Houseboat-Winona-Minnesota-2002.jpg

(And we ain't hippies :))

Darin Boville
20-Apr-2015, 12:46
I know nothing of the Mann's finances but, if I recall the images in her work correctly, they drove to their rural cabin in a new BMW. So it was just an alternative lifestyle thing. Not poverty (which I don't think Mann ever claimed).

Darin

richardman
20-Apr-2015, 12:52
She made some money with Immediate Family etc. right? So what they drive/drove post-Immediate Family et. al. is not an indication on their financial situation prior to that.

Peter Lewin
20-Apr-2015, 13:06
Please read the earlier posts. Sally's father was a doctor, her mother ran the nearby University bookstore, Sally went to private school from an early age (in fact, the Putney School in Vermont, which I used to use as a base for cross-country skiing over Christmas breaks when they rented the dorms out), and then on to university. The family was not short of funds, but were, as Darin suggests, quite "alternative lifestyle".

Randy Moe
20-Apr-2015, 13:22
Now we criticize a person for lifestyle and a new car?


This is getting way out line.

I would even call this political.

Darin Boville
20-Apr-2015, 13:39
Now we criticize a person for lifestyle and a new car?

This is getting way out line.

I would even call this political.

Criticize? Political?

Someone was suggesting that Mann was poor, which has a great deal of import when looking at her images made at her rural cabin. In truth she chose an alternative lifestyle--she didn't live all year in the cabin without running water and electricity! She never claimed she was poor. She never claimed she lived full time in the cabin.

Why so touchy?

--Darin

Randy Moe
20-Apr-2015, 13:50
Criticize? Political?

Someone was suggesting that Mann was poor, which has a great deal of import when looking at her images made at her rural cabin. In truth she chose an alternative lifestyle--she didn't live all year in the cabin without running water and electricity! She never claimed she was poor. She never claimed she lived full time in the cabin.

Why so touchy?

--Darin

No comment.

Peter Lewin
6-May-2015, 06:30
There is a glowing review of Sally Mann's just released memoir, "Hold Still," in today's NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/06/arts/review-hold-still-sally-manns-memoir-reveals-a-rich-life.html?_r=0 (I hope the link works for non-subscribers.) The magazine article which was the basis for this thread was an excerpt from the book.

Since we had something of a debate over the financial status of the Mann family (triggered by Sally's comment that their rural farm had no electricity), here is the relevant paragraph from the review: "Unsophisticated she [Sally] was not. Her parents were serious and lettered people. Her father, born into a wealthy Texas family, was a doctor (he’d gone to Choate) and an atheist with artistic leanings and a strong intellectual bent. Her Boston-born mother, who ran a bookstore and battled for progressive causes, was a Mayflower descendant." So much for any lingering thoughts about the "rural poor."

Toyon
6-May-2015, 12:06
My experience with young families who lived in deep rural areas, small farms, often without electricity has been that they were anything but hippies; they had little to no understanding of that social movement which was really urban.

Silly me, it finally dawned upon me that Mann's early choice of a large view camera was a necessary to a photographic artist in a nonelectric household.

Sally Mann's article is brilliant, honest, illuminating and hopefully rounds the sharp edges of criticism from socially naive urban critics.

How true! It all about the "urban" critics. We all know what that means (wink*). A brilliant, honest, illuminating comment.

Larry Kellogg
8-May-2015, 12:37
By the way, there is a review of Sally Mann's soon to be released memoir here: http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/05/06/arts/review-hold-still-sally-manns-memoir-reveals-a-rich-life.html?referrer=

The book is available for preorder from Amazon for $19.

Randy Moe
8-May-2015, 13:20
By the way, there is a review of Sally Mann's soon to be released memoir here: http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/05/06/arts/review-hold-still-sally-manns-memoir-reveals-a-rich-life.html?referrer=

The book is available for preorder from Amazon.

I buy few books of this type. I will buy, gladly.

I also don't read 'reviews' too far as they often spoil the beans.

Thanks Larry!

Larry Kellogg
8-May-2015, 14:29
I agree with not reading too far into reviews. That's why I always liked Ebert's star system. I could get an idea of the quality of a film without spoiling the experience.

matthew blais
25-Jun-2015, 16:01
I'm reading this book now ("Hold Still") and about 70 pages into it. Well written, with a nice flow and humor. I'd definitely recommend it based on just my first several chapters.


There is a glowing review of Sally Mann's just released memoir, "Hold Still," in today's NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/06/arts/review-hold-still-sally-manns-memoir-reveals-a-rich-life.html?_r=0 (I hope the link works for non-subscribers.) The magazine article which was the basis for this thread was an excerpt from the book.

Since we had something of a debate over the financial status of the Mann family (triggered by Sally's comment that their rural farm had no electricity), here is the relevant paragraph from the review: "Unsophisticated she [Sally] was not. Her parents were serious and lettered people. Her father, born into a wealthy Texas family, was a doctor (he’d gone to Choate) and an atheist with artistic leanings and a strong intellectual bent. Her Boston-born mother, who ran a bookstore and battled for progressive causes, was a Mayflower descendant." So much for any lingering thoughts about the "rural poor."

Jac@stafford.net
25-Jun-2015, 16:05
I'm reading this book now ("Hold Still") and about 70 pages into it. Well written, with a nice flow and humor. I'd definitely recommend it based on just my first several chapters.

Agreed. Mann has guts, talent, literate sensibilities, everything I wish for in an author; she is a great photographer as well. My life pursuit of that pair of talents is complete.
.

Richard Wasserman
25-Jun-2015, 16:09
I found it a wonderful read—very well written, funny, insightful—all the good things. Ms Mann has had an interesting, very full, atypical life. And it has pictures!!!

Drew Wiley
25-Jun-2015, 16:14
I started a decent food fight over on APUG with the comment, "What the heck was she thinking, or WAS she even thinking?" That was in response to the recent
excellent Charlie Rose interview. She strikes me as distinctly eccentric, not just a free spirit. Maybe that comes with the territory of certain highly creative people.
Brilliant photographer. No doubt about that.

Peter Lewin
26-Jun-2015, 19:54
I just finished "Hold Still" as well, I thought it was an excellent, thought provoking book. Very roughly, about 1/3rd deals with photography and making art, 1/3 with her family history, and 1/3 about the South and slavery. It turns out that on her father's side her Texan great-great-grandfather or something like that became a millionaire by inventing a better cotton gin, and on her mother's side, she was a Mayflower descendant; her country-doctor father loved his Aston Martin. Hardly backwoods types!

I would debate Drew's description of her as eccentric, I think she is simply more introspective than most of us, and extremely affected by her Southern roots. While my personal experience with Sally consisted of one week at the Maine Photographic Workshops probably 30 something years ago, she struck me as someone with no artificial skin, i.e. she made herself available without the layers of protection that most of us maintain. I think this openness comes through in her book.