24 February 2011

On Sally Mann

“…it’s always been my philosophy to try to make art out of the everyday and ordinary…it never occurred to me to leave home to make art.” 

- Sally Mann


I'm not sure what I would give to spend some time with renown photographer, Sally Mann. I'm sure you know how some people want something and claim they'd trade a first-born child or right arm in exchange for their object of desire. My first born is a man now, so he's in charge of his own life. I kinda still need my right arm seeing as how I'm right-handed. I'd rather not give it up in trade just yet. However, if the opportunity were to present itself for me to go spend a month on Sally Mann's ranch home in Virginia, I'm quite sure I'd be willing to take a loss in the trade in order to do it.

There are several photographers whom I can readily identify with. I've mentioned Edward Weston and Harry Callahan as being some favorites of mine because of their work with photographing nudes of their spouses. They've each produced some of the most iconic images of not only this genre of photography but in also in art, period. Both of these figures have been originators of inspiration that hooked me into the concept of the nude. As I've evolved, however, I've come to realize that the nude is only part of my call to action. A passion, though it may be, it's really the pursuit of life that excites me. Recording the art of life from birth to death and everything in between is my true vice. Nobody patrons that cause better than Sally Man for me. I'm actually having a hard time articulating and organizing my thoughts in writing this so bare with me. I may jump around a bit.

Why do I like her? First, she doesn't give a damn. When some notion strikes her, she's all in. Controversialities, be damned. This woman is going to do what she wants to do, despite popular opinion and she doesn't cater to the current trends. Everybody knows about her "Immediate Family" collection of work, whereby she uses her own children as subjects who are often nude in the series. The outcry was huge, but it was, nonetheless, an excellent body of work that put her on the map. This is when I became aware of her. It was her work titled, "What Remains" and the HBO documentary that followed that really made me take a look at what this woman was doing. I studied articles, interview, and documentaries on this work not only in appreciation for her as an artist, but also on this artist's impact on myself.

Model, Melanie

Next, I think I enjoy her choice and use of the old school methods and processes capture and development of an image. She uses an old 8x10 view camera like you might have seen used in the 1800's. She also chooses the collodion wet plate process to make her negatives. This isn't a film based negative, but rather glass, coated with collodion and dipped in a silver nitrate solution. You expose the plate while its still wet and the image is imprinted on the glass. This is definitely not the easy way and slow does not even describe this process comparative to digital. I'm shooting about 100 images an hour. She might do two. So you know every shot is deliberate and precise. She's the military equivalent of the sniper.

She also shoots nudes of her spouse. After 40 years of marriage, she still gets to do this. Her husband Larry is probably somewhere close to 62 or 63 years old with Muscular Dystrophy. He's not complaining about being too old. You can hear him talk about the muscle loss in his legs. You hear her discuss how he appears much more frail now. Yet this guy is completely sold out to his wife. He understands how important her art is and he takes willfully becomes her subject. I've got mad respect for the both of them.

Another reason is that I think she's a beautiful woman. Granted she's a photog, but she's also my ideal type of woman to photograph. I wouldn't say there is anything glamorous about the woman. She's just got this earthy quality that I like in a model. I'm not sure whether there is an unwritten taboo about asking a photographer to model, so I don't think I'd ever ask. She can ask me to shoot her, but I'd never ask her to model. I may have broken that rule once or twice, but I'd not make an exception in her case. I could probably spend the rest of the next day blogging about this woman. In my haste, I forgot to even mention what has spurred me on thusly. NPR did an 8 minute segment on her regarding her work with her husband, Larry, "Sally Man: The Flesh and the Spirit". Click the link for the NPR segment, "From Lens to Photo: Sally Mann Captures Her Love". This is a remarkable woman.

Yeah, I'd kill to be able to spend a month with her. Now, would I really kill somebody to do this as a trade....well, I can't say until she asks.


4 comments:

Crina said...

thank you so much - I adore her photos - such a wonderful woman in every way.!

Photo Anthems.com said...

She and her husband are definitely tops on my list of people I'd love to spend some time with. I don't want to just meet them. Give me one month on that farm. I'd feed the horses, slop the pigs, kill a chicken and cook it just to get my own experience of what their world is like. Thanks for commenting.

unbearable lightness said...

Great post, T, and I enjoyed the video, too. I was already a fan of Sally Mann.

Karl said...

Mann's work is dividing line for many. Like Diane Arbus, most either love their work or hate it. I am a big fan of Sally Mann's work, but while respectful of Arbus, do not like her work.

Last year I learned a valuable from photographic legend Duane Michels - basically the artist has to believe in her/his work because nobody else will or their belief shouldn't matter. Thanks for this tribute. I would trade something valuable to learn from her as well.