Sally Mann was one of the first photographers I was exposed to, one of the first photographers I could name to describe and recognize their work as being theirs. She was one of the first artists I felt I could actually have a conversation about which encouraged me to talk about her work.
Her work is easy to talk about in that it has a depth to it that continues to deepen the more you explore and discuss it. Her images are captivating but slightly uncomfortable. They challenge you to ask yourself, “Why is there this un-easiness? Why do I feel like maybe these images were not meant for me to look at?” Even her landscape photographs give you that slight feeling of trespassing.
As a photographer you tend to photograph your surroundings, yet I struggle with photographing my children. Or maybe it would be better to say it this way, I struggle to share those photographs with others. I am not talking about the silly snap shots or videos that are shared with family, but these moments where I realize that I am not just capturing a snap shot. The image has crossed over that mythical hard to describe line into something more, something that could be art. Although my intimacy with my subject is what has allowed me to capture the moment, that intimacy has also made me incredibly protective of the image and of the subjects.
It could and probably is this completely differing approach that captivates me about Sally Mann. She photographed her children in those serendipitous moments and instead of hoarding and guarding them, she openly shares them with a world. A world that has often been very critical of how she has allowed her children to be seen. In her book, Holding Still, she talks about involving her children in the final selection process. She always gave them the power to say, “No, I do not want anyone to see that.”
My own children are still little, too little to offer permission or to even understand what it would mean to hang an image of them in gallery. Maybe when my children are older, when time separates the child I experience in my day to day from the one in the frame, I can have just enough of the detachment required to objectively consider them as something more.
As always, thanks for reading.
To learn more about the artist:
- Sally Mann’s Website
- The Disturbing Photography of Sally Mann – The New York Times
- Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs by Sally Mann
Ladylike Artists is a weekly feature on my blog where I write about a female artist that has inspired me. My interest for learning more about women artists peaked when I realized that art history rarely talks about them, saving their stories and work for specialized classes and books. There are more woman artists than we realize! I hope their stories inspire you to ignore whatever boundaries are stopping you from pursuing your passion.