Sally Mann has used her 8 × 10 view camera to capture in fine detail, among other subjects, images of her children as they mimic and act out social and familial roles in the lush landscape of their rural Virginia home. For the series Immediate Family, posed or simply arrested in their activity, Mann’s children (who often appear nude) convey both primal and playful aspects of human behavior. The images in the series and subsequent publication At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women (1988) capture the confusing emotions and developing identities of adolescent girls. Candy Cigarette is a striking example of Mann’s distinctive combination of careful planning and serendipity. In this work Mann’s daughter Jessie suspends her activity and gracefully balances a candy cigarette in her hand, the innocent miniature of a blonde and gangling twenty-something beauty. Mann’s expressive printing style lends a dramatic and brooding mood to all of her images.
As they reached adolescence, Mann shifted her camera away from her children (who are now adults) and has undertaken several projects that draw on historical processes and subjects. Accustomed to working with large format cameras, Mann began to experiment in 1999 with the wet collodion process, which was pioneered in the late 1850s and was the dominant photographic process used to document the battlefields of the American Civil War. Mann used the antiquated and labor intensive process to revisit the landscapes and sites where our country’s bloodiest war was fought, returning to the hallowed ground of her native land for a fresh appraisal. The wet collodion process entails the use of large glass plates that are made chemically sensitive to light in the field minutes before use, and then placed in the back of an 8 ×10 view camera. In her goal of producing an interesting or mysterious image Mann was able to incorporate the flaws of the collodion process including chemical streaks and blotches and dust spots into the aesthetic of her work. The resulting images, which are flecked with marks and blemishes from the sticky collodion negative, are unnervingly similar to their historic counterparts. Where fences and bodies once punctuated dim fields, the trees overhead are still rendered in a blur owing to the long exposure requisite of collodion negatives.
Mann’s initial project dealing with themes of mortality and decay began with the death of her pet dog Eva, whom she photographed in various stages of decomposition. After photographing Eva, Mann began several other projects that hinged on topics of mortality. Her work led her to accompany New York Times reporter Kathy Ryan on a tour of the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Facility where the decomposition of human bodies is studied, and to photographically dhttp://www.escapeintolife.com/wp-admin/post-new.phpocument the stages of decay of human bodies. Mann’s new work, which is collected in a five part project called What Remains, is a gritty meditation on the mechanics and aesthetics of mortality.
Sally Mann was born in 1951 in Lexington, Virginia, where she currently lives and photographs. Her work has been honored with numerous grants and awards, and has also been the subject of numerous solo and group exhibitions throughout the world, including “Hospice: A Photographic Inquiry,” the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (1996); “Picturing the South,” The High Museum of Art, Atlanta (1996); “The Whitney Biennial,” the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1991); and “Pleasures and Terrors of Domestic Comfort,” The Museum of Modern Art, New York (1991). (bio)