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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Sally Mann

Candy Cigarette, Sally Mann
When you first saw the photo above, before reading the title, what's your first reaction? Does the fact that the photo was taken by the girl's mother change your attitude? Are you outraged that such a pretty, young, preadolescent girl should be pictured smoking a cigarette? Or are you caught up in the adult look and pose she projects? How does your realization that she is "smoking" a candy cigarette effect your thoughts? Are you amused that your mind has been "tricked," or are you angered that your mind has been manipulated? Sally Mann has illustrating the bittersweet tragedy of children maturing too quickly in a world of ever-accelerating change. Her daughter, Jessie, is a captivating child who will one day grow to be a strikingly beautiful woman. Yet, it seems that the purity of her childhood is already fraying at the edges. The ease and familiarity with which she mimics adult behavior is jarring. Her crossed arms and defiant gaze convey a rebellious nature, Her eyes suggest a weariness that is beyond her years. She exudes the sensuality and worldliness of the woman she has yet to become. Candy Cigarette is as beautiful as it is unsettling. It depicts an entire generation, too eager to grow up too quickly.
Do photos augment memories...or replace them?
Candy Cigarette dates from 1989. Jessie is now nearing forty years of age (she has never smoked real cigarettes, by the way.) Sally Mann dates from 1951. She was born in Lexington, Virginia, the third of three children and the only daughter. Her father was a general practitioner, and her mother, ran the bookstore at Washington and Lee University in Lexington. Mann was introduced to photography by her father, Robert Munger, a physician who photographed his daughter nude as a little girl. Sally Mann herself took up photography when she was sixteen. Most of her early photographs are tied to her hometown. Mann graduated from The Putney School in 1969, and attended Bennington College and Friends World College. She earned a B.A., summa cum laude, from Hollins College in 1974 and a MA in creative writing in 1975. She began studying photography seriously at Putney, where, she admits her primary motivation was to be alone in the darkroom with her boyfriend.
Jessie, Emmett, and Virginia, 1989, Sally Mann,
Sally Mann creates large-scale, black-and-white photographs. Her pieces have evolved greatly over the years sparking much debate among art critics and historians. Many of her earlier photographs deal with childhood and young children, while later subjects include landscapes dealing with decay and death. Mann’s work appears regularly in various venues, and has won a number of prestigious awards over the course of her career. Mann’s popularity exploded after the release of the Immediate Family and At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women collections, in which the main subjects are her three children (above).

The Perfect Tomato, Sally Mann from her book, Family Pictures.
With the success of these and other collections came controversy. Many of the photos depict her children in the nude, prompting some people to question whether or not these images bordered on child pornography. In addition, there are several photos, such as Battered Child, which caused people to question whether Mann was neglecting her children for the sake of art. Though the photos of her children are undoubtedly Mann’s most famous images, her range includes subjects from further taboos of decaying corpses to the simple beauty of Southern landscapes (below).

Deep South, Sally Mann
Sally Mann has been spared the litigation that surrounded the Robert Mapplethorpe shows. And, unlike Jock Sturges, whose equipment and photographs of nude prepubescent girls were confiscated by the F.B.I., she has not been pursued by the Government on child pornography charges. But a Federal prosecutor in Roanoke, Va., from whom she sought advice, warned Mann that no fewer than eight pictures she had chosen for the traveling exhibition could subject her to arrest. Beyond issues of creative license and freedom of speech, Mann’s work raises personal concerns. The shield of motherhood can quickly become a sword when turned against her. Assuming it is her solemn responsibility to protect her children from all harm, did she knowingly put them at risk by releasing nude photos into a world where pedophilia exists? Can young children freely give their consent for controversial portraits, even if—especially if—the artist is their own mother? Quite apart from legal matters, and creative expression; is the work any good? Are these sensual images a reflection of the behavior of her subjects or are they shaped by the taste and fantasies of the photographer for an affluent audience? Is it pandering or bravery, her photographs of what other adults have seen but turned away from?

Faces, Sally Mann

Emmett Munger Mann, son of Sally Mann
at age twelve. In June, 2016, at the age of
thirty-six, suffering from schizophrenia,
he took his own life.


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