Sally Mann is an American photographer, famous for her black and white large frame photographs where she explores things close to her, including her own children and landscapes depicting death and decay.
Her collection of images of young girls “At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women” record the emotional confusions and development of her subjects at that age. All images are shots of the young women. This book published in 1988 attracted critics who claimed they were pornographic. However, this was mild criticism compared to the controversy that subsequent publications “Immediate Family” (1992) and “Still Time” (1994) attracted, which included shots of her own children and the beginning of her exploration into death, injury, sexuality and decay.
Mann claims that she tried to portray childhood innocence through the eyes of a mother and in an interview with SuburbX she states that her images cannot be described as sentimental but are “very, very romantic and very tough”. There is little doubt that her style of photography can be disturbing.
In the SuburbX interview Jiang Rong (interviewer), asks if there is a link between photography and poetry, which Mann studied at university. Her reply is interesting when she says that some photographs are linked, as they condense information while others are like “Ezra Pound”. In fact there are several parallels between photography and poetry in the interview, with references to Emily Dickinson and Yeats as well as Pound.
I am assuming that by her reply Mann means Pound’s development and use of Imagism, which is described as the use of clear, precise, and sharp language producing an economy of language in his poems. Is that what Mann is trying to achieve in her photography? There seems to be evidence of this type of Imagism in the Body Farm collection. Where there is no need to explain the image further than what is presented as perhaps a “succession or creative moments”, words sometimes used to describe Imagism https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imagism.
Sally Mann, 2000-2001 (accessed 20.06.16)
All of Mann’s photography has a sense of the mysterious and although in the interview, she states that she is “peeling back the layers to reveal the truth” she also says of her Immediate Family images that they “tell truths, but truths ‘told slant’, an Emily Dickinson parallel https://writersinspire.org/content/emily-dickinson-writing-it-slant. (Accessed 12th January 2017). Mann also claims not to seek the crisp and clear image that most photographers are doing but is more interested in creating the mysterious and whimsical quality to her images.
Mann’s range of subjects is diverse ranging from the children and family shots, some documenting her husband’s muscular dystrophy decline, battlefields and killing fields, through to the mystical capture of the land in Southern Landscapes. Whatever the subject, the use of light is paramount in her images. It is obvious that the aim of all of this photography is not to capture crisp and sharp images but to create strange and unpredictable images.
I find some of Mann’s photographs deeply disturbing and thought provoking. The parallel between Imagism and photography may account for why I have struggled with the message that Mann is trying to get over.