American Life in Black and White: Photography by Sally Mann

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Known for her portraits of children and American landscapes, the life and work of photographer Sally Mann will be revisited at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles in the display Sally Mann: A Thousand Crossings on 16 November 2018.

Sally Mann American, born 1951 Easter Dress, 1986, Patricia and David Schulte Image © Sally Mann from the J. Paul Getty Trust

The exhibition is divided into five sections – Family, The Land, Last Measure, Abide with Me, and What Remains. These are the five themes that make up Mann’s body of work. The themes are tied together by the fact that they were all captured in the South. Museum director Timothy Potts further explains Mann’s relationship with the American South:

“Sally Mann’s distinctive approach to photographing the South has earned her a special place in the history of a genre that includes many of the greatest names in American photography. Her complex, evocative landscapes and intimate images of her family are reminiscent of classic work from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but she manages always to give her photographs an individual pictorial and emotive quality that makes them intangibly of our time. The work has a power – all the more impactful for its quiet and ethereal mood – that I am sure will leave visitors deeply moved.”

Mann was introduced to photography by her father. A compassionate and atheist man, Robert S. Munger lent her his own 5×7 camera, an act which would lead to Mann’s later use of the large format medium. Mann started out as a photographer for a university newspaper. Her coverage of the contraction of Lewis Hall in Washington and Lee University landed her a solo exhibition. Mann’s photography often revolves around themes of domesticity and family life, captured in portraits and landscapes. Her surrealist style gained her recognition, and she soon published her first book on experimentation with genre, Second Sight. However, it would be her second and third collections, At Twelve and Immediate Family, which would take the art world by surprise.

Sally Mann American, born 1951 Semaphore, 2003,The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Museum purchase, 2010.264 Image © Sally Mann; Sally Mann American, born 1951 The Two Virginias #4, 1991, Collection of the Estée Lauder Companies Inc. Image © Sally Mann; Sally Mann American, born 1951 Battlefields, Antietam (Starry Night), 2001, Alan Kirshner and Deborah Mihaloff Art Collection Image © Sally Mann from the J. Paul Getty Trust

In addition to her renowned portraits, Mann captured the Southern landscape as the home of her personal memories and nostalgia. Imbued with experimental aesthetic, these are edged with haunting melancholy, intimating that the South was a defining feature not only of her photography, but also of the American identity. Most of these were shot on 8×10 glass negatives using her favored 8x10 large format view camera.

The images were processed in wet plate or collodion, creating the natural, smoky atmosphere in her pictures. In her book Deep South, Mann dipped into documentary photography, taking images of battlefields and a decaying, abandoned mansion. She also photographed the very site where young African-American boy Emmett Till was lynched for accusations of offending a white woman in her grocery store, a key event in propelling the Civil Rights Movement.

In this elaborate display, Mann’s photography encourages the viewers to read deeply into her images and connect with the common yet extraordinary themes of ordinary life: our sense of family, place, and history.

Sally Mann American, born 1951 Ponder Heart, 2009, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund Image © Sally Mann; Sally Mann American, born 1951 The Turn, 2005, Private collection Image © Sally Mann from the J. Paul Getty Trust

Sally Mann’s works in A Thousand Crossings will be displayed at the Getty Museum until 10 February 2019.

2018-11-10 #news

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