Photography started as the first true collaboration between fine art and science. The technology of this unique machine was created to record reality, or truth, quicker and more honestly than a painter or an illustrator could document it. With the mass appeal and access to the camera came the mass appeal of control over creativity and perception using this truth-capturing technology.
Photographers have been creating mind-bending art using this technology for ages, and as the tech improves and expands, the harder it is, it seems, for artists to create magic with a simple photograph. So, how does a fine art photographer create roll after roll of truly exquisite photographic art? Sally Mann has found the answer to be in the history of the photographic device and the apparent beauty that surrounds her.
Sally Mann of Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, finds beauty in her homeland, her family, in the animals she cares for on her 425-acre farm, and in the simple human existence in living in this world. Her photographs range in subject, but include emotive landscapes, perfectly cropped abstract portraits, and exquisite snapshots of dead bodies, animals, bones, people she loves, and so much more. Her techniques range as well, but include antique photographic processes and equipment. She loves the antique view cameras and bellows cameras from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, and she enjoys using large format glass negatives, platinum and bromoil printing, and in the mid-1990’s she began using the collodion wet plates in her work, lending to a feel of photography, painting and art object, all in one.
Her intimate black-and-white portrait series of her children, “Immediate Family,” caught international attention and ramped up her career in the early 1990’s, giving her and her children attention for decades to follow. In the 2005 documentary (one of two documentaries done on her and her work), What Remains: The Life and Work of Sally Mann, she said that the series just started on its own, and the more photos she took the more she began to see the strong and stark personalities of her children come to light.
She has since explored Southern landscapes, dying and decaying bodies, close-up faces, and pushing the boundaries of expectation and discomfort. A Guggenheim fellow and a three-times recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, Mann was named “America’s Best Photographer” by Time magazine in 2001. The perfectly imperfect antique equipment further supports her impeccable eye for detail, composition and beauty through black-and-white composition. Her fascination with science, nature, humanity, eccentricities, history, love, death and decay has helped her to publish 11 books of photography and writing, including one beautifully written and critically acclaimed memoir with special attention to family history and the storied landscape of the American South in a book called Hold Still.
Her daily life still revolves around exploring, looking, and caring, and her photography shows it… she shoots every day, as if an unbreakable habit. Each and every still feels complete and fulfilling; they are intimate, poetic and honest but also objective and simply observant.