Artist of the Month: Sally Mann

Artist of the Month (September)

Sally Mann
Copyright unknown (appropriated from Artsy, 2016).

I know what you’re thinking. Another MolaPola feature on a black-and-white photographer whose heyday was two decades ago. The thing is, I’m enamored with Sally Mann’s work. I couldn’t put off covering it, especially now, when the youthful, brooding, exciting, and sinister qualities of her pieces are actualized in my own life as summer fades to fall. There is so much to love about how Mann captures perfectly the prolonged complexity of female adolescence. Her monochromatic vignettes of the pre-teen years– shadowy, mysterious, glowing, and ethereal (I could go on)– resonate with me even as I near adulthood. The work above has this carefree joy unique to ages eleven, twelve, and thirteen as the lighthearted, love-the-world insouciance evident in the photograph slowly devolves into the hard-edged cynicism and anxieties of high school and onwards. Even when I was younger, I was never truly happy-go-lucky, nonchalant, or easygoing. I was always an introvert, deeply troubled by what I saw around me, forever shy and reserved. I’m still that way. And Mann also embraces this character (see Ponder Heart and Katie and Painting); her work attests that there are more of us serious types out there than one tends to think. But I idolize the girl in Untitled. Never being “chill” myself, I have great respect for her ideals; her freedom and mellow sensibilities remind me of a favorite 1969 Pippi Longstocking film. It is hard today to echo her relaxed comportment; other burdens tug at me, requiring my attention. I strive to embody her airy grace. Welcome, September.

Here is Mann’s bio, courtesy of Artsy, for your enjoyment–

While photographs of poignant Southern landscapes and historic architecture earned Sally Mann initial accolades, it was her portraits of girls captured in the ephemeral moment between childhood innocence and womanly sophistication that solidified her reputation as provocateur. At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women (1988) emerged out of intimate, black-and-white photographs of her own young children, often nude, going about their daily lives—eating, sleeping, and playing. Besides eliciting controversy over her sexually charged images of children, Mann is noted for using large-format cameras—sometimes with damaged lenses that admit light leaks and imperfections—to reveal the uncanny beauty in her subjects, be they decomposing corpses, Civil War battlefields, or her own family. More recently, she has revisited the 19th-century process of wet collodion on glass plates, which captures fine details, but requires exposing and developing the film within 15 minutes. Limited control over the process leads to what Mann describes as “happy accidents” in her work.

Here are some lovely articles about Mann. Plus, read about these 20 young female artists pushing figurative painting forward.

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