Sally Mann’s work has been haunting me since high school. I have bought her photography books religiously for years and have an image from one of her late 90’s shows at Gagosian in NYC framed on my wall (Vinland, above, from the series Immediate Family). She is best known for creating breathtaking images of her young children at their Virginia home which produced the now classic and highly controversial Immediate Family. The book, published in 1992, was actually her third and was preceded by At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women, published in 1988, which was equally controversial. I love the dialogue over that early work. For me there is such a clear distinction between a woman versus a man taking those photographs and imposing her female gaze along with, in this case, a mother’s gaze. It creates a different and powerful energy, one that holds onto a sense of self rather than giving it up to someone else.
Her body of work spans a myriad of other subjects all equally emotionally jarring and beautiful but this is the work that seems to define her, at least in the public sphere. Her first solo show in the UK is up in London now and while I don’t plan on being there in the next month for anyone that is, go see it. Along with the early work that comprises At Twelve… and Immediate Family, her photos of decomposing bodies, What Remains, which she shot at the University of Tennessee’s anthropological facility at Knoxville, are also included in this show.
The Family and the Land: Sally Mann is on display at The Photographer’s Gallery in London through September 19th.