Sally Mann is one of America’s most renowned photographers. Her work has been exhibited around the world and is held by such institutions as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, and Whitney Museum of American Art. She is known for her sad images born of intimacy and abandon. Recurring themes of family, home, and her life-long love affair with Lexington, Virginia all boil to the surfaces of her black-and-white photographs. Mann has a unique talent for posing her subjects in a manner that unlocks and activates the deeper recesses of their personalities. This is what draws one to her work. The result is that your eye doesn’t precisely know where to land emotionally. But it’s this uncertainty that leads you further down the rabbit hole of their hidden worlds. Her book Immediate Family has been lauded by critics as one of the great photography books of our time, and among the most influential. The visual force of Mann’s photographs of her three children is such that every article about her, must begin with some mention of them. The pictures don’t stand alone; they come with a tailwind of controversy. They gleaned wider attention than art photographs typically got in the early 1990s, when Mann was the subject of a lot of bad press, and specifically a profile in the New York Times magazine that saw a journalist lift her life and work almost wholly from its context. The problem with some interpretations of Mann’s work is that some reduce her photographs to an objective interpretation based on a singular historical, sociological or symbolic correlation. Wasn’t Walt Whitman correct to say the self is “large and contains multitudes?” Like people, photographs should be offered the necessary space to be the immense intellectual, emotional and psychological patchwork universes that they are.
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