It’s not hard to find negative comments and criticism regarding Sally Mann. Indeed, throw a rock within any small gathering of people and you’re bound to hit three or four who’ll give some. This is probably to be expected however, when you cause such a stir that the New York Times says of Mann, “Probably no photographer in history has enjoyed such a burst of success in the art world.”
If, by some chance, you’ve not heard of her or are unfamiliar with her work and notoriety, there are volumes of articles written about her with which you can familiarize yourself, but in brief, very brief, Mann is one of America’s most renowned photographers, with a host of awards to her name, and as many books. She is probably best known for her rather large black and white works, and more specifically, for Immediate Family, her third collection.
Immediate Family was a collection of 65 photographs of Mann’s three children who were all under the age of 10 at the time. The photos were largely taken at the family’s summer cabin, and with such an environment, many of the photos were of simple rural life, and some were of the children in the nude. As can be expected nowadays, this sparked controversy far and wide, from groups and individuals as diverse as they come who felt she eroticized children. Mann, however, thought the images natural through the eyes of a mother.
Her success was relentless and is regarded worldwide as one of the finest photographers, by the finest judges, and NPR recently released a wonderful interview with Mann where she reflects on her life and photography. We learn about her start in photography with her father giving Sally her first camera, and why she loves black and white photography.
That’s not why I like it, but it’s harder, but it also makes you get right to the essence of what you’re taking the picture of. You’re not distracted by the color…I mean, the color’s just an entirely different process, way of thinking. I see everything in black and white and I also now start seeing things…But, yeah, you start blocking out things, and that’s a really important part of taking a picture is the ability to isolate what you’re what you’re concentrating on…
She comments on the pictures of her children naked, her thoughts on photography in general and its effect on memory, and insight into her state of mind when taking her images. It’s 44 minutes long, but worth the time. For many of the newcomers to photography enamored by the new famous names, I always find it’s good to step back and listen to what someone like Mann has to say – usually it’s the kind of insight you’ll find nowhere else, and the type that changes you.