Sally Mann is known for her photographs of intimate and familiar subjects rendered both sublime and disquieting. Her works explore family, social realities, and the passage of time, capturing tensions between nature, history, and memory.
Born in Lexington, Virginia, Mann began studying photography in the 1960s, attending the Ansel Adams Gallery’s Yosemite Workshops in Yosemite National Park, California and the Putney School and Bennington College, both in Vermont. She received a BA from Hollins College, Roanoke, Virginia, as well as an MA in creative writing.
Mann’s first solo museum exhibition was at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, in 1977, presenting The Lewis Law Portfolio (1974–76), a series that comprises her earliest explorations into the abstract beauty of the everyday. In the early 1980s she published two books, Second Sight and At Twelve, the latter a study of girls on the cusp of womanhood. Between 1984 and 1994 she worked on the Family Pictures series, which focused on her young children. These pictures touch on ordinary moments—playing, sleeping, and eating—as well as death and perceptions of sexuality and motherhood.
From the late 1990s into the 2000s, Mann focused on the American South, taking photographs in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana for her Deep South series (2005), as well as Civil War battlefields for Last Measure (2000). Time and decay are also evident in What Remains (Bullfinch Press, 2003), a study of mortality ranging from pictures of the decomposing body of her greyhound to photographs of the site where a fugitive committed suicide on her property. In 2003, Mann documented the effects of muscular dystrophy on her husband, Larry. These frank portraits, becoming the Proud Flesh series (2009), recall classical sculpture while capturing a male subject in vulnerability.
A Thousand Crossings, Mann’s recent survey exhibition, explores the identity of the American South, and Mann’s relationship with her place of origin. It debuted at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC in 2018 and traveled extensively.
A Guggenheim fellow and three-time recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, Mann was named “America’s Best Photographer” by Time magazine in 2001. She is the subject of two documentaries: Blood Ties (1994), nominated for an Academy Award, and What Remains (2006), nominated for an Emmy in 2008. Mann’s Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs (Little, Brown, 2015) received critical acclaim; it was named a finalist for the 2015 National Book Awards and won the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction.
“For years I have studied the racial history of my home region, the southern United States, seeing the land as the repository of memories of the struggles that took place there. The recent swamp fires seemed to epitomize the great conflagration of racial conflict in America.
It seems to be in the nature of Americans to find in the apocalypse a solution, in the fire a cure, as in James Baldwin’s novel The Next Time, Fire. Maybe we have to destroy before we can rebuild, maybe only fire has the power to cleanse and restore? Perhaps also the twigs and creeping plants that are beginning to bring the marsh back to life give hope for the regeneration of the environment?
But fire doesn’t destroy memories and no matter if the Great Dismal Swamp is engulfed in flames, no one will forget its tortured racial past. I hope these images can serve as a testament and a warning.”
Born Lexington, 1951
Lives and works in USA
Prix Pictet Fire
May 26 – October 15, 2023
Fotografiska Museum New York
281 Park Ave S, New York, NY 10010