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Matinee: 'Sally Mann' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

25 April 2015

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the eighty-second in our series of Saturday matinees today: Sally Mann.

Sally Mann was in the news a few days ago with a thoughtful essay in the New York Times. So we thought it would be interesting to visit with her via this 14-minute portrait of the artist.

It's no accident it starts off in the darkroom. The video is both as candid and intimate as that environment. In fact, more than once the close-ups were a little to close for comfort. Closer, that is, than you would get if you were there in person.

Under the red safe light we see Mann expose and develop a large, ambiguous print as her son confesses it wasn't easy growing up with her as his mother. She's intense, he says. But, he admits, he loves it. A ying and a yang.

She evaluates the large, wet print before we have any clue what it is. Should it be lighter or darker? It works both ways, she observes.

"Every time she looks at something, she looks at it as an artist," one of her daughters says. What they lost in a mother, she adds, they gained in an accomplice.

Her husband talks about admiring a stack of beautiful prints only to find out that for Mann they were the rejects.

She talks about the attraction of ambiguity, interest peaked by peculiarity. But, she says, she works spontaneously. That big ambiguous print? It was of a dog bone.

Why? She just saw the dog bone one day, brought it into her studio, took a picture, liked the picture, collected all the other dog bones and before you know it, she's done a dog bone series. "Just for fun," she says, "if you can imagine that."

Mark Osterman taught her the collodion process, which she likes for its imperfections. She tells us about her prayer for imperfections.

The video also shows a number of her images but in that same intimate style. Mann and her children going through her prints together, rifling through a box of them at one point.

"The way I approach photography, it's very spontaneous," she explains. "The children were there, so I took pictures of my children. It's not that I'm interested in children that much or photographing them. It's just that they were there."

The children recall the experience of some of the shoots. How many shots she took. How many times they went back to the scene to reshoot. Her direction.

She wanted those family images to look effortless, like snapshots, she says.

She talks about her parents. How her father gave her cameras, practiced medicine and collected art. And how her mother's New England blue blood mixed with her renegade Texan husband.

"I just ran wild for the first seven years of my life," she remembers. "I guess that's a little how I raised my own kids."

Running wild seemed perfectly normal to her.

As the kids got older, she moved on to landscapes. That's what she'll be famous for, one daughter suggests.

But fame is not what this video is about. It's a portrait of real person making art as naturally as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. With a little more relish, perhaps.

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