In collaboration with Aperture Foundation, VMFA has published the first substantial scholarly exploration of this world-renowned artist’s work and the first study of her approach to the body. “Sally Mann: The Flesh and The Spirit” emphasizes new and recent work: previously unpublished self-portraits, nude figure studies of Mann’s husband, haunting landscape images, monumental images of her grown children’s faces, and photographs of the dead at a forensic institute in Tennessee. It also selectively includes early work—platinum prints from the late 1970s, color Polaroid still lifes from the early 1980s, and color Cibachromes of her children from the early 1990s.
The selection demonstrates Mann’s interest in a wide range of photographic methods and processes, including her decade-long devotion to the antiquated technique of collodion wet-plate. It also underscores Mann’s interest in the body as a principle subject, as well the associated issues of vulnerability and mortality. In bringing these series together, author and curator John Ravenal examines the varied ways in which Mann’s bold and experimental approach to making images moves her subjects from the corporeal to the ethereal and from the specific to the universal.
Ravenal wrote the introduction as well as individual entries on each series. Essays by David Levi Strauss, “Eros, Psyche, and the Mendacity of Photography,” and Anne Wilkes Tucker, “Living Memory,” provide additional perspectives. Strauss is the chair of the MFA Art Criticism and Writing Department, School of Visual Arts, New York. Tucker is the Gus and Lyndall Wortham Curator of Photography, Museum of Fine Arts Houston.
About the Artist
Born in 1951, Sally Mann has played a leading role in contemporary photography for the past 25 years. Her career began in the 1970s and fully matured in the Culture Wars of the early 1990s, when photographs of her children became embroiled in national debates about family values. In the mid-1990s, Mann turned her attention to large-scale landscapes, specifically the evocative terrain of the South, where she was born, raised and continues to live. Her landscape work raised questions about history, memory and nostalgia, and also embraced a romantic beauty that proved as troubling to some critics as the sensual images of her children had to others. By the early 2000s, she had returned to figurative subjects, adding images of her husband and herself to her work.
Image: Detail of Untitled (Self-Portraits) by Sally Mann. Ambrotype (unique collodion wet-plate positive on black glass) with sandarac varnish. 2006-7 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts