Sally Mann haunts my dreams

I watched a documentary I recorded about American photographer Sally Mann. Called one time by, I think it was, The New York Times, as America’s greatest photographer, Sally (I can’t call her Mann after watching the documentary) is an amazing photographic artist. She first came to the attention of the art world with her series called Immediate Family which consisted of photos of her three children as they grew up. The 55 images showed her children in very intense ways that upset (dare i say frightened) the religious right. But after seeing Sally and her children in the documentary there is no doubt in my mind that what we saw were images of children as children and how could they be anything but simply images of children. Anything else we saw there, we brought there ourselves. What a frightening revelation that can be.

Her series on death brought it all home for me. Sally shows us the things in life we would rather ignore or pretend aren’t part of living. But they are part of life and Sally found she could create her art right in her own home. This is art at its very best. What Sally is saying, in part, is that we are part of where we exist. Her images are largely about family and place. For the photographers in us, we got to watch Sally produce her images using wet plate methods that go back to the time of the American Civil War. She uses a large-format camera to produce her huge negatives which she prints at home one at a time. How wonderful to have both sides of my brain engaged in a documentary at the very same time. One part fascination and one part shock – no – something else – something deeper and more meaningful but I’m not sure what it was that was speaking to me.

After waking from my dreams of Sally and her photography I took this morning off from work and spent the first half of the day walking around downtown Oakville and the trail the runs south of the town along the north shore of Lake Ontario. This is my hometown now. It is close to the city (Toronto) where I was born and not too far away from the suburb (Etobicoke) where I grew up. I have lived here now for maybe 15 years and I call it home. And this morning I walked with my wife’s camera (D-90) with just a 35mm lens and I allowed the sense of place to seep into my body.

The documentary aired in May on TVOntario and if it should come back again I’d recommend you watch it.

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