Sally Mann Sublime

“One of the apparent paradoxes in Sally Mann’s work is her desire to show what lies beyond vision by using a medium invented to record reality’s surface.” ~John B. Ravenal


Sally Mann, Untitled (Self-Portraits), 2006-12, © Sally Mann, Courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York.

An exhibition of new photographic self-portraits by Sally Mann, titled Upon Reflection, recently opened at Edwynn Houk Gallery in New York, and will run through 3 November, 2012. Sally Mann -considered one of the most influential photographers of her time, named America’s best photographer (Time Magazine, 2001), has chosen young girls (At Twelve), her three children (Immediate Family), The South and Civil War Battlefields (Deep South and Last Measure), decaying human bodies (What Remains), and her husband (Proud Flesh) as her subjects. But in “Upon Reflection”, she has turned her camera toward herself.


Sally Mann, Untitled (Self-Portraits), 2006, Detail, © Sally Mann, Courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York.

The results are eerie, beautiful, disturbing, and brave. The show also includes over two hundred new ambrotypes, which are arranged in groupings of three, nine, twenty, and even up to seventy-five plates. A remarkably cohesive, evocative vision and exhibition.


Exhibition View with Artist, Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York.

Mann’s signature wet-plate collodion photographic process of photographing onto a glass instead of film negative and its strong associations with nineteenth-century photography, imbues her photographs with a sense of a remote yet familiar past. Creating all sorts of attendant unpredictable erosions and flares that evoke visceral, liminal aspects. From a photographic gaze that hovers somewhere between reverie and reminiscence, as with most of Mann’s work, the images feel fundamentally sensual, bold and lyrical. Sublimated eros within autobiographical studies, both personal and strangely detached. Complicated, aloof, haunting portraits informed by Mann’s ability to “look with both ardor and frank, aesthetic cold appraisal, to look with the passions of both eye and heart.”

Sally Mann: The Flesh and the Spirit, Text by John Ravenal, David Levi Strauss, Anne Wilkes Tucker. As a whole, the book underscores Mann’s commitment to following her personal, local interests, unafraid if she runs headlong into taboos. Placed in the larger context of contemporary attitudes toward aging, illness, death and innocence her images tug at deep-seated contradictions we do not wish to acknowledge. Her gift is that she imbues them with a beauty that knocks the wind out of you. The Untitled Self Portraits, 2006-7 herein make this one of my most treasured books.


Sally Mann lives and works in Virginia. A Guggenheim fellow, and a three-times recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, Mann was named “America’s Best Photographer” by Time magazine in 2001. She has been the subject of two documentaries: Blood Ties (1994), which was nominated for an Academy Award, and What Remains (2007). She has been the subject of major exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.. Her photographs can be found in many public and private collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Museum of Modern Art; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.