Mann, Sally

American (1951-)

Sally Mann (1951) obtained bachelor’s and graduate degrees in creative writing, but had been bitten by the photography bug years before at boarding school. What began as an attempt to be alone with her then-boyfriend in the darkroom developed into a hobby and then professional pursuit that landed her a job after receiving her MFA. She worked as the staff photographer at Washington and Lee University, recording the construction of their new law library in a series of surreal images, more akin to art than reportage.

Since then, Mann has undertaken projects that sometimes provoke controversy, but always generate fascination. “At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women” (1988) highlighted adolescent girls in the throes of adolescent brooding and melancholy. A collection of nudes – all of Mann’s own children – entitled “Immediate Family” (1992) elicited charges of child pornography. While many of the shots were whimsical, several had a darker edge, hinting at themes of injury, sexuality and death. The juxtaposition of light and dark continued over several more projects: Mann began capturing images of nature in the midst of decay, developing using glass plates and silver nitrate, and “What Remains” (2003) found her turning her camera toward locales of death: a mortuary, battlefields, a pet cemetery and more. Through some of these projects, Mann experimented with a broken camera, using damaged lenses and her own hand as a shutter to lend the images their distressed quality. Currently, Mann is working on a series of portraits of her husband, chronicling his battle with muscular dystrophy and tracing the effects of the disease on his body.