Book and Film Reflection:
Immediate Family by Sally Mann & What Remains directed by Stephen Cantor
The work of Sally Mann has always been an inspiration to me. Her striking photographs of her children were some of the first images that opened my eyes to my love of the art of black and white photography. This is why I chose to study her as part of my project for spring quarter. I find that the more I learn about her and her artistic process, the more I admire her.
I looked at her book of photographs entitled Immediate Family and watched a feature length documentary film about her called What Remains. In the introduction to Immediate Family, she describes how her upbringing in a non-traditional family where they never went to church and let her run wild has shaped who she is as a person and an artist. She describes herself as having been a “feral child”, which I think is reflected in the way she has raised her own children and the photographs she was able to capture of them.
What Remains is one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen; there was never a dull moment and it felt like an honest portrayal of Mann. In one of the first scenes, Sally says that: “Unless you photograph what you love, you’re not going to make good art.” I whole-heartedly agree with her and I try to live that philosophy by only taking or using photographs that inspire me or that I am passionate about.
She is best known for her photographs of her children in Immediate Family but she has since gone in very different directions with her landscapes and photographs of human remains that she took at a Forensic Study Facility. Her career spans from the theme of life and childhood to death and decomposition, and this is part of what makes her entire body of work cohesive and inspirational.
She also discusses how her marriage is a huge part of her life and she has done a whole series about married life that has yet to be published. I would absolutely love to see these photographs because she has an innate ability to capture meaningful, seemingly passing moments and the love that she feels for her subjects is reflected in the images. What makes all of her photos even more amazing is that she works solely on a large format camera that takes a huge amount of set up.
The largest influence she has had on me is that she has made me appreciate the photographs I have of my sister and I as children. I now treat the big box of photographs as a record of our lives and how we have grown, through the lens of our parent’s eyes. I want to honor these captured moments by using them in my assemblages. She has created an amazing record of her own family life and I hope they appreciate them for the nostalgic qualities that they have as well the keen artistic eye that their mother/wife used to take them.