"Time, memory, loss and love are my artistic concerns, but time among all of them becomes the determinant"
So how, at this melancholy end of summertime, could I fail to be deeply affected by her photos?
The currrent exhibition at the Photographers' Gallery is, extraordinarily, Sally Mann's first solo London show. As by the show of Alice Neel's paintings (which I still haven't written about, but I will, I will) I was bowled over, moved to aesthetic delight and a wide gamut of emotions. Over-Americanised as we tend to think we are, much of the best of American art and culture still reaches us late or little or not at all and still it's hard not to feel that this is especially true of women's work. Is women's art less globalised? Certainly it's often most concerned with the local: Alice Neel painted the people she knew in New York, while Sally Mann photographs her family, her farm, her state of Virginia - the wider American South the furthest her subject matter seems to stray. But local does not equate with small or narrow. The subjects here are the big ones: love, identity, life, death.
I'm so glad, anyway, to have seen this work. The large-format images, especially the ones taken by the historic wet-plate collodion process, need to be seen at gallery size and quality. The exhibition is quite small, but beautifully, atmospherically hung and includes work from the famous/infamous, intense studies of the artist's prepubescent children, her damp, melting, magical landscapes of the South, and the death photos - photos of corpses decaying in nature at a forensic anthropology research centre.
Powerful and unsettling, none of these, not the naked children or the dead bodies, struck me as shocking or, as some feel, cynically pitched to shock. I was moved and provoked in a positive way and above all delighted by the beauty and can only trust my instincts on this - and oddly, really, when I'm such a sad, disastrous person, I do on the whole trust them. The family photos put me in mind of Angela Carter's dirty-gothic fairy tales, the landscapes of the Faulkner novels Beth and Peter have been discussing, while the corpses seem to hover somewhere close, but interestingly removed - which is perhaps why they are more intriguing than distressing. The whole achieves the feat of being simultaneously dreamy and visceral, as well as cyclical, wholistic: life, heat, rot, death, life... and all of it frighteningly beautiful.
In a world of too little beauty, a beauty that is finely crafted, intelligent and unflinching is something to cherish. I shall cherish having seen these.
Pondering the exhibition catalogue over a glass of wine.
This looks fabulous and I thank you for sharing your impressions. I'm a wee bit envious of all the wonderful art exhibits you see in London. I know I keep saying this...
thanks for telling us about this. wish i had a chance to go and see... the old photographer's gallery on great newport street was my favourite oasis in london, almost a sacred space in the middle of the west end. i have yet to visit the new one, haven't really got over the loss of the old...
You really shouldn't think of yourself as a "sad, disastrous person" - you take wonderful original photographs and take far more notice of the world than most people - and create things from it (more than I do at the moment!). Most people don't notice much. On Saturday I went to the Malvern Hills with a walking group - only way I can get to see these places, not having a car. They all walked with their heads down talking about mortgages etc - strange. No-one really stopped to look at the landscape and soak in the atmosphere, or was interested in the layout of the land. Not grumbling really - they were likeable people and it was all well organised with a lot of previous effort from the "leader", and I'm very glad went. What I mean to say, is that there is so much value in people like yourself who look at the world and create something from it.
Thank you for disagreeing with me in such a respectful way in your fine blog!
Thank you for this and all your kind and detailed comments. It means a lot to know that someone is reading regularly and understanding where I'm 'coming from'. You may indeed be right that a lot of people don't notice much. I wouldn't like to be them - but a happier me! I guess that's true of most of us.
Thank you for commenting. I'm glad my disagreement came across as respectful. I certainly share many of your concerns and values - that's why I chose your blog to link to - but in all honesty these particular photographs and the film about Sally Mann, which was showing at the gallery, just did not inspire in me the same feelings that they clearly did in you.
Thanks for introducing me to another artist I'd never heard of before.
It's interesting what people choose to use as subject matter/tools and that this artist uses her own children so much. That in itself will 'creep' some people out and I have to say it would feel odd to me - but that's personal taste, to a large extent, I suppose. I tend to think our children have the... right to find their own place in the world. It's a tricky one though!
I too think there are certainly many important and interesting issues here for discussion, eg about photographing sensitive subjects, or about the involvement of children in being photographed or indeed in many different activities that they may or may not be old enough to freely choose for or against.
But I don't think that such images are necessarily shocking or should be shunned by their very nature. If an image doesn't upset me, I tend to feel it was probably not made with any upsetting intention.
Sally Mann's now adult children, especially Jessie Mann who is now herself an artist, have spoken and written about their experiences, which they do not seem to view as negative, though they would not say either, I think, that being photographed was so meaningless and forgettable that they were unaffected by it. There are various articles and interviews on line.
Oh no - I wouldn't shun them either. I have one child and I think (and rethink and rethink) about using her in my writing in any way... so it ends up that I keep her out of it (most of the time). And it isn't just children... I wrote about/things connected to my Mum quite a lot but kept most of it private because I knew she was not keen on any kind of public display. She died this year though - that makes a difference...
Post a Comment