The work of this period includes intimate depictions of my husband and deeply personal explorations of the landscape of the American South, the nature of mortality (and the mortality of nature), and the indelible marks that slavery left on the world surrounding me.
To coincide with Sally Mann’s survey exhibition, A Thousand Crossings, at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, Gagosian is pleased to present a selection of Mann’s photographs.
For more than four decades Mann’s haunting photography of the people and landscapes around her has explored memory, desire, death, the bonds of family, and human connections to nature and place. The works on view are drawn from three series: Deep South and Battlefields, which depict “the radical light of the American South” with an oblique and lyric universality, and Proud Flesh, an intimate portrait of Mann’s husband.
Mann began taking the photographs that would become the Deep South series in 1998, when she drove through the Deep South to Louisiana. Working with a large-format camera and the nineteenth-century wet-plate collodion process, Mann constructed a makeshift darkroom in the back of her car, shooting and printing the images as she went. Making negatives this way gives rise to serendipitous and evocative imperfections—streaks, scratches, spots, and pits. The resulting silver gelatin prints, such as Untitled (Emmett Till River Bank) (1998), are both completely in and of their environment: eerily quiet roads, ruins, and riverbanks that were the sites of both ordinary life and unspeakable violence.
Battlefields, a series Mann began in 2000, shows landscapes haunted with the memory of the Civil War. Sites of long-ago combat from Fredericksburg, Virginia, to Antietam, Maryland—often those on which heavy human losses occurred—are pictured as they exist today: calm, unremarkable, and storied with American history. Mann has asked, “Do these fields, upon which unspeakable carnage occurred, where unknowable numbers of bodies are buried, bear witness in some way?”
Between 2003 and 2009, Mann photographed her husband, Larry, whom she married in 1970. Reminiscent of classical studies of the human form and of early photography, the images of his body in Proud Flesh suggest the bond between a husband and wife, but speak as well to human frailty and vulnerability, to the transformative mysteries of aging, the strange lucidity of human flesh, and its transient nature.
Sally Mann: A Thousand Crossings was organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, and traveled to the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts. After its presentation at the Getty, the major survey exhibition will travel to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Jeu de Paume, Paris; and High Museum of Art, Atlanta.