Sally Mann is an American photographer, who has photographed in the American South since the 1970s, producing portraits, still life, and photos of architecture and landscape. She is mostly known for haunting, richly toned black & white photos of her young children and evocative landscapes, which at times are reminiscent of nineteenth-century aesthetics.
Mann attended Bennington College for two years from 1969-1971. She graduated from Hollins College (now Hollins University) in 1974 and received her M.A. in creative writing the following year. After college she photographed the new law school building at Washington and Lee University. This led to her first one-woman exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington D.C. in 1977.
While Mann explored numerous genres in the 1970s, she found her specialty in her 1988 study of girlhood “At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women.” Between 1984 and 1994, she worked on the series “Immediate Family,” which focused on her three children, who were all under the age of ten. Because the children were often photographed unclothed, her work garnered negative attention and controversy.
Her 2009 “Proud Flesh” series focused on her husband Larry as he dealt with muscular dystrophy. Shot over a six year period, her photographs reversed traditional gender roles as they captured moments of vulnerability in a male subject. In her “What Remains” she assembled a five-part study of mortality, one which showed pictures of the decomposing body of her own dog and another which showed the site where an armed fugitive committed suicide on her property in Virginia.
In the late 1990s Mann turned to photographing the landscapes of Georgia and Virginia. She has produced two major series of landscapes: “Deep South” and “Motherland.” Mann is so tied to her 450 acre farm that she hasn’t taken a vacation in decades. She has said, “This place works me like a rented mule.” But Buffalo Creek, about 15 miles from her home, offers her a quiet change. “In the crepuscular half-light, I experience a kind of holy communion with something ancient. Communion, at least the kind I take, is always restorative and uplifting.”
Mann, a Guggenheim fellow and a three-time recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, was named “America’s Best Photographer” by “Time” magazine in 2001. She has been the subject of two documentaries, and her 2015 book “Hold Still: A Memoir in Pictures” was a finalist for the National Book Award. In 2016, it won the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction.
Her latest exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. “Sally Mann: A Thousand Crossings” draws from a body of photographic work that has evolved over some forty years. It corresponds to the release of her latest book by the same name. This exhibit, started in March 2018, showed approximately 125 images centering on the artist’s relationship with the South. This show traveled to the Getty Center, Los Angeles; Jeu de Paume, Paris; and other museums.
Mann has had major exhibitions at Philadelphia’s Institute of Contemporary Art and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Her photographs are held in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum, MoMA, San Francisco Museum of Art, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, National Gallery of Art, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and the Whitney Museum.