Daniel Milnor on ‘Immediate Family’, a Personal Reflection

Thanks to Daniel Milnor who runs the always-worth-a-bookmark blog ‘Smogranch’ over here for offering this personal reflection on Sally Mann’s ‘Immediate Family’. If you would like to add your own reflection, please do so in the comments below or by emailing matt@photobookclub.org

– Matt

I have very distinct feelings about this book because I discovered “Immediate Family” in the very early stages of my decision to become a photographer. I was NOT of the “art” mind at the time because the photography that gave me reason to pursue this endeavor was the photography of the Vietnam War. I found Larry Burroughs and felt a way I’d never felt before. I would go through old copies of News Photographer Magazine. I found “Deeds of War” by Nachtwey and again felt a way I’d never felt before. And then I found “Immediate Family,” and once again I felt something I’d never felt before but in a different way.

©DANIEL MILNOR from 'Vanishing Speed'

I’m not sure you can find two more different genres than war photography and what Sally Mann was doing, but I felt like they were both putting out similar emotion. Honestly, I wasn’t even sure what to think when I found Sally Mann’s work. It froze me in my tracks. Since that time, all those years ago, I think her work had more of an impact on me than the work of the photographers in the photojournalism world, and I am still doing documentary work today. Years ago i was asked to do a portrait of my neighbor’s kids and I said “no.” The neighbor brought her kids over anyway and for the following seven years I photographed kids full time.

©SALLY MANN 'Approach of the aligator'

I never tried to copy Sally Mann but I surely had her emotional impact in mind every time I put my camera to my eye. She also made me realize I have a responsibility when it comes to my own family. I’m the guy. I’m the photographer in the family. If I don’t document my family there will simply be no record of them. When you walk in my house, the first picture you see is not an image from my 20+ years of doing documentary work. The first image you see is a 40×40 black and white portrait of my 8-year-old nephew. And on a sidenote….years ago, when I worked for Kodak, my phone rang and the voice on the other side said, “Hi Dan, this is Sally Mann.” Having the kind of friends I do, ones that would try to trick me any chance they had, I ALMOST hung up on her. Turns out it was the “real” Sally Mann. I’ve lived in LA many years, have never been starstruck by anyone but in this case I was almost speechless. In my office I have a portrait of Sally Mann, made by my New Mexico photographer and friend Karen Kuehn. I keep it there as a reminder to never forgot what this pursuit of photography really means. So, in short, if you don’t have this book…..get it.

– Daniel Milnor

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