Hilary Wardhaugh on ‘Sally Mann’, a Personal Reflection

A big thanks to Australian photographer Hilary Wardhaugh for offering her own personal reflection on Sally Mann’s intimate practice and her family relationships. You can see Hilary’s website here or follow her on twitter here.
(The video Hilary refers to in this reflection can be seen at the bottom of the post)

 

“I have always loved her art and more so since being a mum.

I’m not photographic art critic and my words here are from the heart, only.

©SALLY MANN

In a way I am torn about how I felt watching the film and Sally Mann’s unwavering vision, her dedication and the fact that she is seemingly consumed by photography. I would love the ability to be that focussed and am envious that she has a husband and family that are so supportive of her ‘work’ even though her work or art has always involved them.

I feel for the children, too. When I am consumed with my photography I would love to follow that train of thought or action to completion but I cannot because of family demands. Im not saying that Mann’s actions are selfish but I feel that she is fortunate to have the unerring support of her family. I’m guessing that her work supports them very well and so they appreciate that if she may be at times emotionally unavailable when working they appreciate that what she does pays the bills.

I don’t think that her being so consumed doesn’t mean that she doesn’t love her kids. She is an artist and to work efficiently she needs to be in the right head space to work, though at times it is a the expense of family time. I met Trente Parke in 2003 and he was at that time very similar, saying that almost his every thought was of photography and he is an amazingly talented and successful photographer, too. In think it goes with the territory.

I did note that her son spoke about ‘Sally Mann’ not ‘mum’, but what to make of that I cannot answer.

©SALLY MANN

Some people may see as what she has done as exploitative but I don’t. As a mum to a young boy I am fortunate of our close relationship that he allows me in and doesn’t mind being the object of my focus. To me their lives growing up being part of their mother’s vision was amazing. They were willing participants and I love the fact that many of the images they appear naked. Some of their portraits are so direct and raw, something only maybe possible if it’s your mother photographing you.

However, I feel it’s  always good to question any portrait and look deeper. Some of the childrens’ looks in their portraits could be deemed as  affected. Or was it that they had got to the point after numerous ‘takes’ that they were actually past that point where they were fully consenting. Who knows?

Mann’s images, art and consuming passion for photography make her an icon of our time and we need to thank her family for that, too.”

– Hilary Wardhaugh

Synopsis: Sally Mann’s ‘Immediate Family’

We are looking at Sally Mann’s ‘Immediate Family’ through March on the Photo Book Club. Luckily this book is really easy to get hold of in libraries, photobooks or from the latest publisher of a paperback version, Aperture at a good price and so I shan’t be uploading a video this time.

If you fancy getting involved and sharing your thoughts on the book then you can do so in the comments section below or in email to matt@photobookclub.org.

– Matt

Title
Immediate Family

Author
Sally Mann

Publisher
Aperture 1992

IMMEDIATE FAMILY

“Mann’s subjects are her small children (a boy, a girl, and a new baby), often shot when they’re sick or hurt or just naked. Nosebleeds, cuts, hives, chicken pox, swollen eyes, vomiting—the usual trials of childhood—can be alarmingly beautiful, thrillingly sensual moments in Mann’s portrait album. Her ambivalence about motherhood—her delight and despair—pushes Mann to delve deeper into the steaming mess of family life than most of us are willing to go. What she comes up with is astonishing.”
—Vince Aletti, The Village Voice

“Immediate Family, which was published in 1990, must be counted as one of the great photograph books of our time. It is a singularly powerful evocation of childhood from within and without…”
—Luc Sante, The New Republic

The Valley: A Summary

Thanks to all who have contributed to the discussion on Larry Sultan’s ‘The Valley’. We have compiled an archive of the posts below for future reference and will also be listed under the reading list page.

Larry Sultan: Video Obituary
Synopsis: Larry Sultan, The Valley
Images from ‘The Valley’
VIDEO: Full book video
‘Nature is Strange in the Valley’ Essay by Larry Sultan
Erik Saeter Jorgenson – The Valley is my favourite photobook

Chris Timothy on Larry Sultan’s ‘The Valley’
Larry Sultan – Katherine Avenue
Larry Sultan interview with Terri Whitlock
Out of Sorts in ‘The Valley’ – Matt Johnston
The Valley – Exhibition Catalogue

July’s book is ‘Cafe Lehmitz’ by Anders Petersen. If you would like to contribute to the discussion, just let us know on mail@photobookclub.org

Larry Sultan – ‘Katherine Avenue’

‘The Valley’ is not that easily accessible, hence our low-fi cover to cover video of the book. But another option for those looking for an introduction to Sultan’s work could consider the recent Steidl publication ‘Katherine Avenue’. The post below come from Wayne Ford’s fantastic Posterous blog.

Above Mom in Doorway, 1992, from Pictures from Home. (Courtesy of Steidl).

‘The San Fernando Valley is both the place where Larry Sultan (1946-2009) spent his childhood and the notional central point of reference of his artistic work,’ says Martin German in his introduction to Katherine Avenue, ‘In the three groups of works he produced between 1984 and 2009, namely Pictures from Home, The Valley and Homeland, he interweaves visible and invisible aspects of life there with the landscapes of his personal memories.’

Sultan, one of the most influential American photographers of his generation, studied political sciences before enrolling in a photography course at the San Francisco Art Institute under Robert Heinecken (1932-2006) in the late 1960s, reflecting upon this period German says, ‘This was the time when photography formed a bond with conceptual art, to whose marriage Sultan would soon render significant contributions.’

In 1972, Sultan met Mike Mandel with whom he would collaborate on a series of billboard collages that would continue well into the 1990s, through which the pair explored the ‘documentary value of images.’ In 1975, and over the next two years, Sultan and Mandel began working on Evidence (1977), a now seminal artists book that bought together 59 photographs selected from various governmental, research and scientific archives that were then arranged in a non-narrative sequence, removed from the original context and with no captions, Evidence is a complex and demanding work, ‘Thus Evidence not only alludes to the bureaucratic and scientific rituals that legitimated the daily business of the federal authorities in the period shortly after the Vietnam War, but more importantly also refers to the assumptions we make regarding truth and imagery,’ says German.

Above Sharon Wild, 2001, from The Valley. (Courtesy of Steidl).

The questions raised by Evidence would inform and influence much of Sultan’s subsequent work, in 1984 he began Pictures from Home (1992), here alongside the photographs of his parents and their daily middle-class routines and rituals, Sultan presents recordings, notes on conversations and stills from family movies along with other memorabilia to investigate the consequences of neo-liberal economic policies.

Reflecting upon his series, Sultan said, ‘I realize that beyond the rolls of film and the few good pictures, the demands of my project and my confusion about its meaning, is the wish to take photography literally. To stop time. I want my parents to live forever.’

In 1999, Sultan was commissioned to document a day in the life of a porn director, whilst known as the home of the American movie industry, the San Fernando valley is also home to the porn industry, were production companies hire private homes for their film shoots, which typically take a few days. This commission turned into The Valley, a series that Sultan worked on until 2003, looking out into the valley, with its upper-middle class tracht homes, Sultan focuses on the periphery of the films sets, presenting the sets and actors as ‘meta-theatre’ says German.

‘While the film crew and “talent” are hard at work in the living room I wander through the rest of the house peering into the lives of the people who suddenly left home. I feel like a forensic photographer searching out evidence in a crime scene. But what is the crime?’

Above Mulholland Drive #2, 2000, from The Valley. (Courtesy of Steidl).

With his final series Homeland, Sultan departs from the domestic exteriors and interiors of the San Fernando Valley, and uses the landscape around San Francisco, where he had lived since the 1970s. In these images Sultan employs day laborers — gardeners, builders and domestic workers — from Central America as actors, photographing them in what he calls ‘marginal spaces and transitional zones invisible to most of us.’ In these images Sultan, directs the ‘men’s actions and gestures while drawing from multiple sources,’ and  amalgam of his ‘own childhood wanderings in this landscape as well as interpretations of their experiences as exiles.’

Above Batting Cage, 2007, from Homeland. (Courtesy of Steidl).

Katherine Avenue is published by Steidl.

Follow me on Twitter for frequent updates on the photographic books and exhibitions I am looking at.

– Wayne Ford