Sally Mann Photographer As Artist

Sally Mann Photographer As Artist  by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

“Who would think that so much can go on in the soul of a young girl?”  Anne Frank

Girls becoming women is one of Sally Mann’s early themes in photography.  Many of the photographer’s subjects are looking straight at you.  They’re serious and somewhat sad as though the weight of the world has just fallen on them.  Wise beyond years, their eyes echo the transformation going on within.

“They will look hard at the camera because they are used to looking hard at people and things, they are already accustomed to intruders,” Mann says. 

But all of the photos are tender like you just stumbled on some intimate exchange.

The photographer’s girls are aware of the camera yet relaxed.  No studio shots here.  Her subjects are captured in their worlds--in a particular place and moment in time.  They’re in backyards, on the front porch, showing off new braces, having lunch on the couch, leaning up against a tree, holding a favorite doll, or sitting on dad’s lap.  They appear complex beyond their years, almost brooding.  Some of the girls clearly come from money others are barely solvent.   

But all of the photos are tender like you just stumbled on some intimate exchange.

“She disarms me with her sure sense of her own attractiveness and, with it, her direct, even provocative approach to the camera, she is both artless and sophisticated, a child and yet a woman,” Mann says.

As a photographer Mann waits for that moment when the girls reveal something true about themselves.  She captures that moment on film. 

Sally Mann has three of her own children and has lived most of her life in Lexington, Virginia.  Her photographic studies of girls were taken there.  For 40 years her dad was the town doctor and cared for many of the families of these girls.

She was born in 1951 and received her BA (1974) and MA (1975) from Hollins College.  After graduating from college Mann worked as a staff photographer at Washington and Lee University.  In the mid 1970s she photographed the construction of the Lewis Law Library.  This led to a one-woman exhibition in late-1977 at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C.  Those images were also included in her first book, “Second Sight,” published in 1984.

Mann has been criticized for her nude photos of children.  Some have labeled them child pornography.  Mann disagrees.  She refers to the children in her work as feral children, untouched by society.

Time Magazine named Mann America’s Best Photographer in 2001.  She has also been the subject of two documentaries.  “Blood Ties” was directed by Steve Cantor and premiered at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival.  It was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Documentary Short.  The second film “What Remains” was also directed by Cantor.  It showed at the 2006 Sundance Film festival and was nominated for an Emmy for Best Documentary in 2008.

Currently Mann’s work includes self-portraits, a study of the legacy of slavery in Virginia, and intimate photos of her family and life.  "Marital Trust" includes details of her life with husband Larry.

On Oct. 18, Swann Auction Galleries, New York, featured a selection of Sally Mann photos in its Fine Photographs sale. 

Sally Mann

Angel; silver print; 9 ¾ inches by 7 ¾ inches; signed, title, date-1992; 5 of 25;  $4,800.

Yard Eggs; silver print; 19 inches by 23 inches; signed; title; date-1991; 6 0f 25;  $9,000.

Emmet, Jessie and Virginia; silver print; 7 ¾ inches by 9 ½ inches; signed; title, date-1989; 5 of 25;  $9,600.

Candy Cigarette; silver print; 7 ¾ inches by 9 ¾ inches; signed, title, date-1989; 7 of 25;  $38,400.



Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

Frank Rinehart Photographer Extraordinaire

Frank Rinehart Photographer Extraordinaire

Photography Brings Civil War to Life

Photography Brings Civil War to Life