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Thursday, 15 July 2010

The Family and the Land: Sally Mann

'Candy Cigarette', 1989

I tend to find photography exhibitions a bit dreary. There is a certain energy that surrounds handmade artwork - you can imagine the creator hard at work and their physical process. This is what photography lacks for me. However, The Photographers’ Gallery changed my mind last weekend.

I went along to the new Sally Mann exhibition with my dad and brother on Saturday. They are experts in the fields of art and photography, so I felt a little naive observing the work without such an analytical understanding.

Sally Mann is a successful American photographer, best known for black and white photos of her children and later landscapes of death and decay. In 2001 Mann was heralded as ‘America’s best photographer’ by Time Magazine. In 1949 Life magazine had similarly constructed the reputation of Jackson Pollock with such a headline. ‘The Family and the Land: Sally Mann’ is her first solo exhibition in the UK.

The first room displayed a collection of some of her more recent work. The images are ghostly and stare blankly at you as you wander round. Mann created these prints outside using a delicate technique called the ‘wet plate collodion process’, introduced in 1851. The technique is complicated and tactile and leaves Mann only five minutes to make the exposure.

My favourite works were the earlier family photographs displayed upstairs in the gallery. These controversially show three gorgeous children, often barely clothed. They are intimate and revealing portraits that offer an insight into her family life. ‘Candy Cigarette’ 1989, depicts her young daughter, pretending to smoke with a sweet cigarette. It is a beautifully captured moment, unsettling but stylish enough to appear in Vogue.

The final room, ‘What Remains’ is a collection of haunted landscapes some with discarded bodies in them. They are vague and eerie, and sometimes quite horrendous when looked at in detail. A startling contrast with the children’s portraits in the room before.

I loved this show, so much so that I even almost bought the insanely expensive catalogue.

Show continues until 19 September 2010. Check it out here.

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