Sally Mann - Ponder Heart, from the series, Proud Flesh, 2009
Sally Mann - Somnambulist, from the series, Proud Flesh, 2009
Sally Mann - Time and the Bell, from the series, Proud Flesh, 2008
Sally Mann - David, from the series, Proud Flesh, 2005
Sally Mann - Speak, Memory, from the series, Proud Flesh, 2008
Sally Mann - Discobolus, from the series, Proud Flesh, 2006
Sally Mann - Amor Revealed, from the series, Proud Flesh, 2007
Sally Mann - Xerxes Wept, from the series, Proud Flesh, 2004
Sally Mann - The Nature of Lonliness, from the series, Proud Flesh, 2008
Sally Mann - Hephaestus, from the series, Proud Flesh, 2008
Sally Mann - One Blue Dew, from the series, Proud Flesh, 2005
Sally Mann - Was Ever Love, from the series, Proud Flesh, 2009
Sally Mann - Semaphore, from the series, Proud Flesh, 2003
Sally Mann - The Quality of Affection, from the series, Proud Flesh, 2006
For forty years, the artist Sally Mann has focused her mysterious gaze on herself, her children, her house, her animals and her family traditions. With Proud Flesh, a unique series of nudes, she reveals the intimacy of her husband’s life with muscular dystrophy.
In today’s world, there are few photographs that incarnate fragility, in the genuine sense of the word. Those that do must be caressed by one’s look and brushed lightly by one’s palm, if in fact one even dares to approach them. They provoke a sensation of uneasiness that leads to being intrigued. None of these monochromes present a classic portrait of this man whose health appears in danger. They have to be juxtaposed in order to reconstruct this dismembered body. But that is not the subject.
Sally Mann has had her husband Larry pose for her for six years, documenting at the same time the evolution of his illness, a dystrophy brought about by the progressive weakening of the patient’s muscular cells until they die. In these elliptic compositions, each part of his body appears: a back and a hand, a seated bottom, puny thighs, a sex, an imperial torso, a dangling arm, a quiet face which evokes that of someone who has died. It seems that Sally Mann wanted to immortalize the charms of each of his members before the illness took them away. A gentle vision of the virility and the almost glacial eroticism born of that special relationship. In spite of the sensitivity of these images, there reigns, as always with Mann, a funereal feeling. And the vulnerability of this human presence is intensified by a multitude of marks and abscesses which seem to eat away at each photograph. Imperfections due to the process.
For ever since she started work as a photographer, Sally Mann has practiced analog photography, and more particularly wet plate collodion. This process, invented in 1851, enables one to obtain prints of great finesse, with a particularly wide gamut of greys. The negative is a glass plate covered with a silver solution and chemical products, exposed while still wet, then developed very rapidly. Under-exposed at the moment of the camera shot and then placed on a black background, the image appears as a positive. Eadweard Muybridge used this process to produce snapshots of galloping horses. Sally Mann began to reuse this process in 2003 with her series of self-portraits What Remains. In a digital world which considers sharpness a priority, her photographs are like something from outer space.
Sally Mann is among those controversial artists whose photos of family can be disturbing. One feels shocked seeing her naked children, one has the disagreeable sentiment that a mother has abandoned her protective duty in order to devote herself to a sensual documentation on the immaculate nature of the human being. One is also shocked by her recent macabre shots of putrefying bodies found in a forest. For Proud Flesh, the artist has tried to overshadow these considerations. “This series should not be taken as a project on the illness and degradation of Larry’s body. But one cannot avoid seeing his right leg and his left arm deteriorate. What is extraordinary is that he completely wanted this point of view.” In spite of Mann’s imperturbability, the ability of the images of this series to remain impenetrable is fascinating. They always keep the viewer at a certain distance, forcing him to be moved and pushing him away at the same time. Proud Flesh is a personal story, that of a dignity exposed by a tender gaze.
Sally Mann – Proud Flesh
Until October 29, 2011 at the
Jackson Fine Art, Atlanta
3115 E Shadowlawn Avenue Northeast
Atlanta, GA 30305