Executed between 2000 and 2004, these works consist of images of the faces of her three children Emmett, Jessie, and Virginia. Selected works from her “Battlefields” series are on view as well. These powerful images of Mann’s children are simultaneously painterly and photographic. They are made from wet-plate collodion negatives, produced by coating a sheet of glass with ether-based collodion and submerging it in silver nitrate. The resulting light sensitive plate, loaded into a plate holder and attached to the camera, must be exposed while still wet, a period of approximately 6 minutes. The photographers who originally used this method, which was introduced in 1851, worked to perfect the process and avoid irregularities.
Sally Mann, however, embraces these aberrations; she celebrates the peculiar flares, stains and dust trails unique to the collodion process. She describes them as serendipitous, as “perfect flaws” which help create the mystical and poetic quality of the photographs. Perhaps because of the lengthy exposures (as long as 6 minutes and never less than 3), the images possess a transcendent timelessness. It may be this sense of suspended time, as much as genetics, that renders the faces of Mann’s children eerily interchangeable. Enigmatic, they seem to be awaiting the viewer’s glance to wake from their shadowed stillness and take their next breath.
A true Southern artist, Sally Mann has steeped herself in the history of the South, continually searching to capture the spirit of time and place. As a Southerner she states, “Our history of defeat and loss set us apart from other Americans and because of it, we embrace the Proustian concept that the only true paradise is a lost paradise. But we know that love emerges from this loss, becomes memory and that memory becomes art.”
Sally Mann was born in Lexington, Virginia in 1951. She has won numerous awards, including three National Endowment for the Arts fellowships and a Guggenheim fellowship. Her photographs are in the permanent collections of major museums and private collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Whitney Museum of American Art and The Corcoran Museum of Art.