Today, I am going to talk about Sally Mann’s book Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs. This book won a National Book Award, which is not surprising because it is well written and honest. I learned a lot from reading about Mann and her connection to her work. It is a must read for artists not just because of the importance of Mann in the canon of art photography, but because when an artist shares that much about her life with the public, artist should be the first in line to receive it.
I do have a concern about the work and life of Sally Mann: never does she mention a spiritual connection and in reading I garnered a deep disquiet about the author. Her work focuses on darkness in a very unsettling way. Erie and phantasmal, Mann is a master of photographic technique; the photos resonate by confronting our inner fears of death and the unknown. We like to consider children as innocent angelic cherubs, yet we know by portrayals of children like, Lord of the Flies, that this isn’t always true. Mann’s photos of children and landscape speak to the temporary qualities of a lived life.
Photographers inevitably are concerned with light and darkness it is part of the process and shows in the result of the work. Mann’s portraits of children and even the landscapes lean toward spiritual darkness but still exist between darkness and light perhaps as a result of the subject matter. Toward the end of the book Mann moves very close to the darkness, as a deeply spiritual individual I felt heaviness and became very disheartened at the end of the book. The final series focusing on death bore an unemotional finality. This is a commanding text, it’s dense and intensely personal, well written, however, it is not be read passively; definitely not for the prudish.