Sally Man(n?) - Deep South

Discussion in 'Photographers' started by SchwinnParamount, Oct 19, 2005.

  1. SchwinnParamount

    SchwinnParamount Subscriber

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    I bought this book today. Some of it is deeply beautiful. Well, most of it is. Sally uses a LF camera and I guess it is wet collodion plates. She describes coating the plates with emulsion in her truckbed mounted darkroom right before exposure.

    The thing is, many of the plates were badly coated. With some of them, the subject is so badly obscured that you cannot begin to guess what she was photographing. Others are mostly great except there are many small artifacts from her coating which float through the images.

    She used what looks like a period lens which was designed for a smaller format. The lens cannot hope to cover her negative so you see large areas of vignetting in every plate. Where there is coverage, only the center of the image is fairly clear. The outer portions all show spherical abberations.

    I wonder why she included some of the really poorly coated plates? Sure, the others where you actually see the subject are quite beautiful and worth showing. But why show a plate where the subject is entirely obscured by white?

    Has anybody else seen this book?... which I still recommend in spite of my criticism
     
  2. david b

    david b Member

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    I've seen the book and have to pick up my copy this week.

    I am not bothered by the work and actually accept it as part of the process, which started with her book "What Remains".
     
  3. Joe Lipka

    Joe Lipka Member

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    It is Mann. The reason the colloidon plates are poorly coated is that Sally is an artist, not a photographer. It's more artsy that way. Besides, when you see the final prints, they have been scanned and printed into huge 4 foot by 5 foot "photographs."

    Bless her heart, Sally is widely praised and very successful in selling her photographs. I can't understand why.
     
  4. laz

    laz Member

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    The same could be said of anyone of us. We shoot B&W because it's more artsy that way?

    Come on, it's fine to dislike her work but as you say she is an artist. That is cause for praise not derision. It is artists who elevated photography to where it is considered and appreciated alongside any other art form.

    -Bob
     
  5. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I have a suspicion that the only reason she doesn't have chicken feathers embedded in the emulsion is that that would make some critic remember Julia Margaret Cameron. And she doesn't want to be (too blatantly) derivative? :wink:
     
  6. laz

    laz Member

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    .....or she couldn't place those feathers artfully enough! :wink:
     
  7. Lee Shively

    Lee Shively Member

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    Actually, Sally Mann is a photographer and she has been for over 30 years.

    Her work is geared more toward evocation of emotions than technical precision. I like that. Maybe it's a Southern thing but I'm a big fan.

    Some have included her in with a so-called "new pictorialist" movement in photography but I don't see that at all. Her work has more in common with Robert Frank than the pictorialists or Julia Margaret Cameron. She began doing Southern landscapes using the wet plate process in the mid to late 90's. Some of the photos in the current book were included in an exhibition called "Motherland".
     
  8. Dorothy Blum Cooper

    Dorothy Blum Cooper Member

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    Ditto to Lee's statement. I saw the book about a week ago at the book store but was in a rush and didn't have time to check out. I found many of the images to be beautiful and quite evoking. Definitely appealed to me.

    What is that saying? Something about being in the eye of the beholder? I can understand why. :smile:

    I like that.

    If you start catergorizing who is a photographer and who is not...then I think you're opening a whole new can of worms. That's debate for another thread. Just .02 cents on the topic from a gal in the "Deep South" :wink:
     
  9. laz

    laz Member

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    Well some of us Damn Yankees love her work also! :smile:

    There was a thread not too long ago asking about our favorite photographers, Mann was near the top of my list (another was Meatyard, another southerner!)

    Her work is haunting and emotional; looking at her best work makes me feel like I'm stepping into the picture, meeting the subject or in the scene. In one word feeling

    Art takes you outside yourself.

    -Bob
     
  10. juan

    juan Subscriber

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    Bob,
    Just FYI - my anglo grandmother always taught me that damnyankee is one word.
    Ha.
    juan
     
  11. Kerik

    Kerik Member

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    Count me in on the Sally Mann fan club as well. Art is about what you see and feel; technical perfection is for Photographers. When I hang work in a gallery, it's easy to spot the photographers in the crowd. They are always way too close to the prints, looking for sharpness/details - wondering what lens/camera/film/developer was used. I'm pretty certain that Sally Mann and her amazing body of work will go down in history as being some of the most important photographic artwork created in our lifetimes. Long after many of the technically perfect, repetitious, standard landscape images are long since forgotten.

    I just picked up Deep South a few days ago. While there are images that don't work for me, many of them touch me deeply. Overall, a very strong body of work. And her brief, eloquent essays give you some good insight to where she's coming from. BTW, the images are a mix of film and wet plate collodion.
     
  12. laz

    laz Member

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    LOL! just like Redneck is one word! :smile:
     
  13. Denis P.

    Denis P. Member

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    I must admit that I already wrote a reply to this thread a while ago (before Ole posted his), but deleted it in its entirety.... We're on thin ice here....

    It's always dangerous to try to define "art", and if you involve (commercial) success into the equation, things get real messy real soon :smile:

    English is not my native language, so that's another problem, too, when the issue involves rather philosophical debate...

    Anyway, here's my 2 cents' (or less) worth of ramblings...

    First, let me admit that I'm not a connoisseur of Sally Mann's work. I've seen her work only online, so take all this with a grain of salt - at least the parts which refer to her photos. However, I like some of her work.

    The original question was about "imperfections" and "poor coating" which seem to bother the original poster.

    As I said, I've only seen the prints/photos/images in question online, so I'm not exactly qualified to judge the "quality" based on puny JPEGS, but those imperfections don't bother me.

    For me, what it boils down (basically) is the initial reaction to an object ("work of art", whatever...). Either your initial "gut reaction" is "I like it" or "I don't like it". No amount of psudeo-intelectual hype is going to change that.... much :smile:

    Some other posters seem to blame her for being "artsy" (as in "artificial"), others look down on her as being just an imitator of earlier "pictorialists", i.e. Julia Margaret Cameron. Even if it were so, I'm not sure this is the reason to discard her work in its entirety because she's an "imitator". So what?

    Is the quality of artistic (or "artistic") work to be judged only on basis of originality? I doubt it... Otherwise most of art history would have to be rewritten and revaluated.

    Is it technical perfection? Hm.... I think it was St. Ansel who once said "There's nothing worse than a sharp photo of a fuzzy concept"... :smile:

    Is it commercial success?
    I don't think so, either - otherwise Thomas Kincaide would indeed be the greatest American artist (probably of all times :smile:).

    For me, it's usually "appeal" that does it. Either something appeals to me, or it doesn't. Reasons might differ, but it's that initial reaction that makes me skim through some photos, and take a closer look at some others that I see.

    So, for myself, I find it that most of her photos have a certain appeal (no, I'm not talking about the notorious ones! - we're talking landscape shots here!) - even with scratches and everything. Maybe I would like them even more without scratches - I don't know, and, frankly, don't care.

    I think we're very close to "opening another can of worms", as Dorothy aptly put it.
    Whose work is art, and whose is "artsy"? What is art and what is kitsch?

    Why do we like some works of art, and don't like others?
    Or, to narrow it to our field - why are some photos art, and others are worthless snapshots?

    Now, I'm not pretending or aspiring to be an art critic - I can only say that I like the photos which inspired this discussion. I'm not going to say that they are art or not, or defend Sally Mann or her technique or her work. To each his own. Or "different strokes for different folks".

    But still, some of the replies here could indeed provide food for thought - resulting either in an interesting debate and exchange of thoughts, or a heated debate, ending in members threatening to leave, strong words and who knows what... :smile:

    Sorry for the long post,

    Denis
     
  14. Valerie

    Valerie Subscriber

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    Deep South lover!

    I wandered into Barnes&Noble yesterday and happened upon "Deep South". I was in love!! Mann has always been one of my favorite photographers (Keith Carter another). I agree with some that a few of the photos did not do much for me. But overall I was touched to the core!

    Mann is an artist. Photography is her medium. Not all artists use their medium to technical perfection. Rather, the medium is used as a means of expression. The end result (the finished photo) is only one small step in the creative journey. The "imperfections" in her work are because she is human--an imperfect human, not a machine. Could she have done a better job technically? Yes.

    Thank god she didn't!
     
  15. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    I always have enjoyed her work and her efforts to use the medium to explore a lot of different ideas. When I first became seriously interested in photography at college in the early 80s, the library had a large library copy of "Still Time", which is a compilation of selected works from several of her portfolios. I had been immersed in Ansel Adams and Weston and when I came upon this book it was so different and so emotionally charged I made it a point to stop and look at it every time I was in the library.

    Mann really approaches the medium much the same way as artists explored photography in the 20s. Man Ray, Mohly Nagy, Sheeler, Roh were all primarily painters who recognized the unique properties of lenses, film and paper and used them as tools to further thier own work in areas outside of accepted photography. In the process they became photographic artists as well. Mann has always been interested in how an old lens, or platinum or recently collodion effects the feeling of the photograph. Process has always been her pallete.
     
  16. Lee Shively

    Lee Shively Member

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    "Well some of us Damn Yankees love her work also!"

    Cool! :smile: :cool:
     
  17. Dave Wooten

    Dave Wooten Subscriber

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    Bravo Denis! I agree with your comments and btw

    Your command of my native language puts quite a few of us to shame!

    Dave in Vegas
     
  18. jmdavis

    jmdavis Member

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    I've enjoyed Sally Mann's work for many years. However, the most recent work has been a disappointment for me. I wouldn't call it pictorialist and I know that Mann can be a very good printer. But, having seen several shows of the large wetplate prints, I just don't enjoy them. I know the locations, the history, the stories, but the prints evoke very little for me.

    Her portraits, her landscapes from the 80's, in short her straight photography is very good. Her writing for the wet plate books is good. The smaller wet plate prints are good. But the large stuff just leaves me cold rather than chilled.

    Mike Davis
     
  19. smieglitz

    smieglitz Member

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    I wonder what it is about the transcription to large print size that is at fault. I recently took up wetplate collodion and thought I'd be doing 11x14 glass plate negatives to contact into long-scale albumen prints. Instead, once I got started I fell in love with the small quarter-plate positives and the imperfections from coating and processing. Everything is reversed in them laterally, the coating can cause problems as can the development and every other step. Yet these imperfections form some of the uniqueness which the plates embody. Blowing them up would cause them to lose their charm, I think.

    There's something about this process that is alchemical and soulful. It is really magical working with primitive optics and techniques and being open to serendipitous results. During the 15 seconds it takes to develop, the universe collapses into the swirling storm on the surface of the plate being held in your hand, and nothing else exists.

    Mann is very talented and has been so consistently for many years. One of my faves.

    Joe
     
  20. laz

    laz Member

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    You mean he's not? :smile:

    Kidding aside, well said.

    The definition of "Art" has indeed been a thorny one probably for as long as there has been art (caveman: "Ugh did you see those stupid paintings on Joe's cave walls, that's not art!") Many probably do think that Kincaide is a great artist. When you get to the gut level and what you like it's hard to argue.

    I do however believe that the more one is educated about art the more a work can at least be appreciated as art even if you do not like it. This doesn't just go for photography. I'm thinking of a trip I took many years ago to the Museum of Modern Art. I was young and not particularly enamoured of Modern Art. I was with a young lady who was an art history graduate student. She took me to the Modern so she could practice a lecture she was to give. Wow, talk about having one's eyes opened! I learned the language, if you will, of many schools of Modern Art. Once I understood the techniques--the vocabulary of the art--I was able to appreciate what I saw and know it was Art even if it was not something I'd hang in my home!

    I think thats called judging a thing on it's own merits. :wink:

    And Denis, anytime you want to open a thread on Mann's "notorious ones" count me in! Now there is a topic we'd have to wear our Nomex suits for!

    -Bob
     
  21. dphphoto

    dphphoto Member

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  22. SchwinnParamount

    SchwinnParamount Subscriber

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  23. Denis P.

    Denis P. Member

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    Of course the above is true. However, I felt my rant was too long already to elaborate any further.

    Any meaningful discussion on/of art presumes the parties engaged in such discussion have at least some (common) degree of education in arts.
    Otherwise the evaluation of an artist or of artwork would be a lot easier - whichever sells best is the greatest art/artist - therefore my reference to Kincaide :smile:

    As for "notorious", we could mention David Hamilton, couldn't we?

    I remember liking his photos - when I was a lot younger and didn't know any better :smile:
    Nowadays they seem more like bad taste...

    Regards,

    Denis
     
  24. JustK

    JustK Member

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    Hello, I just want to say that I really like what Joe wrote.

    And I would like to think that all photography can be an alchemical & soulful & serendipitous process, at least that is what I hope for in my work.

    I am not particularly drawn to Mann's work, but I can appreciate both her artistic and photographic talents. It's her prerogative to do her work her way. And this reminds and encourages me to do the same.

    Blessings, Krystyna
     
  25. laz

    laz Member

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    Rants are never too long! :smile:

    Yes we could but not in the same breath as Mann. While Hamilton takes pains to characterize his work as "erotica" or "fine art," not "pornography," in practice that simply means that his photographs are blurrier and less explicit than regular pornography. Some of Sally Mann's work has been a provocative exploration of childhood and adolescent sexuality. In Hamilton's work no real attention is paid to the models' identity. Hamilton openly acknowledges that his photos depict their subjects as idealized sexual fantasy objects for men attracted to young girls.

    I would say that people who accuse Mann of pornography are not as offended by what they see in her work as they are by what is reflected back and revealed about themselves.

    -Bob