Sally Mann – Artist Research

It was the emotion and sensitivity of Sally Mann’s images from her most famous and controversial series of work ‘Immediate Family’ that originally attracted me to her work and I found a growing similarity in my own work as I studied her images further. Although my work is based in the moving image medium, the deep personal emotions are what I strived to evoke within my work as she based her photographs around her own family, giving the audience an unique insight into her family life and history. The images have been said to evoke feelings of insecurity, loneliness, injury and sexuality – emotions that are rarely explored through images of children.

When being challenged about the controversy surrounding her work, Mann responded her photographs were “natural through the eyes of a mother, since she has seen her children in every state: happy, sad, playful, sick, bloodied, angry and even naked.” Her book was described said to “create a place that looked like Eden, then cast upon it the subdued and shifting light of nostalgia, sexuality and death.” This response shows the true effect of powerful imagery and I have attempted to recreate this passion within my own work.

Mann combines a variety of photographic techniques to develop images with an almost 3 dimensional texture and ‘lived in’ quality, as though each print carries the details of the subject’s life. The use of film allows her to personally create each image, a quality that is somewhat lost through digital methods. Also the black and white and sepia tone of the images adds another sense of archaic authenticity, as though her photographs are lost in time – they are relatively ‘new’ photographs but look much older.

The different focal lengths of each image also personalises the photographs, within the three images I selected it seems as though the younger children have a closer focal point, they are positioned nearer to the camera, perhaps suggesting a closer and more intimate relationship with the photographer. As the children progress in age they seem to be position further from Mann, reflecting the fact they are growing up and moving away. On the other hand, the extreme close up of the last image breaks the previous relationship boundaries, it doesn’t seem as though the subject is emotionally close to the photographer judging by the somewhat fearful facial expression, yet Mann is positioned very close, an invasion of personal space which gives the photograph an intense and violating outcome. This intensity is applied to all three images, the somewhat abused nature of the children’s positioning and questionable health violates the innocence related to such young people, especially in the second image in which the child looks as though it has sustained a black eye. Even though the viewer has no idea of how this injury occurred, the manipulation Mann has used upon the image almost forces the viewer to advocate a sense of blame onto the photographer, a relationship the photography usually doesn’t want to create, yet this is incredibly powerful in the deep and passionate feel of the image.


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