The place to be in New York City on October 15 is Swann Gallery on East 25th Street. There you may purchase photographic work by Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Eadweard Muybridge, Edward S. Curtis, and Sally Mann at the auction which begins 10 AM. One piece of Mann's work in the auction is the iconic photo above. It is anticipated to fetch $100,000 to $150,000.
The girl who looks directly into the camera, unabashed and unflinchingly is Jesse, Mann's middle child. To her side is the youngest child, Virginia; in the distance, Mann's son, Emmett. In the rural landscape of Virginia, where Sally Mann was born and raised, her own children grew up as well. They were often nude, and in the river day and night during summers and springs. When Mann published her book, Immediate Family, in 1992, it was a sensation: within three months, it was a sellout. Childhood moments captured on film through the eye of Mann in all its trials, joy, difficulties and authenticity brought notoriety with the predominant question being: innocence or exploitive? (Read a wonderful background piece by Sally Mann here.)
Sally Mann's rich, beautiful photographs; vernacular photography, as Swann refers to it. The fierce determination and luscious beauty of the child in the photograph above makes my heart beat a little faster. In their home, their cabin in Virginia, with no running water or electricity, the children were freed of the constraints of city living, and Mann's camera bears witness to all of the moments - fighting and laughter, illness and anger. What she brings forward on paper isn't picture perfect, but it is perfect in so many ways.
For her Deep South series, Mann used the wet-plate collodion process to create a softened, ethereal effect for the Virginia landscapes she loves. The process adds distinction to the series, a haunting air of something ancient and heady. During the aftermath of an accident in 2006 when she was seriously injured by her horse, she continued with similar process, but in unusual self-portraits. These ambrotypes use the same wet-plate chemistry, but on black varnish-coated glass. Mann leaves the streaks, scratches, and pitting of the process, resulting in a marvelously ambiguous series of photos, each one just a little secretive.
I won't be able to attend the auction in person; but live, online bidding is available through invaluable.com. Take a look at the Swann Gallery page here, and view all the lots in the auction. As always, you can purchase Mann's books at amazon.com where at least six of her books are available. And her website is sallymann.com.
Sally Mann is an important American photographer, a woman with vision and extraordinary skills in observation. Hers are photos that speak to us and linger with us. Now 64, she has carved a place for her name in the history of our great photographers. Her first solo show was in 1977, and while her last solo show was in 1988, her work continues to inspire, evoke, and thrill.
I don't know about you, but I wish I had a copy of her photograph Holding Virginia. It's what caught my breath first, and something I'll never tire of seeing.
Meanwhile, I'll watch auctions of her work and pour over her books. She is mighty inspiration for the photographers in all of us.