Sally Mann

by Chris Duesing

American photographer Sally Mann has enjoyed a successful, yet controversial career. While some see her pictures of her own children as art, others have accused her of dealing in child pornography.

A Brief Look at the Life of Sally Mann

Sally Mann was born on May 1, 1951 in Lexington, VA, where she still lives. In 1974, Mann received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Hollins College (now Hollins University). The following year, she received a Master of Arts degree in writing from the same college.

Although she enjoyed her professional debut in 1977 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, Mann first gained notoriety in 1988 with her second published collection, At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women. This collection aroused the attention of audiences because the sly, seductive, yet innocent, eyes of girls suggested blooming sexuality amidst shifting identities.

Sally Mann’s next collection, Immediate Family, published in 1992, expanded Mann’s audience and her list of critics. This series was especially controversial, as it featured naked pictures of her own children. Since this collection, Sally Mann has published other collections including:

Sally Mann’s Family in her Work

As a wife and mother of three, Sally Mann’s first subjects were her family, especially pictures of her three children, Emmett, Jessie and Virginia, as they grew up. Her photos depicted both candid moments and arranged scenes of her children in various semblances of dress, including some photos in which her children were naked.

The nudes of her children, which held glimpses of sexuality in bloom, caused some critics and religious conservatives to deem Sally Mann’s work as “child pornography.” However, Mann considered these photographs to be 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.

Many enjoy the way these pictures capture the loss of innocence that occurs as children start to step into the adult world. Mann’s powerful images portray the tragedy of lost youth and innocence.

Loss of Innocence Shown Through Nature

Once her children had grown, Sally Mann turned her camera to the land in which she grew up, once again exploring the theme of the lost innocence. Using nature as her primary subject, Calle switched to antique lenses, which are less than perfect and may produce unexpected results. Set up to produce imperfect and inconsistent shots, Calle’s photos adopted a Pictorialist style that produces pictures that look more like paintings than traditional photographs.

Her choice of lenses and style combined with her ability to capture the candor and vulnerability of her subject, even in nature, allows Mann to created almost ghostlike images of the landscape.

Awards and Honors of Sally Mann

Sally Mann has been recognized by various organizations for her ability to view and capture the world’s naked candor. Some of her awards and honors include:

The photographs of Sally Mann are also in the permanent collections of several prestigious museums including:

Mann’s Legacy

Mann is one of the few American photographers who came of age in the 1970s and endured for three decades. Her eye for a photograph, her technical brilliance, her ability to capture the essence of her subjects and her passion for the art have made Sally Mann a distinguished artist.

Further Reading
Chris Duesing
Chris Duesing

I am a photographer, writer, entrepreneur, and programmer living in the great city of Chicago. I love to solve problems with technology and share what I have learned along the way.