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From Publishers Weekly
Mann's previous collections, Immediate Family and At Twelve, recorded the bodies of children with a frank, slightly detached sensuality at a time when public hysteria around issues of child sexuality was sharply on the rise. The fact that many of the images were of her own children left Mann particularly vulnerable to charges of exploitation. But though controversial, what deflected such accusations was the serene flawlessness of Mann's pictorialist photographic technique, which somehow contained her very real provocation without necessarily resolving it. An even deeper sense of subtle disturbance pervades the four suites of photographs that make up this latest collection, whose subjects are mortality and death. In the two most graphic and difficult sequences, the remains of a beloved family dog and the corpses at a forensic lab are given equal emotional weight, equally luxuriant and pitiless memorialization. The difficult and time-consuming glass-plate process Mann employs, which results in an often dark, stressed and uneven surface, mirrors both the decay of the subjects and the movement of time that has claimed them. In another set, the almost invisible traces left by the death of a fugitive on Mann's property are recorded in washed-out images that convey with numb bleariness violence's psychic consequences. But in the book's most successful sequence-depicting the Civil War battlefield of Antietam-there are no literal traces of the dead at all, only an overwhelming psychic weight, which is reflected in intensely dark surfaces pocked with fissures and holes that at times resemble fields of stars laid over the barely visible hills, trees and fields. And if the last sequence, a series of extreme close-up portraits of Mann's (now grown) children, is less powerful by comparison, it provides the elegiac and loving coda to a book whose richness of presentation and sober subject matter work off of each other in varied and unexpected ways.
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About the Author
Sally Mann was born in Lexington, Virginia, in 1951 and lives there today with her family and seven rescued greyhounds.
Renowned for her candid portrayal of family life (Immediate Family), her revealing study of girlhood (At Twelve), and landscapes from the American South (Mother Land and Deep South), internationally acclaimed photographer Sally Mann has produced a powerful new body of work on the one subject that affects us all. In WHAT REMAINS, a five-part meditation on mortality, Mann focuses her lens on the ineffable divide between body and soul, the means by which life takes leave of this earth, and the manner in which it rejoins it. Mann's new photographs are by turns shocking and sublime. An armed fugitive is hunted down by police. She photographs the scars left on her property after the incident. A series of brooding, otherworldly landscapes made at the Civil War battlefield of Antietam is followed by a group of close-up portraits of Mann's own children, floating in the inky black atmosphere of the nineteenth-century ambrotype; another series taken at a forensics study site offers an unflinching look at the process of decomposition, as do images of a beloved pet greyhound--long since departed. Made with the collodion process, using glass plates, the resulting images are at once painterly, sculptural, and photographic.