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Sally Mann: What Remains

June 12 - September 7, 2004

 

Drawing upon her personal experiences as inspiration, Sally Mann creates a haunting series of photographs that speaks about the one subject that affects us all, the loss of life. Dark, beautiful and revelatory, What Remains, a five-part meditation on mortality, explores the ineffable divide between body and soul, life and death, spirit and earth. Never one to shy away from challenging subject matter, Mann asks us to contemplate the beauty and efficiency with which nature assimilates the body once life has ended. Sally Mann: What Remains is on view at the Corcoran Gallery of Art from June 12 through September 7, 2004. (right: Sally Mann, Untitled, 2000, from the series December 8th, gelatin silver print with copper toning, lent by the artist, courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York. Copyright © 2003 by Sally Mann )

"Death is powerful," says Mann. "It's perhaps best approached as a springboard to appreciate life more fully. That's why this show ends with pictures of living people, pictures of my children. This whole body of work is a process of thanksgiving." Organized in five sections, Sally Mann: What Remains features more than 90 photographs. Matter Lent depicts the decomposition of Mann's beloved pet greyhound, Eva. Here, she uses the wet-collodion process, a practice in nineteenth-century photography, to create images that are simultaneously painterly, illusionistic, weathered and photographic. Untitled, perhaps the most visually shocking section in the exhibition, is made up of images of human bodies going through the natural process of decomposition at a forensic study site. In this series, Mann does not shield the viewer from the reality of bodily decay. "There's a moment where you look at those bodies and say, 'that was a human being.' That was someone who was loved, cherished, caressed," says Mann. "That's a very tough one for me, the whole question of when a human becomes remains. That question came up over and over again while I was doing this work." (right: Sally Mann, Untitled #2, 2000, from the series What Remains, ambrotype, lent by the artist, courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York. Copyright © 2003 by Sally Mann)

The middle section of this exhibition features two series of landscape images: December 8, 2000 focuses on the site where an armed fugitive committed suicide on Mann's bucolic property in Virginia's rural Shenandoah Valley. She witnessed life meeting death at her doorstep and this transitional incident served as the raw inspiration from which her photographic project unfolded. The Antietam series of landscape photographs, made at the Antietam battlefield in Sharpsburg, Maryland, go far beyond simple documentation of this rural Civil War location where 23,000 men were killed, wounded or declared missing on a single day in September 1862. These large scale images invite the viewer to contemplate the role of photography in documenting history, time passing and death's sanctification of the eternal soil. In an editorial review of the accompanying book, regarding the Antietam series Reed Business Information, Inc. says "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."

Mann concludes the project with What Remains. thirty-six extreme close-up portraits of her three children's faces seen floating in an inky black atmosphere. While the subjects of these loving photographs appear in stark contrast to the ghostly images of death in her other series. the viewer cannot help but recall the other images when looking into the faces of the children. In this context, her children are "what remains."

"This project is an epic visual poem -- a philosophical rumination on mortality, one subject that no one can really explain. What happens to life when it ends? What remains that we do not see? Who could better explore this essentially unknowable topic than an artist with Sally Mann's questioning gaze," comments Philip Brookman, Corcoran Senior Curator of Photography and Media Arts and curator of the exhibition. "For Sally, such an examination of the moment when the present becomes past should be accomplished by using photographic processes of another era as well." (right: Sally Mann, Untitled #7, 2001, from the series Antietam, gelatin silver print with varnish, lent by the artist, courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York. Copyright © 2003 by Sally Mann)

Sally Mann: What Remains is organized by the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Following the presentation at the Corcoran. Sally Mann: What Remains will begin a national tour.

 

WET-COLLODION PROCESS

Introduced in 1851, the wet-collodion process is a method of making photographic negatives using a glass plate coated with chemicals. The plate is sensitized in a silver nitrate solution and exposed to light while still wet and sticky, which gives the photographer about 5 minutes to make the exposure.

 

ABOUT THE ARTIST

Sally Mann was born in Lexington, Virginia, in 1951. She received a BA from Hollins College in 1974 and an MA in writing from the same school in 1975. Mann has won numerous awards, including three National Endowment for the Arts fellowships and a Guggenheim fellowship. Her photographs have been exhibited internationally and are in the permanent collections of major museums worldwide, including the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Mann's photographs have been featured in several Corcoran exhibitions: In Response to Place: Photographs from The Nature Conservancy's Last Great Places (2001), Hospice: A Photographic Inquiry (1996) and Sally Mann: The Lewis Law Portfolio (1977), Mann's first one-person exhibition. Her past publications include Second Sight, At Twelve, Immediate Family and Still Time. A documentary film about Mann's family pictures was nominated for an Academy Award in 1993. A feature-length follow-up spanning her career is in development and will air on HBO and the BBC. Time magazine named Mann as America's best photographer in 2001. She lives in Virginia with her family and seven rescued greyhounds.

 

CATALOGUE

Bulfinch Press has published a 132 page book with 85 tritone photographs and one four-color photograph that accompanies the exhibition Sally Mann: What Remains. For additional information, contact Bulfinch Press at (212) 522-6635 or visit www.bulfinchpress.com. To purchase the hardcover catalogue, call the Corcoran Shop at (202) 639-1790.

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