Sally Mann is an American photographer best known for her Immediate Family series. Spanning 1984–94, Immediate Family captured her children as they grew up and explored the countryside surrounding their Virginia home. In later years she turned her focus towards the land itself, with a series that investigated the deep south and key locations in the American Civil War.
More recently What Remains (2000-04), has brought people and the land together in the frame, albeit in an unconventional way. Mann has photographed decomposing bodies at a Tennessee research facility. At first glance the works appear to be simple abstracted textures, but look closer and you’ll recognise traces of the human form. Death and decay, rendered palatable.
Mann’s beautiful images are given an extra ghostly quality from the dust and scratches that arise through the use of antique cameras and the wet-plate collodion process.
A photographic negative is made by coating a glass plate with collodion to form an emulsion. Then the plate is sensitised in a silver nitrate solution and exposed to light while still wet. This gives the photographer only about five minutes to make the exposure. All aspects of the preparation and developing process for the wet-plate collodion print are complicated, delicate and tactile.
Sally Mann often uses the back of her truck as a temporary darkroom when making work outside, which creates its own problems as dust and dirt is constantly attracted to the wet and sticky surfaces of the negative.
Mann’s first solo UK exhibition – The Family and the Land: Sally Mann – is now showing at The Photographers’ Gallery in London. It’s on till 19 September 2010. Highly reccomended if you’re in the neighbourhood.