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Sally Mann: The Naked Truth

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Going to The Getty Museum to see the retrospective exhibition of well-known American photographer Sally Mann (b. 1951), I remembered the controversy two decades ago, surrounding portraits of her children in the nude.

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Top: Sally Mann. Jessie at 6, 1988. Gelatin silver print. The Getty Museum. Bottom: Sally Mann. Emmett and the White Boy. 1990. Gelatin silver print. The Getty Museum. Photos by Edward Goldman.

One reasonable explanation for their nudity is the hot and humid Summer weather at their isolated family cabin in Lexington, VA. Being naked there was natural. To quote the artist, “Like my children… I wore no clothes until kindergarten interfered with my feral life.” What particularly attracts me to these photos is how much they focus not only on the character of these young human beings, but also on the mysterious landscape around them, emanating a sense of uncertainty and even a touch of danger.


Top: Sally Mann. Deep South, Untitled (Fontainebleau). Negative, 1998; print, 2017. Gelatin silver print. The Getty Museum. Bottom: Sally Mann. Deep South, Untitled (Stick), 1988. Gelatin silver print. The Getty Museum. Photos by Edward Goldman.

After her children grew into adolescence, Sally Mann became more and more intrigued with landscape – not only near her home, but further South, in Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi. When I look at these large-scale black and white images, my first impression is that they are made by a 19 th century photographer. These landscapes of the Deep South hold the “scars of the past” and “allude to national histories of war, suffering, and injustice” (Getty).


Installation shot: Sally Mann: A Thousand Crossings. The Getty Museum. Photo by Edward Goldman.

In a series of individual portraits, with the camera zoomed in on the faces of her subjects, we can only see parts of their faces. They are out of focus, the surfaces are scratched, and – once again – there is a temptation to believe these portraits were made at least a hundred years ago. She likes to fit her camera with antique lenses to create unpredictable results, and sometimes she uses a “19 th century method of making negatives on glass, welcoming the flaws in the process.” Obviously, perfection is not the name of the game for Sally Mann.


Left: Sally Mann. Ponder Heart, 2009. Gelatin silver print. The Getty Museum. Right: Sally Mann. Was Ever Love, 2009. Gelatin silver print. The Getty Museum. Photos by Edward Goldman.

In portraits of her husband, Mann documents the changes in his appearance and body, caused by muscular dystrophy. In these photos, Larry, her husband of almost 50 years, doesn’t beg for our pity. Instead, we see the profound beauty of a great tragedy unfolding, not unlike a Shakespearean drama on stage.


Los Angeles photographer Jenny Okun in her studio, sharing her work with art aficionados. Photo by Edward Goldman.

So, my friends, let’s step away from the drama and tragedy of personal life, and immerse ourselves in the beauty of iconic monuments around the world. I am talking about the vibrant, large-scale color photographs of Los Angeles-based photographer Jenny Okun. I became familiar with her work about twenty years ago, when she presented a series of semi-abstract compositions of Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall.


Los Angeles photographer Jenny Okun in her studio, sharing her work with art aficionados. Photo by Edward Goldman. 

Instead of documenting iconic architecture, Okun chooses to give the personal, emotional impression of the building, making us fall in love with it even before we might see it in person. Traveling around the world, Okun continues to capture the beauty and drama of famous historical sites through her seemingly effortless photographic compositions. Just take a look at the photos I snapped during a recent visit to Okun’s studio, with a bunch of smart art aficionados who came with me. Talk about the pleasure of not only consuming wonderful art, but also getting to know the person who creates it… I wish I could take all of you, my friends, with me, to experience it.

And let me finish today by urging you to attend this weekend’s Photo LA art fair in the Barker Hangar at the Santa Monica Airport. Great photos will be presented by dozens of leading photography galleries from around the world. Yours truly will be leading a docent tour of the most interesting and challenging works on display.

Credits

Host:
Edward Goldman

Producer:
Kathleen Yore