Friday, July 31, 2015

"Hold Still" by Sally Mann (2015)

I wrote a short piece about a photo of Ms. Mann’s back in 2011. It received thousands of “hits” and dozens of comments. The other day I was at the library; not an unusual occurrence; when I saw that Ms. Mann has a new book out. It’s her memoirs, complete with some of her more well-known photographs and the stories behind them. One of those photos is “Candy Cigarette” which is the one that caught my eye about 4 years ago resulting in my post about it.

The best thing about finding Ms. Mann’s memoirs was learning just how wrong I was in my interpretation of that photo; though I was evidently not alone in what I saw in it. Art is like that; there is always the meaning which the artist has invested in the work; but there is also the response of the person who is viewing that art, or listening to the music created, bringing their own concepts to the work. Both are valid. Still, it is quite the treat to find out how far afield you might be from what the artist; in this case photographer; really had in mind.

Quoting Ms. Mann on the “Candy Cigarette” photo;

“The candy cigarette here was just a candy cigarette, not a metaphor for a life on the streets. Jessie’s vamping was just that, not a predictor of future pathology. Virginia’s back turned to the camera did not mean anything except it was easier to yell at Emmett that way, and the stilts in the background were just stilts, not phallic symbols. All these interpretations of this fictionalized fraction of a second have been posited, as have many more, sometimes to our amusement and sometimes to our distress.

The entire book is readable and illustrated with some of her most interesting photos. If you are unfamiliar with Ms. Mann’s work, then this book is a wonderfully novel way to become so. You will quickly see why she is ranked among the greatest of American photographers.

By the way, I made all the mistakes in my interpretation of “Candy Cigarettes” which Ms. Mann lists except the one about the stilts; which seemed to me to be too thin. At any rate; and for Ms. Mann’s amusement; here is an unapologetic reprise of my post about that photograph;

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