Sally Mann: What Remains
Sally Mann: What Remains presents this celebrated photographer’s most recent body of work, a five-part series that explores the ineffable divide between body and soul, life and death, earth and spirit. The project is organized into five sections that visually depict the eternal cycle of life, death, and regeneration. What Remains draws upon the artist’s personal experiences as inspiration for a haunting series about the one subject that affects us all: the loss of life and what remains.
The Corcoran Gallery of Art has had a long relationship with Sally Mann. The Lewis Law Portfolio, her first museum exhibition, premiered here in 1977. Born in Lexington, Virginia in 1951, Mann is perhaps best known for Immediate Family, her photographic series and book that features artful and intimate photographs of her husband and three children in everyday moments. These evoke a mother’s inquisitive gaze at her own family within a dreamlike rural environment. Immediate Family helped redefine how we think about the complex relationships between a photographer and her subject. Her other major projects include Second Sight, At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women, and Mother Land: Recent Landscapes of Georgia and Virginia.
Mann’s work is produced in series that often unfold in poetic sequences of pictures. She combines sophisticated historical and aesthetic sensibilities with a highly personal, philosophical look at real life in the American South. Some of her photographs are fictional and some quite real, but they all connect her memories of a bucolic childhood growing up on her father’s Shenandoah farm to an innate, emotional feeling for the landscape.
Never one to shy away from challenging subject matter, Mann asks us in What Remains to contemplate the beauty and efficiency with which nature assimilates the body once life is over. Here she seamlessly connects the landscape of the earth to the topography of the body and examines how both are tightly interwoven. Yet she creates tension between the two. As the exhibition progresses, portrait faces of her children emerge from the darkness of the alchemical photographic process, surrounded by murky images of the landscape, as if struggling to become free of the earth that inevitably reclaims the body.