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Saturday, 02 January 2016


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Not fair to compare Maier to Heath, both are very different. I have the Heath book and it takes pride of place my collection of books, Michael Torosian who was involved in this project and his company Lumiere Press, Toronto is worth a look, I own several of his marvellous books.
Good job Mike for keeping Photography books alive.

I received both of these for Christmas. Just finished the Mann book this morning. One sign that I'm into a book is that I want to keep telling my wife some of the stories, and that's what happened with this one.

The Heath book looks great too. Fun to see the editing sequences and how liberal he was with cropping sometimes. It's a big book and I'll read it in waves.

I agree on "Hold Still." She'll probably get the Pulitzer for Biography, (or at least she should).
Disagree on "Multitude, Solitude." Great printing does not necessarily make great photographs. While it's one of the most beautifully crafted books on photography that I've seen, unfortunately the images are mundane (except for the book cover and the Gene Smith Thelonious Monk portrait, p.258).

'I'm of the opinion that everyone should write a memoir of their own life, to witness their own stories and their life and times'

I'm 69 now and blessed with a fantastic memory, and hundreds of photos, bequeathed from my father, a keen photographer, my uncle, who became a newspaper photog, and my own self images, at least one from each year of my life, usually many more. I've just finished a 40 page Photobook called OK So Far, of these images, but I'm very conscious of the need to write my story as well as illustrate it. I intend starting 'next week'.

A problem is keeping the distinction between a memoir and an autobiography. My autobiography would encompass a lot of pain and I almost get hostility when I mention the idea to friends. I think I have the wrong type of friends. It'll be hard to keep to one path or the other.

I got two photo books for Christmas, one the Heath, the second the new volume of Jane Bown's work. They are in many ways similar, but I recommend the Bown over the Heath. True, it is about British life and people, and I have lived here for many many years, so I may be biased. But to my eye, her eye is fresher and more open, using her absolute minimal means — natural light always, no meter, same Olympus 35mm for almost all shots — to make her work for the Observer constantly enlightening. It is as if the printed page opens to become transparent. Wow.

Interesting admission for Eliott James...some of Sally Mann's pictures have made me uncomfortable as well, but I can't figure out if it's the new norm of modern society, or salacious interest. I don't remember back in the day, of being so uncomfortable with Jock Sturges work, but again in his case (as well as Mann's), why do we even need to see this as art? Is the only thing that qualifies this as art is that you're calling yourself an artist? Or you have a liberal or fine art education and were looking for something to do while you were having kids? Why do naked pictures, in black and white, of your kids qualify as art? Which reminds me of the old joke about knowing Woody Allen was an artist because he made films in black & white.

I've been a photographer far longer than Sally Mann, but I don't know if I would have taken naked pictures of my kids for public distribution as "art". It is apparent that Mann has made whatever statement she needs to about it because of the book being published, and the back-up stores in the NYT and all (and it's been hashed out over the internet forever); but also having been around artists all my life, and listening to a lot of verbal rationalizations from those people, it's really not going to be parsed out in our lifetimes.

An art director I knew, that had an exceedingly focused fine art education, told me one time that you got high marks in the courses he attended not for doing superlative impactful and high-quality work, but for your ability to defend it verbally! Which counters the idea in commercial work that whatever you're showing in your portfolio better stand on it's own without any verbal explanation!

Anyway Eliott James, feel free to think any way you want about Sally Mann, the world won't know if she was an artist until we're a couple of generations removed.

My copy just landed. It's heavy, physically and, by the look of it it'll be heavy on the mind too.

My initial reaction to the pictures I've flipped through was the same as Bills, there's a lot of pictures in there that just don't leap of the page, there's a lot of repetition and as a very positive, connected person, the subject feels heavy going.

But I'm very conscious that sometimes you have to put in the work and get beyond enjoyment to find appreciation. I had to study Albert Tucker in high school art class and although I hated his work, I ultimately came to appreciate the artist and through that, his response to the world. I get that feeling from Heath; and I think it's really vital to be open to work that challenges you. It's a prompt to get curious about your self.

I think you can go a long way to understanding what you value in art and in your work, and what your own approach to it should be by spending some time looking at the work you would never do.

> Why do naked pictures, in black and white, of your kids qualify as art?

The obvious counter is why do they not? But I think your question is extremely valid. Why did you make this work? What are you responding to? Why are you showing it? What are you getting at? What am I responding to in it?

The key to unlocking art, whether it's art you immediately respond to or art you don't, is understanding what the artist is getting at. Sometimes that's intuitive, sometimes it needs some explaining to open it up, sometimes — a lot of the time — it's a dialogue: there's something there, but it's hard to know what it is. That takes some getting to, and I think that's where the time (decades, generations, whatever) comes in. You get to look at the work and the society it was made in with some perspective.

What strikes me with Sally Mann's work with her kids in particular, is the well developed sense that the artwork captures something larger than the people in it. The photos aren't "pictures of her kids", although her kids are definitely in them. The beautiful thing, I think, is that the Mann children themselves seem to have this sense — the difference between themselves, themselves as a symbol and the the thing their form is signifying in the work (childhood, innocence, vulnerability, latent sexuality). That's incredibly courageous and mature; not many adults ever attain that view.

I forgot to say, my favourite commentator on that topic (who's in the picture vs what the subject actually is) was Richard Avedon. There was documentary in which he addressed the issue he was having where people who appeared in his portraits would say 'But that's not me!'

And he responded by saying, 'No, it's not; but you can't deny you were there!'


I'm about 1/4 through Hold Still and I absolutely love it! She eloquently describes much of what I love about photography but have difficulty packaging in my own mind.

I loved Immediate Family and found nothing in there to be remotely upsetting, yet I know 15 years ago that would not have been my view. As a parent and photographer, my favorite subject matter, my primary long-term project, is my family.

I'm envious of her matter-of-fact view of nudity that is free of all of the paroquial tensions and religious-based taboo that most of us were raised with. And not just nudity but that there seems to be no barrier between her photography and anything she viewed or experienced as a Mother.

Photographing anything and everything was a completely natural extension of her life and that is very liberating. How often as photographer you fight for the buy-in of your subjects. Not necessarily cooperation, but to simply be ignored and allowed to photograph the world around us as it exists. I'm not sure she even recognized anything controversial about what she was shooting. It was just regular everyday life and times of a family. The reality that her life and times, and her willingness to document and share her images of those, made others uncomfortable probably came as a shock.

I see the word courageous used to describe her images quite a lot. and I agree. It's courageous to shoot the images, publish the images, be in the images and to write an honest memoir.

I do really like her images. But I like why she made them and how she made them even more.

Mike, would you consider publishing this list in early December? Then we could give not so subtle hints to significant others and friends what we want for Christmas. My wife bought me this Sally Mann book after Christmas after I showed her this article.

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