Sally Mann: Last Measure

New York

18 September — 15 November 2003

Press Release

Internationally acclaimed photographer Sally Mann, known for her intimate and strikingly candid portrayal of family life (Immediate Family), and two series of exquisite landscapes from the American South (Mother Land, and Deep South), has produced a powerful new body of work on the one subject that affects us all. In a five-part meditation on mortality, What Remains, Mann focuses her lens on the ineffable divide between body and soul to address the means by which life takes leave of this earth and the manner in which they are rejoined.

In LAST MEASURE - as just one aspect of What Remains’ conceptual ambition - Mann addresses how death can affect our perception of a specific place. Concurrently, it reflects society’s role in preserving hallowed ground, and ultimately, speaks to the process art plays in the sanctification of any such site.
“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—
that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which
they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain….”
– from The Gettysburg Address

In the summer of 2000, Mann began making pilgrimages to various Civil War battlefields (Antietam, Fredericksburg and Manasses, among others), wandering the very soil where lives were lost in record numbers … where Gardner, Brady and O’Sullivan tread before her with their cameras.

Unlike her 19th Century predecessors, however, Mann’s intentions were not to record the faces, operations, and ravages of the war. Rather, she sought to capture the experience of “…walking among the accretion of millions of remains - the bones, lives, souls, hopes, joys and fears that devolved into the earth - walking, in effect, on the shifting remains of humanity.” In doing so, Mann created LAST MEASURE, a spirited body of work charged with history, yet resonating with a somber beauty that is clearly the artist’s own.

Unique among her contemporaries, Mann has always enjoyed a reputation for technical virtuosity. This series proves no differently as she’s continued to challenge barriers and reinvent her approach. Gone are the warmth, and romantic Southern light - hallmarks of her earlier series; instead, viewers will encounter a radical shift to cool, moody, ashen tones. Unconventionally made from collodion wet-plate glass negatives (a process developed in the 1850s), the images are at once painterly and photographic, some approximating charcoal drawings or etchings. Adding yet another layer to the effects of the laborious developing and printing methods, Mann has created an unusual formula for varnishing each piece such that they have an inimitable object quality. As a result, LAST MEASURE stands as a masterful contribution to the genre of landscape photography as much as it pays tribute to the sites where men and women were returned to the earth.

Sally Mann is the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship and three NEA fellowships. Her work appears in the permanent collection of major international museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. In 2001, Time Magazine named her “America’s Best Photographer”. In 1991, her work was featured in the Biennial Exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Her past publications include Second Sight, At Twelve, Still Time, Immediate Family, and Mother Land. A documentary film about Mann’s family pictures was nominated for an Academy Award in 1993, directed by Steven Cantor, who is currently filming the HBO documentary to be aired in 2004. She was subject of two documentary programs aired on PBS, 2002.