We pottered off on another intensive gallery day in London a couple of weeks ago: Photographer's, National Portrait and Saatchi. First two were spectacular, the less said about the Saatchi the better.
First Stop: Photographer's Gallery.
Lovely little gallery off Oxford Street, always full of unexpected gems!
I'd never seen any of Sally Mann's work on show before, just teeny thumbnails of it, and I can tell you that with her work size really does matter.
The first of the rooms was dedicated to her series Faces, taken of her children using a long exposure on an antique camera. These huge images are dotted with imperfections – a result of Mann's dedication to antique cameras and equally old development techniques – but these delicate marks and scratches add an almost tactile feel to the pieces.
All the work in this show is refreshing as it is so far removed from the clean-cut, Photoshopped photography we see everywhere today. As you can see in a video which is incorporated into the exhibition, Mann's only editing techniques involve shading parts of the images using her arms and hands: a human dodge and burn tool.
The film piece is definitely worth a look, don't be put off by the "80 Minutes" sign outside the door – we stayed for about half an hour and what we did see was great, we were just in a but of a hurry. It gives you a unique insight into how and why Mann makes the images she does and the problems she has faced over the years with her sometimes controversial images.
I don't want to give too much away but if you do go and you do watch the film you'll definitely feel privileged to see the work as it appears that even for a photographer and artist of her calibre, getting work exhibited is much more easily said than done.
Faces is followed by more equally beautiful images taken using a variety of antique cameras, the subject matter varies from older images of Mann's children when they were young to her recent series entitled What Remains depicting anonymous decomposing bodies. This appears to be a morbid end to the exhibition, however shown along side Mann's striking images of youth and beautifully organic landscapes What Remains seems a natural part of this exhibition which celebrates life, death and the natural cycle of the two.
So…Sally Mann: refreshing, talented and brave. It's great to see an artist who chooses, develops and finishes every piece of their work themselves and important to see how using such lo-tech equipment can result in such incredible pieces.
Maybe I won't buy a new DSLR after all…..