Published by Little, Brown on May 12th 2015
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Like many artists, American photographer Sally Mann is best known for her most controversial work. In the early 1990’s, Mann released a collection of photos called Immediate Family, which focused on her three young children. Taken on the family’s remote Virginia farm, the photographs show her children playing, swimming, and existing in their natural childlike state, which—in the hot Southern weather—often happened nude. As quickly as Mann was praised for her work, she was also criticized; people across the country saw the pictures as little more than pornography and couldn’t wait to tear her down. In her new memoir, Hold Still, Sally Mann traces her life and career prior to the infamous photographs, as well as the impact they had on every moment since.
In theory, Hold Still shouldn’t work. It’s close to 500 pages, meanders its way into almost unbelievable territory, and isn’t written chronologically. But somehow, almost like Mann’s artwork, the oddities are what give the book its magic. The high page count is tempered with dozens of photographs that illustrate Mann’s life, while the overarching, thematic story feels forward-moving, despite its wayward chronology.
“Part of the artist’s job is to make the commonplace singular, to project a different interpretation onto the conventional. With the family pictures, I may have done some of that. In particular I think they tapped into some below-the-surface cultural unease about what it is to be a child, bringing into the dialog questions of innocence and threat and fear and sensuality and calling attention to the limitations of widely held views on childhood (and motherhood).”
Though she touches on a number of fascinating topics, the highlight of Hold Still is reading Mann’s thoughts as she looks back on Immediate Family. She breaks down how the photos were taken, her mindset while taking them, and the fallout of their publication. This grows into an intriguing discussion of the purpose of art and criticism that Mann puts into incredibly powerful words, braced by the beautiful portrait she paints of her family. Both longtime fans and readers previously unfamiliar with Mann’s work are sure to find the life she shares in Hold Still endlessly engaging and fascinating.