Biography

Sally Mann’s rich and varied career as a photographer has seen her focus on architecture, landscape and still life, but she is known above all for her intimate portraits of her family, and in particular her young children. Her work has attracted controversy at times, but it has always been influential, and since her the time of her first solo exhibition, at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., in 1977, she has attracted a wide audience.

Sally Mann explored various genres as she was maturing in the 1970s: she produced landscapes and architectural photography, and she blended still life with elements of portraiture. But she truly found her metier with her second publication, a study of girlhood entitled At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women (1988). And, between 1984 and 1991, she worked on what is undoubtedly her most famous series, Immediate Family (1992), which focuses on her three children, who were then all aged under ten. Whilst the series touches on ordinary moments in their daily lives – playing, sleeping, eating – it also speaks to larger themes such as sexuality and death.

Mann has always remained close to her roots, and she has photographed the American South for many years, producing two major series, Deep South (Bullfinch Press, 2005) and Mother Land. In What Remains (Bullfinch Press, 2003), she assembled a five-part study of mortality, one which ranges from pictures of the decomposing body of her beloved pet greyhound, to the site where an armed fugitive committed suicide on her property in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. 

She has often experimented with color photography, but she has remained most interested in photography’s antique technology. She has long used an 8x10 bellows camera, and has explored platinum and bromoil printing processes. In the mid 1990s she began using the wet collodion process to produce pictures which almost seem like hybrids of photography, painting, and sculpture.

Sally Mann lives and works in Lexington, Virginia. A Guggenheim fellow, and a three-time recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, Mann was named “America’s Best Photographer” by Time magazine in 2001. She has been the subject of two documentaries: Blood Ties (1994), which was nominated for an Academy Award, and What Remains (2007). She has been the subject of major exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.. Her photographs can be found in many public and private collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Museum of Modern Art; and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

In 2018 the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. and the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA mounted a major mid-career retrospective exhibition, Sally Mann: A Thousand Crossings, exploring how her relationship with the South has shaped her work. Consisting of some 125 photographs, many of which have not been exhibited or published previously, offer both a sweeping overview of Mann’s artistic achievement and a focused exploration on the continuing influence of the South on her work. Mann’s powerful and provocative work is organized into five sections: family, landscape, battlefields, legacy, and mortality. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog with essays that explore the development of Mann’s art; her family photographs; contemporary representations of the black body; the landscape as repository of cultural and personal memory; and Mann’s debt to 19th-century photographers and techniques. The exhibition was on view at the National Gallery of Art from 4 March – 28 May 2018 and is traveling through 2020 to the following institutions: Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris; and High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA.