I like to read for inspiration during the summer. On my bedside table this week, is Hold Still, A Memoir with Photographs, by Sally Mann. I have been a fan of her photography since I saw her first book, At Twelve, in the late 1980’s.
I enjoy reading biographies and memoirs. Finding a book about a contemporary photographer, particularly someone with whom I have also enjoyed numerous conversations, is especially interesting.
As a portrait photographer and as someone who attempts to document my family life, reading about Sally Mann’s life’s work – the internal struggles and the delicate balance it requires as a photographer, a mother and a wife – is a master’s class on living a creative life.
Originally organized for the Massey Lectures at Harvard University, the stories show us a complex family tree of relationships, love affairs, drug use, race and morality dramas and maybe even “murder.” I was particularly curious how living in the modern south – with a heritage that goes much deeper – influences her work as a photographer, at least in the fashion of her unique lifestyle on her family farm in Lexington, Virginia, where a river literally runs through it. Mixed in are the back-stories to some of the most controversial of her family photos, as well as her work practices and inner thoughts as she diligently approaches her photography.
I am only half way through the book but seeing her work through the process of making 8×10 plates we learn to hold still for a moment. The lesson of Mann photographing her son, Emmett, in the Maury River again and again, dragging her cumbersome 8×10 camera and tripod back into the water to capture the right moment of subject, light and composition is a prime example of tenacity and intention that is worth a discussion in my Portrait photography class.
Hold Still, is a new type of Memoir; one that mixes the history of one’s family tree and explains both the emotional thought process and the working processes of an artist. I am anxious to read my way through to the end for a few more lessons.
Up next, Lynsey Addario It’s What I Do.