Photos by Sally Mann; Produced by Bilal Qureshi and Claire O’Neill
From NPR’s All Things Considered, an interview by Melissa Block with Sally Mann about her work and series ‘Proud Flesh’
It’s almost dreamlike the way we move; each one of us knew what we had to do and we weren’t talking. But there was something very quiet, very loving about the whole process — his willingness to go through it and also his encouragement of me.
– Sally Mann
An excerpt NPR’s All Things Considered:
Down in her photography studio close by the house, there are lots of windows and a pungent chemical smell. — ether.
Sally says it smells like her art.
It’s here that she took some of her latest photographs of Larry, moody black and white nude studies of his form.
“It’s almost oneiric, it’s almost dreamlike the way we move; each one of us knew what we had to do and we weren’t talking,” Sally says. “But there was something very quiet, very loving about the whole process — his willingness to go through it and also his encouragement of me.”
Sally photographed Larry using a cumbersome process that goes back to the 1850s: collodion wet plate, creating a large-format negative image on glass, not film.
She shoots with antique view cameras from the early 1900s, the kind where you duck under a cloth to take the picture. They have hulking wooden frames, accordion-like bellows and long brass lenses held together with tape, with mold growing inside. She says she loves that. It softens the light, makes the pictures timeless.
“I’m just the opposite of a lot of photographers who want everything to be really, really sharp and they’re always stopping it down to F64 and they like detail and they look with their magnifying glass to make sure everything’s really sharp,” she says. “I don’t want any of that. I want it to be mysterious.”
And the mystery comes through in the images — an intimate series called “Proud Flesh” — with milky light and shadow playing across her husband’s body.
Sally says a good picture often comes at the expense of the sitter. That exploitation is at the root of it, even when it’s your husband.
“And he was willing to make himself so vulnerable,” she says. “Cause the series wasn’t so much about his illness and the degradation of his body and muscle as it was just a paean, just a love story. But you couldn’t avoid looking at the waste of his right leg and his left arm. And he was completely willing to show that, which is extraordinary.”
Sally says they didn’t talk about the process very much.
“I’ll be interested to hear what he says about, as a matter of fact, isn’t that funny?” she says. “No, we didn’t talk about it — we just started taking the pictures. He would say, ‘Let’s take some pictures this week.’ He would always encourage it. He’s really brave.”