Thursday, December 24, 2015

Review - Hold Still by: Sally Mann

Title: Hold Still
Author: Sally Mann
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Pages: 496
Format: Hardcover
Source: Personal purchase



A revealing and beautifully written memoir and family history from acclaimed photographer Sally Mann. 

In this groundbreaking book, a unique interplay of narrative and image, Mann's preoccupation with family, race, mortality, and the storied landscape of the American South are revealed as almost genetically predetermined, written into her DNA by the family history that precedes her.

Sorting through boxes of family papers and yellowed photographs she finds more than she bargained for: "deceit and scandal, alcohol, domestic abuse, car crashes, bogeymen, clandestine affairs, dearly loved and disputed family land . . . racial complications, vast sums of money made and lost, the return of the prodigal son, and maybe even bloody murder."

In lyrical prose and startlingly revealing photographs, she crafts a totally original form of personal history that has the page-turning drama of a great novel but is firmly rooted in the fertile soil of her own life.

My thoughts:

Among mandatory classes I had to take in college, there was Documentary Photography. As if it wasn't enough to spend most of my money on a manual Nikon camera, the pring papers and film also helped empty out my small bank account. Leaving that aside, I'm the kind of person who's passionate about creating photographs with words ever since I was little. Accordingly, I'd chosen journalism as my focus in college, so I didn't understand why I was being forced to create visual stories when I felt like I should be focusing on writing. Moreover, I cannot draw at all, I'm not the kind of person who goes, "This is so beautiful; wish I had a camera." This was among the reasons why I was also scared, thinking that I might fail the class.

During that semester, I burned lots of films in the dark room, I had to go out and try to capture what I lost many, many times, while printing the pictures, I ruined my favorite shirts with all the chemicals. While 1/10 of my photographs were suitable for sharing in class, the rest remained neglected in the washed negatives. Of course, the class also did add value to my life in general: my term project was voted #1 among my classmates. And then, one night, when I printed the same picture over and over again and still couldn't get the exposure right, I ended up having a crying fit in the hallway. That's when I met the love of my life who offered to help me out. And, getting back to the review, Documentary Photography was also the class that introduced me to Sally Mann and made me fall in love with her.

In class, while our professor was talking about Sally Mann, he showed us photographs from the Sally Mann: Immediate Family, which consisted of pictures of her family that she took on their farm in Virginia. Before telling us the story, he waited for us to examine the pictures. While looking at them, all I could think was this: "They've had a wonderful childhood in nature; free and fun and serene and they have magical pictures to remember those times." 

However, because most people are dirty-minded and interpret innocence as evil, there came a lot of contraversy with the publication of Sally Mann: Immediate Family photographs. Sally Mann was accused of being a pedophile. Because her children were involved, she mostly stayed silent when it came to the press, therefore I only knew about one side of the story. In Hold Still, I got to see what she went through during that period, and how that got her to question the meanings of art, family and society. I honestly loved Sally Mann even more after reading the book, and, at the same time, I was even more disgusted by most of my fellow humans.

Of course, I started talking about the part of the book that was the most interesting to me, but Sally Mann's story isn't limited to this, of course. We listen to stories about her childhood, teenage years, her family from her point-of-view, and witness the love he has for her hometown, Virginia, through her words and her pictures. And we question life, family, love, society and ourselves with her.

I found myself questioning mostly what art is. Who decides that art is "art?" When something is dubbed art, is it really art? For example, Sally Mann has taken a lot of landscape pictures in Virginia. If I go and capture the same frame with the same camera, am I making art? Or, if Sally Mann took a picture of me (I WISH!), would it be art? If it is, is my passport photo art as well? In that case, is the photo the art or am I the art?