Blackpaint 156


Sally Mann

I was hoping to do Sally Mann today, but Photographer’s Gallery closed on Monday.  Pity, because it sounds as if it sort of follows on from a couple of themes I’ve looked at in the last few blogs.  She takes antique-looking B and W pictures of her kids in the woods and riversides of Virginia.  The ones I’ve seen in the Observer and online look pretty risky, in the sense that stuff like this, naked and semi-naked kids, has been raided before in London on a complaint from the public; it might have been Mann’s photographs then, too.

The photos I’ve seen are posed, beautiful but sinister in the way that B and W photos set in woodland seem to be; looking at the Observer, they bring to mind Haneke’s “White Ribbon”, “Wisconsin Death Trip”, those Balka photos of the pond in the Polish wood (see Blackpaint 20 and 21).  It’s not just me, either; to quote Sean O’Hagan in the Observer, there is “an image entitled “The Terrible Picture”, in which one of her young daughters appears to be hanging by the neck from a tree”.

I suppose you could say that one of the functions of an artist is to confront terrible things that are part of human experience and to present them back to us in some form which embodies a truth or truths.  Whether or not Mann does this, I’ll have to wait and see, but I would have thought it takes some –  nerve?- to do this using images of your own children.  Superstition alone would stop me.

 If this weren’t enough, the other series of her photos shows decaying corpses at a Body Farm run by the University of Tennessee.  O’ Hagan asks two questions: should the scientists have let her take these photographs, and should they then be displayed as art.  I think the first question is tougher than the second; if I was the director of the Body Farm, I think I’d want permission of the relatives before letting some artist loose, especially if any of the corpses are recognisable.

As to the second, it’s not a problem for me.  We don’t see dead bodies all that often in Western society, so there’s an intrinsic interest. It’s going to happen to all of us sooner or later – or would do, if the undertakers didn’t get to us first – so it doesn’t seem to me to be totally ghoulish, just slightly morbid curiosity.  OK, then, on a Chamber of Horrors,  True Detective level; but whether it’s art…. I’ll go and see tomorrow.

Blackpaint

21.06.10

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