Art or Pornography? The Life and Work of Sally Mann

Art or Pornography?  The Life and Work of Sally Mann

Sally Mann is an American photographer who has pushed the limits of black and white fine art. Early in her career, Sally captured both real and staged moments of her children's youth that quickly became subject of much controversy. Immediate Family, a collection of images of her children under the age of 10, showcased mainly normal, happy childhood moments. However other images featured her kids unclothed with themes of depression, anxiety, and even death. Obviously Sally's work sparked strong emotions, and the debate about what is exploitation and what is art became synonymous with her name. The acclaimed What Remains: The Life and Work of Sally Mann is an interesting documentary that focuses on Sally's work and how she approaches her craft. Now a praised nature photographer, Sally discusses her contraversal early images as well as many of her current projects including landscapes in the deep south and portraits of her husband as he deals with muscular dystrophy. Check out Sally Mann's bookstore for great reading material from this revolutionary photographer.

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Fabulous! Her personality is even more fascinating than her work! Well, words are not enough to describe what i felt watching this. :)

Patrick, thank you very much. I really hope you'll keep bringing us stories about the great artists of photography.

Brilliant doc. on on of the great contemporary photographers, Sally Mann.

Gary's picture

Thanks for hosting this documentary. I've only caught snatches of info about her work and it was great to hear her story in her voice.

Fascinating, inspiring, wonderful.

Thank You.

Anthony Luke's picture

Fantastic! If you like this please drop on over for a visit to my blog for more on fine art photographers, photo history and professional photography insights.!Anthony

A beautiful documentary, thanks for posting. And of course it answers your leading question whether Sally Mann's work is art. There can be no question about that. It's sad that fstoppers too, blow the same trumpet of mass media in trying to box her into the CP corner, just because of a few controversial images. Art has always been controversial. Of course one can ask if these were necessary to make and what they communicate. One should ask these question. If you look at her body of work though, her artistic process, the thoughts and framework, that question is, in my mind, just populism to get an attention-grabbing headline. However, the fact that you posted the whole docu, shows that you know that, that you too understand that - which is good to see. Just then why is there the need to even try to tap into this. "The life and work of Sally Mann", would have been a apt title by itself. Thankfully the docum explains this. 

Patrick Hall's picture

Well I must say I worded the title so it grabs your attention...many people might not watch these videos with a less provocative title :)  I know how talented Sally Mann is no doubt!

I like when you guys post these documentaries of various photographers.
They're very inspiring and uplifting. Thanks and keep it up.

I love this one; of the greatest post by fstoppers ever!!!!!

Wow, There are so many people taking photos today that really need to look outside of what they are shooting. Sallies ART is truly amazing and inspirational, not just her photos but here attitude to photography.

Wow, There are so many people taking photos today that really need to
look outside of what they are shooting. Sallies ART is truly amazing and inspirational, not just her photos but here attitude to photography.

What an awesome woman.  I admire the intensity and especially the intimacy of her work.

What an awesome woman.  I admire the intensity and especially the intimacy of her work.

Its funny how context is everything in this situation.  Take the same photos, perhaps not as beautifully achieved and done by a different person and you might have child pornography.  But looking at her body of work, it was stunning and really powerful.  The moments make you stop in your tracks.  I really love the expression in "Damaged Child".  Another great is "Candy Cigarette".  Also, show me porno made with a 8x10 view camera...Now you have to think about purpose.

Great find.  

I'm over whelmed, an excellent documentry, well shot. I wonder if I will ever feel or experience such the intensity that would inspire me to produce such evocative and relevant legacy to touch the world so deeply?
Thank you FStoppers for sharing this story.

One Love

Such of incredible life work or should I say work of life. This documentary changes my perspective about Sally Mann. The last time I came across one of her pictures at a book store, it was the photo of her daughter holding a cigarette on her left hand and  I immediately put the book back on the shelf fearing I could be accused of watching kiddie porn. 

Thanks so much for posting this! I feel underwhelmed by my own photos after watching this but at the same time very inspired to keep taking photos and to push the boundaries.

Sean Shimmel's picture

Sally's one of them.

I call them "Magic Intellectuals" and even have a folder on my laptop to save links and images and quotes.

What's a Magic Intellectual? Some great figure who transcends their own specific discipline with unusual giftedness all around with how they see and interact with life. From cellist Pablo Casals or doctor Albert Schweitzer, they all possess intriguing distinctives:

1. Broad references: she draws from everything from Proust to the Civil War and beyond.

2. Vocabulary: Deftly capturing her subtle thoughts. "Gravitas" "Ennui" "Undulate"

3. Similes and Metaphors (yep, back to English 101): the soil and ground "drinks" the felon's blood

4. Intriguing, quirky life: three hours petting their dog; greyhound's bones as art; 2.5 hours just staring out the window with her husband.

5. Deep reflection: remembering her father's influence... the Art is All Around You book, the phallus sculpture, the iconography of death.

In a world of traveling Rock Star seminars and Photoshop actions, she diverges and meanders in her own magical way.

This was the most worthless post ever...not once did she say what f stop she used :)


I LOVE SALLY, MANNNNNN!!!!!!!! Her voice, her explanations: never a hint of BS...
True, genuine, amazing...

Truly stunning glimpse into her life and her thoughts. Well worth any photographer's time to sit and watch.

Sergio Toff's picture

So many true moments! The World's Got Talent. Thank you for sharing.

naved ahmed's picture

thank you very much for sharing this :)

A wonderful documentary.inspiring.

A. David Verde's picture

She lives in my Hometown... You'd never see her... but she lives out in the county. cool stuff.. I've heard her home studio is sick with medium and large format cameras all over.

I think your use of the word " pornography " in the title is extremely disrespectful of such a talented artist. If that's what you need to do to get people's attention as a writer, perhaps you should consider another line of work....

I think you underestimate people's disinterest in things. "Normal" titles barely get any attention at all from readers. Unfortunately.

She is by far my favorite artist/photographer. I would be extremely happy if one day i could hang at least one of her pictures on my wall. 

Gokhan Cukurova's picture

she is incredible but this story is being sold everytime blogs run out of ideas. :(