March 23, 2007
The last two days have been a whirlwind: bringing Sally Mann, the famed Virginia photographer, into town for a "Ladies Luncheon" conversation about her life and work. Our event coincided with the Corcoran Gallery screening of a new documentary, "What Remains," directed by Steve Cantor. Cantor was given unlimited access to the Mann family, accumulating over 400 *hours* of footage, and the result is an illuminating film. What a force of nature this woman is--a woman who knows the value of her time, and isn't afraid to let you know it. Meeting her left me both charmed and immensely respectful.
One resonant observation she made, during an interview with the curator Philip Brookman, was how her "Deep South" landscape series is predicted within the evolution of her preceding work. To paraphrase, looking at the photographs of her children (the "controversial" Immediate Family series, which went on for about 10 years), in later shots the children began to recede from the foreground, further and further back in each finished frame. Eventually they existed less as distinct charaters and more as shadows, silhouettes, counterpoints to a larger scene. And it was then that Sally realized her focus, as a photographer, had shifted to place rather than person.
I'd be curious to find an equivalent in poetry. Did you ever have what started as a minor motif come to loom larger and larger in a poetic series, until you realized you'd committed to a whole new subject?