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A Landscape of Loss and Neglect by Sally Mann: November Collection Highlight

See how legendary artist Sally Mann captured the South’s fraught history in haunting landscape photographs.

By Eva Berlin, Digital Content Specialist, High Museum of Art

Video by Ashley Wills

In the video above, Sally Mann discusses how she captured her work Untitled. This work is part of the Motherland series currently on view in Picturing the South: 25 Years (on view through February 6, 2022).

Discussing Motherland, Mann wrote, “These photographs are about memory and time and the still point at which they intersect. . . . for me, making these images was a dizzying, time-unraveling spiral into the radical light of the South. . . . I noted the ways we compose history’s beautiful lie.”

Mann described the atmospheric qualities of her photographs as “almost pure vapor: the whiff of dark loss and neglect.” Sally Mann (American, born 1951), Untitled, 1996, gelatin silver print.

To create the moody, melancholic effect seen in these landscape photographs, Mann experimented with nineteenth-century barrel lenses and orthochromatic film — a rarely used film that is sensitive to blue wavelengths of light and distinct for rendering scenes in high contrast. After years of employing a refined and precise technique, she found the unpredictability of these materials and the radiant quality of light they yielded creatively liberating.

Mann with a large format camera outfitted with a barrel lens; Outside the gates at Wormsloe Historic Site in Savannah, Georgia.

Mann created the series Motherland as part of the Picturing the South commission, which she received from the High Museum of Art in 1996. For her commission, Mann decided to photograph in and around Savannah, the oldest city in Georgia. The resulting landscapes depict overgrown plantation houses, rambling farms, and Civil War battle sites. A lifelong resident of Lexington, Virginia, Sally Mann has placed the Southern landscape and the region’s laden history at the center of a provocative inquiry into the essence of American identity.

This work is one of over 18,000 in our rotating collection. They’re all here for you!

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