The Coffee Table

Mann’s Man

Recent photographs by Sally Mann in a beautifully reproduced volume, Proud Flesh

Book Cover Photographer Sally Mann’s newest monograph Proud Flesh served as the exhibition catalogue (ending October 31) for her recent show at Gagosian Gallery (her Manhattan and Hollywood representative) and is typically well published by Aperture. It’s a slender 64-page volume containing 33 tritone images. The only thing predictable about the images is that they are of thing(s) that are close to Ms. Mann—in this case, her husband of 39 years, Larry. Of course, Sally Mann’s work, highly original as it is, has provoked some controversy (she photographed her young children in ways that troubled some viewers). Poet C.D. Wright (who interestingly worked with photographer Deborah Luster, who spent more than a year taking photographs of prisoners in Louisiana, which resulted in One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana) contributes to this volume with something the publisher has labeled an essay but in the book is more accurately labeled a contribution, titled “Closer.” It opens:
Behold a man, the most familiar body outside one’s own (to which one pays less and less attention), as perfect in its imperfections as in its perfections. Immobile at eye level, faceless, speechless, the body of the husband, the momentous nearness of the body like something grafted to something not kin to itself, and yet the graft has taken, the invisible areas seen into, the visible obscured. What is he thinking? What leafs out in the long winter of the mind? With the curve of his back carved in half by an eclipse. Penumbra into which half a world disappears. Or the dark being drawn off, suctioned, just below the navel. Equally vulnerable and virile. How does it feel to go limp over the edge? Sore legs dangled at the sore knees from a rudimentary table like that in a field hospital, a patient from another era? To lie spent as a soldier on an old duvet? Or here, the torso mutating into a crucible of light?
Sally Mann’s photography has a stark and haunting beauty, eerie to behold and sometimes unsettling. And it is always worth more than a look.
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