I was encouraged to look at the work of Sally Mann in the context of the Language of Light in photography. Jiang’s interview gives some fascinating and candid insights into the work and thoughts of Mann but here, I just focus on the aspect of light.
Mann’s images are often high contrast, deliberately to the detriment of detail. She says, ‘I am less interested in the facts of a picture than in the feelings. The facts don’t have to be absolutely sharp. I can get information across by appealing to viewer’s emotions.’
Mann talks about the quality of the light in the southern states of America, where the majority of her work is photographed:
….. Also, the light in the South is so different from the North, where you have this crisp and clear light. There is no mystery in that light. Everything is revealed in the Northern light. You have to live in the South to understand the difference. In summer, the quality of the air and light are so layered, complex, and mysterious, especially in the late afternoon. I was able to catch the quality of that light in a lot of the photos.
She talks about the place of light, not just the time in the day. Even within the confines of the UK, I notice a difference in the quality of the light in Somerset, where I grew up, and my present home in North Yorkshire. As in Mann’s description, the light is more complex in the south with hazes and layers. A different place, a different quality of light. And within each place a different quality of light depending on the time of day.
Mann uses the metaphor of ‘catching’ the light, as if it were a ball. This is a stark contrast to what I discovered in my recent research on Henri Cartier-Bresson, who valued composition above everything else and considered light as almost coincidental. Different voices, different times, different places, different approaches.
I looked at Mann’s images on her website, and am impressed by the use of extremes of tone, including areas of what appear to be complete blackness and areas where highlights appear to be blown to white. But are they? That would create blank white paper areas when printed – does that work? Something I try to avoid. I need to see some of her images in print to explore further.
Jiang R (2010). Chinese Photography magazine. An interview with Sally Mann – “the touch of an angel” [online at www. americansubrbx.com]. Available from http://www.americansuburbx.com/2013/01/interview-sally-mann-the-touch-of-an-angel-2010.html [accessed 19.5.15]
http://sallymann.com [accessed 20.5.15]