I don’t often read memoirs, but this one very obviously and quite literally jumped out at me when I was perusing a local bookstore in St. Louis recently. Sally Mann! My photography hero and life-long inspiration — here, her whole life so far, told in her beautiful flowing words in her new memoir, Hold Still.
As a child, I distinctly remember her staying with us overnight and even back then, before Immediate Family came out, I was at once star struck and immediately put at ease by her strength and charisma. I remember nothing but a glimpse of her as she graciously accepted my older sister’s room for the night, and that was that. Darn fleeting childhood memory.
But years later, when I was old enough to notice and really appreciate art, I remember being completely floored and inspired by At Twelve and Immediate Family, photography that spoke to my soul and has since inspired the (very basic) photography of my own children. Sometimes the essence of people stays with you your whole life, and Sally Mann’s life work has touched so many in this way.
Her memoir does not disappoint. It is incredibly well-written, its pages filled with intelligent insights, family stories that run the gamut of emotions, photographs, her take on the controversies that made her a household name, and even notes from her children. She is unapologetic but also human, an open and refreshingly honest storyteller. A passage I particularly enjoyed was this, Mann’s take on the elusive “good picture” and the perception of the artist:
If Proust-like genius were the prerequisite for art, then statistically speaking very little of it would exist. Art is seldom the result of true genius; rather, it is the product of hard work and skills learned and tenaciously practiced by regular people. In my case, I practice my skills despite repeated failures and self-doubt so profound it can masquerade outwardly as conceit. It’s not heroic in any way. To the contrary, it’s plodding, obdurate effort. I make bad picture after bad picture week after week until the relief comes: the good new picture that offers benediction.
So inspiring! If you’re familiar with Mann’s work, I think you’d really enjoy her memoir. It’s a must-read.
Next up, I need to watch the documentary, What Remains: The Life and Work of Sally Mann. See trailer below, and have a wonderful day, wherever you find inspiration.