A Memoir With PhotographsBook - 2015
ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR The New York Times , Washington Post , The San Francisco Chronicle , Vogue , NPR , Publishers Weekly , BookPage
A revealing and beautifully written memoir and family history from acclaimed photographer Sally Mann.
In this groundbreaking book, a unique interplay of narrative and image, Mann's preoccupation with family, race, mortality, and the storied landscape of the American South are revealed as almost genetically predetermined, written into her DNA by the family history that precedes her.
Sorting through boxes of family papers and yellowed photographs she finds more than she bargained for: "deceit and scandal, alcohol, domestic abuse, car crashes, bogeymen, clandestine affairs, dearly loved and disputed family land . . . racial complications, vast sums of money made and lost, the return of the prodigal son, and maybe even bloody murder."
In lyrical prose and startlingly revealing photographs, she crafts a totally original form of personal history that has the page-turning drama of a great novel but is firmly rooted in the fertile soil of her own life.
From the critics
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I believe that photographs actually rob all of us of our memory.
…we can only hope that the evocative Welsh word hiraeth will be preserved. It means ‘distant pain’, and I know all about it…But, and this is important, it always refers to a near-umbilical attachment to a place, not just free-floating nostalgia or a droopy houndlike wistfulness of the longing we associate with human love. No, this is a word about the pain of loving a place.
I will confess that in the interest of narrative I secretly hoped I'd find a payload of southern gothic: deceit and scandal, alcoholism, domestic abuse, car crashes, bogeymen, clandestine affairs, dearly loved and disputed family land, abandonments, blow jobs, suicides, hidden addictions, the tragically early death of a beautiful bride, racial complications, vast sums of money made and lost, the return of a prodigal son, and maybe even bloody murder. If any of this stuff lay hidden in my family history, I had the distinct sense I'd find it in those twine-bound boxes in the attic. And I did: all of it and more.
Photographs economize the truth; they are always moments more or less illusorily abducted from time's continuum.
The proverbial hospitality of the South may be selectively extended but it is not a myth.
I smoked, I drank, I skipped classes, I snuck out, I took drugs, I stole quarts of ice cream for my dorm by breaking into the kitchen storerooms, I made out with my boyfriends in the library basement, I hitchhiked into town and down I-91, and when caught, I weaseled out of all of it.
Of the predictably biblical, epic, and derisive negotiations involved in establishing a value for the farm, the less said the better. Only a gorgeous piece of good land can provoke that kind of piercing despair and dispute. Failed loves, complicated family relationships, broken hearts, errant children, lost lives-- nothing so engages a southern heart as a good piece of family land.
One of the theories about why so few successful practitioners of the plastic arts come from the South holds that the heat stultifies us. There is some truth to this, though it may also be time-related; I believe we in the South have a different sense of time and its exigencies.
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