ExhibitionsSally Mann: A Thousand Crossings
Past Exhibition

Sally Mann: A Thousand Crossings

October 19 – December 16, 2019

For more than forty years, Sally Mann (American, born 1951) has made experimental and haunting photographs that explore the overarching themes of existence: memory, desire, death, the bonds of family, and nature’s indifference to human endeavor. What unites this broad body of work is that it is all bred of a place, the American South. A native of Lexington, Virginia, Mann has long reflected on what it means to live in the South and be identified as a Southerner.

Mann uses her deep love of her birthplace and her knowledge of its troubled history to make photographs that pose provocative questions about history, identity, race, and religion. Sally Mann: A Thousand Crossings explores how her relationship with the land has shaped her work and how the legacy of the South—as both homeland and graveyard, refuge and battleground—continues to inform American identity.

Easter Dress

Easter Dress, 1986
Gelatin silver print
Patricia and David Schulte
Image © Sally MannMann’s daughter Jessie holds aloft the skirt of a white dress originally worn by Mann herself and made by Jessie’s great-grandmother and namesake. The scattered and seemingly haphazard composition suggests that Mann snapped the picture on the fly. In fact, Mann used a large-format camera on a tripod, and the scene was rehearsed multiple times until she achieved the desired tension between the peripheral figures, who all face different directions, and Jessie, who looks directly into the camera.

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On the Maury

On the Maury, 1992
Gelatin silver print
Private collection
Image © Sally MannThe Maury River, site of exploration, amusement, and physical daring, played a central role in the lives of Mann and her family. It also assumes a significant position in her photographs, signifying themes of transition, the passage time, and death. Here, the family appears like explorers drifting downstream as the river propels them into the future, away from the camera’s reach.

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Deep South, Untitled (Three Drips)

Deep South, Untitled (Three Drips), 1998
Gelatin silver print
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of the Collectors Committee and The Sarah and William L Walton Fund
Image © Sally MannIn her family pictures, Mann strove for a precision that would, as she put it, “out-Ansel the most meticulous Adams.” With the landscapes, she stopped looking to photographers such as Ansel Adams and instead began to experiment, using faulty antique lenses and high-contrast Ortho film to capture what she called the “radical light of the American South.” Because this film could be developed while illuminated with a safelight, she was able to see the negative as it emerged in the developing solution. Mann also welcomed accidental chemical drips, as on this print, which intensify the sense of a scene disappearing before our eyes.

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Virginia, Untitled (Niall’s River)

Virginia, Untitled (Niall’s River), 1994
Gelatin silver print
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Promised Gift of Stephen G. Stein Employee Benefit Trust
Image © Sally MannWhen Mann first started photographing the landscape, she began to pay keen attention to the unremarkable and the overlooked. She described scenes like this simple bend in the river as “places and things most of us drive by unseeing, scenes of Southern dejection we’d contemplate only if our car broke down and left us by the verdant roadside.”

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Battlefields, Fredericksburg (Cedar Trees)

Battlefields, Fredericksburg (Cedar Trees), 2001
Gelatin silver print
Waterman/Kislinger Family
Image © Sally MannMann coated the surfaces of many of her battlefield prints with a varnish mixed with diatomaceous earth—a type of powdery sand made from the fossilized remains of tiny aquatic organisms called diatoms. In so doing, she not only gave the prints a velvety, tactile surface but also underscored their connection to the earth they depict.

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Battlefields, Antietam (Black Sun)

Battlefields, Antietam (Black Sun), 2001
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York
Image © Sally MannFought near Sharpsburg, Maryland, on September 17, 1862, the Battle of Antietam was the bloodiest single day in American history, with more than 23,000 Confederate and Union casualties. One Union surgeon reported that most of the dead remained “almost wholly unburied” more than one week later. In this apocalyptic sene. Mann positioned her camera close to the ground, as if to mimic the viewpoint of a dying soldier whose terrifying last vision is the sun itself shrouded in black.

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The Two Virginias #4

The Two Virginias #4, 1991
Gelatin silver print
Collection of The Estée Lauder Companies Inc.
Image © Sally Mann Mann’s daughter Virginia sleeps on the lap of her namesake, Virginia “Gee-Gee” Carter. Mann wove the picture together through the depiction of the two figures’ upraised arms, suspended in midair as if dancing in their dreams. By using selective focus, Mann drew attention to Carter’s arthritic hand, conveying both her pain and her persistence.

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Men, Janssen

Men, Janssen, 2006–2015
Gelatin silver print
Collection of the artist
Image © Sally MannWhen Janssen Evelyn modeled for Mann in 2006, he was completing his legal studies at Washington and Lee University in Lexington. Looking at the “haunting” photograph that resulted from the session, he remarked: “There [are] moments where you see the tragedy … and then you also see the beauty.… That’s what she was trying to show with the South … this history that we really should not be forgetting.”

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The Turn

The Turn, 2005
Gelatin silver print
Private collection
Image © Sally Mann
“As ephemeral as our footprints were in the sand along the river, so also were those moments of childhood caught in the photographs. And so will be our family itself, our marriage, the children who enriched it, and the love that has carried us through so much […] what will last, beyond all of it, is the place.”—Sally Mann, 2015

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Blackwater 15

Blackwater 15, 2008–2012
Collection of the artist
Image © Sally MannMost popular during the 1860s and 1870s, tintypes are produced when a collodion negative is made directly on a thin sheet of black-lacquered metal. The dark background causes the photographic negative to appear as a positive image. Because the negative is made directly on the metal sheet and is not used to produce multiple images, each tintype is one of a kind.

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To identify a person as a Southerner suggests not only that her history is inescapable and formative but that it is also impossibly present.

Sally Mann, 2005

About Sally Mann

Sally with Camera

R. Kim Rushing (American, born 1961), Sally with Camera, ca. 1998. Gelatin silver print. Collection of Sally Mann.
Born in 1951 in Lexington, Virginia, Mann continues to live and work in Rockbridge County. She developed her first roll of film in 1969 and began to work as a professional photographer in 1972. She attended Bennington College, Vermont, and graduated in 1974 with a Bachelor of Arts in literature from Hollins College, Roanoke, Virginia, where she earned a Master of Arts in creative writing the following year.

She has exhibited widely and published her photographs in the books “Second Sight: The Photographs of Sally Mann” (1983), “Sweet Silent Thought: Platinum Prints by Sally Mann” (1987), “At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women” (1988), “Immediate Family” (1992), “Still Time” (1994), “Mother Land: Recent Landscapes of Georgia and Virginia” (1997), “What Remains” (2003), “Deep South” (2005), “Sally Mann: Photographs and Poetry” (2005), “Proud Flesh” (2009), “Sally Mann: The Flesh and the Spirit” (2010) and “Remembered Light: Cy Twombly in Lexington” (2016). Mann’s bestselling memoir, “Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs” (2015), was a finalist for the National Book Award.
In 1996, Mann was selected to inaugurate the High’s “Picturing the South” photography series, a distinctive initiative that creates new bodies of work inspired by the American South for the Museum’s collection. She has received numerous other honors as well as grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Guggenheim Foundation. In 2011 Mann delivered the prestigious William E. Massey Sr. Lectures in the History of American Civilization at Harvard University.

This exhibition is organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts.
This exhibition is made possible by

Premier Exhibition Series Sponsor

Exhibition Series Sponsors

Premier Exhibition Series Supporters

The Antinori Foundation
Sarah and Jim Kennedy
Louise Sams and Jerome Grilhot

Benefactor Exhibition Series Supporter

Anne Cox Chambers Foundation

Ambassador Exhibition Supporters

Tom and Susan Wardell
Rod Westmoreland

Contributing Exhibition Series Supporters

Lucinda W. Bunnen
Marcia and John Donnell
W. Daniel Ebersole and Sarah Eby-Ebersole
Peggy Foreman
Robin and Hilton Howell
Mr. and Mrs. Baxter Jones
Joel Knox and Joan Marmo
Margot and Danny McCaul
Elizabeth and Chris Willett
The Ron and Lisa Brill Family Charitable Trust

Generous support is also provided by

Alfred and Adele Davis Exhibition Endowment Fund, Anne Cox Chambers Exhibition Fund, Barbara Stewart Exhibition Fund, Dorothy Smith Hopkins Exhibition Endowment Fund, Eleanor McDonald Storza Exhibition Endowment Fund, The Fay and Barrett Howell Exhibition Fund, Forward Arts Foundation Exhibition Endowment Fund, Helen S. Lanier Endowment Fund, Isobel Anne Fraser–Nancy Fraser Parker Exhibition Endowment Fund, John H. and Wilhelmina D. Harland Exhibition Endowment Fund, Katherine Murphy Riley Special Exhibition Endowment Fund, Margaretta Taylor Exhibition Fund, and the RJR Nabisco Exhibition Endowment Fund.