Poised on either side of the camera, a mother and her daughter: Jessie, her eyes closed, surrenders to the attentive, sensitive, and probing gaze of her mother, Sally Mann. The photographer, who’s passionate about history and metaphysics, had undertaken a most intimate and touching series. Entitled What Remains, it brings together astonishing family portraits made on a monumental scale. Leaning over her children as if she were watching over their sleep, Sally Mann seeks to capture their very essence, to seize their breath in the image the way one traps a butterfly in a net.
To that end, Sally Mann uses the collodion process. Hard to master, the charm of this hundred-year-old technique lies in its irregularities: spots, areas of blur, and a great wealth of nuances of grey. The resulting image is organic, textured, and unique because imperfect. Like the little girl it represents, the wet-plate collodion photograph has freckles and beauty marks.
While digital photos are odorless, as the photographer rightly points out, what is the unusual fragrance that emanates from the images in What Remains? We imagine the soft breath of a beloved child … or even her last breath. By immobilizing her daughter in the eye of her lens and through the use of extreme close-up, Sally Mann preserves the child in all her purity and saves her from the passage of time, even if it means letting her slip into the other world. White as a Greek statue, or pale as a ghost, Jessie has been fixed for eternity. Death is never far away in Sally Mann’s photographs.
By Camille Balenieri
Sally Man, Mille et un passages
June 18 – September 22, 2019
Jeu de Paume 1 Place de la Concorde, 75008 Paris